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Women's Rights Training for Men in Afghanistan

A plan to educate men about women’s rights, then select the most promising and interested students to mount a first-of-its-kind national campaign against gender-based violence across Afghanistan. [Summary by the Amplify Team]

Photo of Vanessa Dubyn
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Provide a short description of your idea

Women for Afghan Women (WAW) is responding to the Ideo challenge with an idea that makes use of what the organization has learned from its various but interconnected programs in Afghanistan, all of which are designed to advance women’s human rights. While its individual elements may sound familiar, its ultimate goal is a radical departure from the norm. It is a program to organize men against violence against women (MAVAW), to ignite a men’s movement in Afghanistan aimed at gaining human rights for Afghan women. It is radical, yes. But it is also an idea we believe the people of Afghanistan are ready for. ***** Women for Afghan Women is submitting a three-stage proposal aimed at advancing the progress on women’s rights that has been achieved to date in Afghanistan. The project, which is aimed at accessing justice for Afghan women, depends on training men on women’s rights, then selecting the most promising and interested students to mount a national campaign against violence against women. Those students will be trained in the basic skills required to lead such a campaign.

Get a user's perspective on your idea.

See link to WAW video on UTube below.

Show us what implementation might look like.

Women for Afghan Women TIMELINE FOR 18 MONTHS: MONTHS ACTIVITIES 1-2 Hire and train sufficient number of trainers of trainers if current WAW training staff is insufficient to fulfill this project. 2 Stage 1: Scheduling of trainings of mullahs, community leaders, and students in 10 provinces. 3-4 Trainings of trainers (mullahs, community leaders, university students) in 10 provinces in this 2 month training period. 5 Evaluation of Stage 1 of project 5 Stage 2: Scheduling of trainings to be conducted by Stage 1 trainees. 6-10 In this 5 month ( 22 week) period in 10 provinces, newly trained trainers in 2 day trainings of 25 men in each class will train approximately 11,000 men. SEE NOTE BELOW. 11 Evaluation of Stage 2 of project 9-11 Planning of Stage 3 classes and preparation of manual by WAW staff on movement building and skills required for public leadership roles. 12-17 Stage 3: Training of students chosen from previous trainings in 10 provinces on concept of movement building and skills required for successful leadership. Students selected would remain through entire program of 6 months. Scheduling of classes in each province would depend on availability of students. 18 Evaluation of project to date. Note: This program would continue as long as funding is available. New trainers could continue training men in their locations on issues related to violence against women while Stage 3 of this particular program is in session. In other words, as long as money is available, the round of 3 stages would continue. The more men trained in fighting VAW, the better. However, because we have designed this timeline for an 18 month period, by month 11 we would have to begin choosing leaders for Stage 3 (which begins in month 12). But stage 2 could continue while Stage 3 is in progress. Thus the total number of men in the program could be vastly more than 11,000.
The project is divided into three stages:
Stage 1.
Experienced WAW trainers will train mullahs, Community Development Leaders (CDC), and university students (all males) on women’s rights issues.
 Stage 2.
Once the Stage 1 trainees are assessed to be effective advocates, they will be supervised in training local men in their districts and other male students. Both stages will rely on the WAW training manual, which will be revised where necessary for the new trainees. The manual covers such topics as Islamic law that corresponds to and supports women’s human rights, the meaning and significance of the rule of law, violations of human rights such as domestic violence, forced, underage and exchange marriages, buying and selling women, baad, rape.
Other important topics:
Incompatibility of democracy and denial of human rights to women; conventions signed by Afghanistan such as UN 1325 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; women’s rights in other Muslim countries; the Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (LEVAW). 
The destabilizing effect of two contradictory legal systems in a country, in this case customary vs. state law.
The responsibility of the state to require the judiciary to implement national law.
The responsibility of the citizenry to hold the state and the judiciary accountable for subverting national law.
The effect of granting impunity for crimes and the inconsistent application of state laws.  Classes will include lectures, peer discussion groups, and analysis of actual VAW cases as illustrations of all the principles taught.
        WAW anticipates educating a total of 200,000 men throughout Afghanistan and impacting thousands more women and girls.
Stage 3. 
WAW will choose the most promising and interested trainees from the first 2 stages to attend WAW classes that will prepare them for leadership roles in a social movement to advance women’s rights. WAW classes on movement building and leadership will focus on the following:
Core leadership skills: interpersonal skills, decision-making.
Oral communications including addressing groups and crowds, debating skills, problem solving.
Gaining cooperation from others to obtain information and goals; individual and group accountability.
Structure of successful movements.
Training in group development and management; approaches to evaluating public policies; the use of science and technology; building consensus.
The primary teaching tool is a manual that WAW has written for our training program. WAW will update and revise as necessary for an all male population. We will also produce another manual for Stage 3. The manual contains such topics as Islamic law that corresponds to and supports women’s human rights, the concept of human rights conventions signed by the Afghanistan Government, and information on violations of human rights such as domestic violence, forced, underage and exchange marriage, buying and selling women, baad, rape.
    For more information on this topic, please see entire submission.
We believe it will succeed for several reasons:
1.  All our programs that access human rights for women in Afghanistan have been successful so far. The main reason for our success is that the Afghan people want change, want women's rights, democracy, and the rule of law (which doesn't exist without women's ownership of human rights).
2.   Recent reports by the UN and Asia Foundation verify these points as does the recent election.
3.   Men come to us for help, engage in the counseling and mediation processes.
4.   The last thing the majority of Afghans want (men included) is regression to the Taliban period.
5.   We are prepared to set this program up carefully. We are going step by step, drawing in men for activities we are sure most will accept before we get to the really radical idea of initiating a men's movement against VAW.
6.   The men who we believe will take part in Stage 3 will be excited by the prospect of leadership, of having authority and of having a public role.


