Afghanistan: Abused Wife Gains Respect Through Food Aid

Published on 25 November 2009

In central Afghanistan, Jamila (not her real name) receives a monthly food ration for her family of six under a WFP vocational skills training programme.

Copyright: WFP/Ashraf Amiri

Frustrated by their poverty and the lack of food for the family, Jamila's husband used to beat her. But the violence subsided after she enrolled in a WFP-supported training project which eased the food problem and also taught her a trade.

KABUL -- The beatings were worse when there was nothing to eat.

Jamila’s husband lost both of his legs during the fighting that raged around their village when Taliban forces arrived in their area central Afghanistan.  Forced to sell their farmland to pay for his treatment, Jamila (whose real name is being withheld for her protection) suddenly found herself unable to feed their four children.

“I will never forget the day I realized we had nothing to eat,” Jamila said.  “The only thing I could think of was asking my husband’s nephew for food. But he refused to help us, and told me I should marry off my teenage daughters to get [dowry] money.” 

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

November 25 marked the start of 16 days of activism under the UN's UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign. Violence against women is a global problem - and its consequences and costs are far-reaching.

WFP's food assistance often provides a direct form of protection for women and girls simply by its existence. Assistance also helps by keeping girls in schools (thus reducing their exposure to violence, early marriages and pregnancies) and by engaging men and boys in activities to protect women and children from violence. Download factsheet

When she told her husband what his nephew had said, he was furious – not with the nephew, but with Jamila. “He said, ‘I would rather that we die of hunger than go begging to my relatives for help',” Jamila recalls.

Anger

With her husband too proud to accept charity, they just barely eked out a living. Frustrated, depressed and often hungry, Jamila’s husband would take his anger out on her.

Things changed this year, as Jamila enrolled (see photo below right) in a WFP food-for-training programme, where she learned to sew.  In addition to the food rations she received while attending the course, she now has a contract with a local shop to make children’s clothes.

Jamila says her husband is proud of her new ability to earn an income. “Now that I have a skill and am providing for my family, all the members of my family respect me,” she says.

Hunger factor

Jamila’s story is not unique.  Domestic violence is a huge problem in Afghanistan.  Surveys have found that violence against women affects all levels of Afghan society  – and in more than 90 percent of reported cases, women’s abusers are their own husbands, fathers, brothers, or even their sons.  Although there are many factors behind that dramatic number, women’s rights advocates say poverty and hunger are certainly among them.

While WFP’s vocational skills programmes are not designed to reduce domestic violence,  by helping ease the economic burden on severely impoverished families, this is often the positive impact they have. Also, most experts agree that increased financial independence for women often allows them to seek help more easily if they are subjected to abuse.

"Women are the secret weapon in the fight against hunger" - WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran 16 Nov 2009

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about the author

Challiss McDonough

Public Information Officer

Challiss is a Public Information Officer for Eastern, Central and Southern Africa. She is based in Nairobi, after having spent two years with WFP in Afghanistan.