Tipping the Scales for Workplace Gender Equity in Afghanistan.

No one knew how to react when a woman was harassed. There weren't a lot of tools and policies or procedures to defend women's rights in an organization.

Lailee Rahimi

The WIG Way

Beginning in April 2015, WIG staff assessed 20 Afghan government ministries and independent agencies to identify obstacles to women’s inclusion and empowerment as civil service employees. These findings, released in coordination with the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs, were analyzed across three broad thematic areas: policy, culture, and infrastructure. Policy challenges included discriminatory hiring practices and a lack of safeguards for women in the workplace — including sufficient leave policy and grievance procedures— which left female employees vulnerable to harassment and gender-based discrimination in appointments and promotions. Cultural challenges included the lack of freedom of movement in communities and negative public opinion toward working women. Infrastructural challenges manifested in the lack of even the most basic accommodations for female staff, such as childcare facilities and separate restrooms.

WIG’s efforts to raise awareness around these obstacles led to a more welcoming working environment for women in government agencies, improved human resources policies, and increased community support via innovative nationwide communications campaigns. More than 3,000 women graduated from the project’s internship program. Afterward, the graduates received completion certificates equivalent to one year of work experience, which made them eligible for government jobs. In partnership with the Afghan Civil Service Institute, WIG provides graduates with continued support while they apply for vacant opportunities. This support includes assistance with CV writing, civil service exam prep, and interview training.

Woman leads WIG meeting
Lailee Rahimi leads a meeting with government partners representing more than 10 ministries and independent agencies to help identify job openings for WIG internship graduates.

 

As for the WIG office, the project human resources team implemented innovative approaches to counter gender inequities and bridge the gender gap among its own project staff. WIG Communications Advisor Robert Lord-Biggers said these adaptations originated within the human resources team. “It was driven by the need to hire more female candidates, and the team developed these policies to navigate the complicated recruitment environment that largely disadvantaged women,” he said.

These policies included:

  • Giving the relevance of a candidate’s experience more weight than length of experience
  • Establishing a policy of interviewing at least two women, in addition to the male candidates, for each position posted
  • Addressing regulatory obstacles female staffers face by instituting flexible work hours and allowing female staff to leave early during winter hours to avoid street harassment
  • Using a carpool service to reduce public transportation harassment
  • Providing female-designated restrooms, prayer rooms, and sanctuary rooms to ensure female staff feel equally valued
  • Ensuring that all staff are well positioned for professional development by encouraging colleagues of all genders to access Chemonics’ suite of training and development resources, which contributes to women’s professional growth

These strategies helped WIG to build a staff that is 67 percent women. Of the 24 staffers in leadership positions for the WIG project, 13 are women. This level of gender equity is rare in Afghanistan.

No one knew how to react when a woman was harassed. There weren't a lot of tools and policies or procedures to defend women's rights in an organization.

Lailee Rahimi

The WIG Legacy

As the project winds down in the spring of 2020, WIG hopes to serve as a model for other organizations, agencies, and projects across the country.

“Talking with other organizations,” Robert said, “there is a general perception that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to hire women in leadership roles in Afghanistan. Hopefully this project contributes to changing that perception.”

There is reason for optimism; WIG has trained 3,059 women to join the civil service, and 1,778 WIG graduates are now employed.

Interns view job board with open opportunities
WIG participants view postings for available job opportunities.

Beyond the project’s direct impact, Lailee noted the broader institutional shifts that are moving equity forward.

“The agencies are now willing to change,” she said. “Across the 70 ministries, independent agencies, and regional directorates we work with, they know how to start reforming their infrastructure and procedures. They know that integrating women into their department is important.”

And while harassment remains a major challenge, Lailee has seen WIG’s influence on creating an environment for people to speak out. “Victims are more empowered to call out harassment because of the awareness and policies that WIG developed. We delivered training of trainers to the ministries, so people have a stronger understanding of their rights.”

With USAID’s support, the WIG project practiced what it preached to build and maintain gender equity in the workplace. WIG’s female and male staff have responded positively to working in a female majority workplace.

Rashid*, a male WIG staffer said, “An inclusive working environment brings prosperity and balanced development. Balanced development and workplaces bring sustainable growth and prevent injustice.”

“Women are strong and are making a difference in Afghanistan,” Freshta*, a female WIG staffer said. “We will transform Afghanistan for ourselves and for our children.”

Fatima agrees with her colleagues. “I am proud to work for a group that was deprived equal rights for decades,” she said. “I am so pleased to work for the empowerment of women who dream of being active members of our society.”

*Name changed

No one knew how to react when a woman was harassed. There weren't a lot of tools and policies or procedures to defend women's rights in an organization.

Lailee Rahimi
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