Explain your idea in one sentence.

For the ultimate purpose of building a national Men's Movement to Stop Violence Against Women in Afghanistan, WAW will train men, especially mullahs, Community Development Leaders, and university students, all of them male, to train Afghan men in their locations (rural villages, cities, colleges and universities) on women's rights under Islam and the Afghan Constitution.

What is the need you are trying to solve?

In 2011, a poll ranked Afghanistan as the world’s most dangerous country for women -- with over 80% experiencing violence in their lifetime. In Afghanistan harmful traditional customs, practices, and beliefs condone or even encourage violence against women (VAW). They deny Afghan women the right to receive an education, pursue a career, participate in public life, and have a voice in their country’s decision-making processes. Underage marriage is common, with girls as young as six or seven forced to marry much older strangers, whose servants they inevitably become. Many women and girls live under the constant threat of violence from husbands, fathers, brothers, and in-laws. The Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women (LEVAW), enacted in 2009, appeared to be a promising step towards protecting women and girls and advancing their rights. For the first time in Afghanistan, a law criminalized rape, child marriage, forced marriage, ba’ad (giving away a woman or girl as restitution for a crime), forced prostitution and self-immolation, and 18 other acts of VAW. However, five years later, the law is still rarely implemented. While reported cases of violence against women went up by 28 percent last year, prosecutions increased by only 2 percent. Our Women’s Rights Are Human Rights training program has already reached over 125,000 individuals in Afghanistan. It focuses primarily on educating Afghan women, especially those living in rural areas where this information is unknown, on the rights that the LEVAW guarantees them and the punishment specified for perpetrators. These trainings have empowered women to assert their legal rights by reporting abuse and seeking safety. Now WAW is taking the next step, which is radical. WAW believes that human rights training on the rights of women according to Islam and under the Afghan Constitution by men for men will have a huge impact on the safety, empowerment and access to justice of women and girls in Afghanistan. We also intend this project to be the basis of a national movement to stop rampant VAW. In order to address the root causes of gender-based violence, we must enlist the support and partnership of men and boys. Like women, men are ignorant not only of the LEVAW but also of the rights of women under Islam. In fact, many Afghan men use Islam to justify their abasement of the women and girls in their lives and the violence they commonly perpetrate against them. Because they are illiterate, they do not know what the Quran actually says about the role of women in family and society, and they are easy prey of power mongers, who actually believe that the freedom of women infringes on their power. They also may not realize the consequences of their actions, including how an underage marriage jeopardizes their daughter’s health, reduces the long-term productivity and success of their family, opposes the rule of law. We are not embarking on this project as innocent novices. We have had great success with our training (having reached over 125,000 local Afghans since 2010), and our work with men overall has been positive. WAW employs men as counselors, attorneys, and trainers among a variety of other positions. We provide services not only to women and children but to men. We have established relationships with mullahs, village elders, political leaders, and law enforcement officials–-most of them male. Provincial leaders, all men, often urge us to open programs in their provinces, and law enforcement officials increasingly refer to us women and girls who seeking safety from violence instead of arresting and imprisoning them. But there is much more work to be done, and recent events tell us that now is the time think in a larger way. Although the situation remains bleak for most women, there have been real gains in women’s rights in Afghanistan during the past 13 years. These gains are especially noteworthy because the rule of law cannot be said to exist in any country where women cannot not exercise their human rights and because the situation of women in Afghanistan has been considered incurable. Complicating matters is the fact while the subjugation of women is the most serious problem in the world, as Jimmy Carter rightly claims in his new book “A Call to Arms,” a male dominated world is content to toss it aside until all other problems are solved. According to a recent UN report on Afghanistan, reported cases of violence against women went up by 28% last year. This does not mean that violence increased. It means that 28% more women reported violence against themselves. In other words, they are objecting to the violence they submitted to before Women for Afghan Women and other women’s rights NGOs in Afghanistan taught them that they have human rights and provided them with safety and access to justice. That interpretation is confirmed by a recent Asia Foundation poll in Afghanistan in which 90% of the respondents, men as well as women, agree that everyone should have equal rights under the law regardless of gender. The absence of women’s rights is the most frequently mentioned national problem in the poll, and complaints about insufficient services for victims of abuse abound. This data and the recent election, in which the turnout was far greater than what had been anticipated, indicate that Afghanistan is at a turning point. The people wish to move forward. WAW has taken their lead in the past, expanding our social protection services from Family Guidance Centers and shelters to women’s rights training programs to transitional and halfway houses. We see this moment in Afghanistan as an opportunity to leap to the next step by empowering Afghan men from different walks of life to become agents of change in their country.

