In late October 2021, MADRE hosted a powerful virtual conversation on the critical work we're doing to support our partners in Haiti and Afghanistan amid the ongoing crises in both countries. The talk, attended by supporters, donors, staff, and friends of MADRE, centered on the links between the two countries’ crises and an update on MADRE’s work with our Afghan and Haitian partners.
The event’s speakers included MADRE's Executive Director Yifat Susskind and MADRE partner, Jamila Afghani, an esteemed peace and women's rights activist known for her work on education, ending gender-based violence, migration-related issues, and more. Yifat started her talk by setting the stage with MADRE’s longstanding work as a global feminist fund and women's human rights organization.
Yifat shared, “MADRE has been meeting the needs of grassroots women and girls for nearly 40 years, through more than 100 partnerships, in 40 countries, and via the distribution of more than 58 million dollars in grants and in-kind aid.”
Jamila, who serves as President and founder of the Afghanistan chapter of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, works at the hub of a vibrant network of Afghan women groups that MADRE supports. Now living in exile, Jamila shared her gratitude to MADRE and our supporters for "saving my life and the lives of my children." She detailed the harrowing story of her escape from Afghanistan:
"On August 15, I was at the airport, planning to travel to Turkey. That same day, Afghanistan fell into the hands of the Taliban and greedy, corrupt politicians were rushing to the airport to escape from Afghanistan, fearing Taliban takeover. Everyone was rushing toward the airport. Afghan government officials forcefully took over the seats despite me holding the boarding passes and tickets in my hand. The politicians forced us off the airplane and took our seats."
After being stuck in Kabul for about ten days, Jamila, who shared that she has a physical disability, said she tried day after day to get to the airport, facing what seemed like insurmountable difficulties:
"I was standing at the border where US soldiers could clearly see me. I shouted for help. Instead, they sprayed tear gas in our faces; they were not able to control the crowds. I thought that we were about to be killed... Thank God for the connection to the sisterhood and the feminist activists during that time. Because of their solidarity, I finally received help."
The day after Jamila was finally able to escape Afghanistan, a bomb claimed the lives of dozens of Afghans and US military members in the same passage. While Jamila reports that she and her family are now safe, life in exile is difficult as she works to help her "sisters" still on the ground. "They are stuck and do not have hope."
Jamila shared that through MADRE's support, she can help hundreds more women activists, journalists, and human rights defenders who are hiding in fear of the Taliban. "We are also working for their evacuation, and I hope we will be able to help them. Our legal system is totally paralyzed. The mindset of the Taliban about women's rights has not changed. Children are being sold like animals because people don't have money to feed their children."
The economic situation is also dire for many in Afghanistan, especially women. "A lot of women have lost their jobs. We are providing them some financial support to continue their lives and to prevent their daughters from enduring forced child marriages," Jamila shared.
Moving Forward in Afghanistan
During the event, Yifat talked about the wide range of work and initiatives MADRE is supporting.
"We are continuing to fund shelters and emergency relocation efforts for women being targeted by the Taliban. We are supporting initiatives Jamila spoke about to address forced marriages for girls, trauma management, digital security training for activists, and training to document human rights abuses by the Taliban for future justice processes. This is critical – we know we cannot go back and build that body of evidence later; it has to be now."
MADRE is also making grants to ensure that the most critical work of Afghan women's organizations, around healthcare, girls' education, violence prevention, can continue underground. We are also supporting key leaders of the Afghan women's movement – women like Jamila – to advocate at the international level on humanitarian aid, and women's participation at the negotiating table with the Taliban.
To date, MADRE has helped protect more than 1,000 women's rights activists and their families who were facing assassination attempts by the Taliban, including at least 250 young women human rights defenders.
Yifat shared, "We began our work in Afghanistan before the invasion, in 2001, and we will continue to work with our sisters in Afghanistan as they fight for their human rights, and work to make their daughter's lives better than their own lives were."
For more information, read Yifat’s essay in Common Dreams, Three Lessons to Chart a Path Forward in Solidarity with Afghan Women.
Crisis in Haiti
A key part of the event was highlighting the connections between Afghanistan and Haiti. Yifat shared, “While Afghanistan and Haiti sound like they are worlds apart, they have a lot in common. Both countries have been severely harmed by destructive US policies, which MADRE is working actively to change. And both countries are blessed with women activists who know how to organize and care for their communities.”
MADRE has partnered with local organizations in Haiti since 1994. Following Haiti's 7.2 magnitude earthquake and tropical storm, many are still dealing with the devastation and loss of loved ones. MADRE is focused on ensuring urgent needs such as healthcare, humanitarian aid, and the protection of the LGBTIQ+ community isn't overlooked. Read Yifat's essay published by Common Dreams, The Path Toward a Just Feminist Future in Haiti.
At the event, Yifat stressed the importance of understanding the human impact of policies that can seem remote and abstract:
"As we were responding to the Afghanistan crisis, our partners in Haiti were hit by a terrible earthquake and, almost a week afterward, a fierce tropical storm. We reached out to our partners at the Haitian Women's Collective, a network of grassroots women's groups. When we asked them what they needed, they identified priorities big international aid groups and governments often miss. They talked to us about the need to support midwives who would continue to assist in births and provide sexual and reproductive healthcare. They talked to us about the need for community intervention to prevent domestic violence, which routinely worsens in the wake of disasters in Haiti and our communities. They emphasized the need to protect LGBTIQ+ people who are targeted with abuse when fundamentalist churches and right-wing actors claim that disasters like floods or earthquakes or punishment from God for homosexuality."
Moving Forward in Haiti
MADRE has created emergency grants to support several healthcare and anti-violence initiatives and collaborated with our partners on connecting emergency relief to long-term recovery and sustainability.
Yifat shared, "We did that by sourcing food aid from Haitian women farmers and women-led businesses to strengthen local economies as part of humanitarian aid efforts." She continued, "That is especially crucial because Haiti, like Afghanistan, is a country that has been overrun by international organizations and NGOs that too often perpetuate an international food aid system that benefits industrial agriculture and big aid organizations in rich countries, and undermines the economies and self-determination of people in places where aid is delivered."
The swift and direct action that MADRE's grassroots partners take on the ground allows their communities to recover, despite the obstacles they are up against.
MADRE is committed to doing all we can to support grassroots feminists and other progressive social movement actors who are carving out a just path toward peace for their communities. Yifat ended the call by reminding attendees that MADRE is able to do this work with the help of a wide circle of funders, activists, and supporters, inviting attendees to "step into your own power to make change."