Free to Run hosted its first ever Disability & Women’s Rights Symposium

In April, Free to Run hosted its first ever Disability & Women’s Rights Symposium over two days in Kabul. The symposium was attended by 70 guests who all work in the fields of disability and women’s rights. Audience members worked for a number of partners and government ministries like the Ministry of Education, Olympic Committee, Paralympic Committee, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Women Affairs, Ministry of Economy, PARSA, American University of Afghanistan, Accessibility Organization for Afghan Disabled, Community Centre for the Disabled, National Procurement Authority, Skateistan, Afghans for Progressive Thinking, Free to Run alumni, and representatives from our high school partners in Kabul.

On average, participants ranked the symposium at an 8 out of 10. “In this event, I learned ways to motivate those with disabilities and that all human beings in any position have dreams. Their goals are also so important,” said one attendee.  

In an effort the make the event as interactive as possible, Free to Run organized several different workshops and breakout sessions to get every audience member involved. The first day began with a panel of people pushing boundaries in female sports in Afghanistan including Samira, the first representative to the International Olympic Committee for Afghanistan, Saeeda, the Captain of the national running team in Afghanistan, and Abdul, the Deputy  of the Afghan Paralympic Committee and President of Afghanistan’s Wheelchair Basketball Federation.

The quantity of girls playing sports in Afghanistan may be less, but the quality is just as good because they are motivated,” said Samira.

After the panel discussion, the audience heard from Maliha, Advisor on Disabilities to the Ministry of Women Affairs. She discussed some of the issues facing women with disabilities.

97% of females with disabilities in Afghanistan are jobless, while only 27% of men with disabilities are jobless. Empowerment is for everyone, without exception,” she said.

Her introduction was followed by a breakout session to discuss the National Disability Action Plan for Afghanistan. Audience members discussed the plan’s points and whether or not they were being implemented according to schedule. If not, they tried to offer up solutions through their group work. “After this program, we should start making stairs accessible in Afghanistan for disabled people,” said one of the audience members.

Following the breakout session, Free to Run organized a debate on whether women should be [educated inside or outside Afghanistan]. The debaters were members of HELA, an organization that works to organize Model UN conferences and debates throughout the country. At the end, 11 people believed women should be educated inside Afghanistan and 19 voted for outside Afghanistan.

Our education is not great here, so people leave the country. First, we need to better the level of education in Afghanistan in order for our brightest to stay here.”

”We should go outside the country to study, but then we must come back and work for our people. Or else nothing will change.

After lunch, the audience engaged in a human spectrogram so everyone could see what public opinion on certain sentences was. Some of the statements sparked lively debate, others mass consensus.

When a woman dies in Afghanistan, her husband will say he has lost many people. Why? Because he has lost his cook, his house cleaner, and the person who washes all his clothes,” said one woman.

On the second day, the symposium focused on women and law in Afghanistan. Noorya Farooqi, Associate at Shajjan & Associates who takes on their women’s rights cases in Afghanistan opened it up with an overview on the state of women’s laws. “Still, whenever a brother or father commits a crime in Afghanistan, the daughter pays for it in marriage,” she said.

After her introduction, audience members broke out into small groups to read through Afghanistan’s National Action Plan for UNSCR 1325. This sparked discussion amongst the room on what rights should and should not be guaranteed to women in the Afghan legislature.  

I can’t change the world, but I will change my behavior and my vision towards women,” said one male audience member.

Free to Run gave audience members an opportunity to come up with project ideas related to disability and women’s rights and chose the best five to present their concept to the group to be voted on. Some of the most innovative ideas included a television station geared at dispelling prejudices towards those with disabilities and a public information center + website where those with disabilities could go to learn about their rights.

We need to do advocacy and raise awareness through TV and social media. We need to encourage them to live a better life through social programs and also make the families understand to support their disabilities in a better way, said one of the presenters.

We should work on providing information to those with disabilities through a website that covers public and governmental space with facilities for those who are disabled. Information centers for the disabled would also be an important resource in order for them to know more about their rights, said another presenter.

Free to Run closed the event by hosting a Global Café breakout session - where partner organizations were given platforms to speak to interested audience members about their activities, and exchange ideas. By the end of the symposium, 83% of audience members said they had made a new networking connection.

I want to create races for women and disabled people and also publicize the organizations that work for women and disabled people in the whole country, said one member.

90% of audience members said they had learned something new from the symposium. The most important takeaway… a disability is not a limitation.

Leah Anathan