Who will benefit from this idea and how would you monitor its success?

Beneficiaries: First and foremost, Afghan women and girls will benefit from this idea through increased protection and reduction in violent crimes committed against them over time. But all Afghan people will benefit from this idea in that gender equality will have a positive impact on individuals, families, communities, and the entire country. By realizing the worth of half its population, Afghanistan will become a more productive, and successful democracy. WAW province managers, with support from the Country Director, will closely monitor the entire project, including adhering to schedule, ensuring the planned activities are carried out, and communicating with trainers to address any problems. WAW will keep detailed records of each training and each trainee. WAW will monitor the project’s success through data collected during the trainings, including pre- and post assessment tests. We anticipate that most of the mullahs and community leaders will be literate so it will be easy to collect this data in written form. To monitor and evaluate the subsequent trainings will be more difficult as the target population – young Afghan men in rural villages – will likely be illiterate or under-educated. Therefore WAW plans on holding small follow up focus groups. These focus groups made up of both community trainers and trainees will help WAW gauge the impact of the program and the changes in attitudes and behaviors that have or have not occurred. WAW will also track the number of clients coming from areas and districts where trainings took place to measure the impact of trainees sharing the knowledge they gained with neighbors, friends, and family. Trainings such as ours do not result in immediate change, and we don’t expect to see an immediate reduction in the number of violence against women incidents. Additionally, data on violations of women’s rights in each province continues to be unreliable. We acknowledge that the kind of cultural and societal change we are aiming to achieve takes time. But what we are experiencing is a constant increase in the number of women who report abuse wherever we conduct trainings. This in itself is an important change. It may not tell us whether abuse is decreasing, but it does tell us that more and more women are empowered to reject it. We believe that continuation of educating women, coupled with this new program focused on men, will have an even bigger impact and will address the other half of the equation – the root causes of violence against women and girls.

Who would be best equipped to implement this idea in the real world? You? Your organisation? Another organisation or entity?

Due to our experiences in this area and the successes we have had to date, WAW is best equipped to implement this idea in Afghanistan. If needed or deemed appropriate, we will partner with other entities to conduct the program. WAW facilities for women and children operate in 10 provinces across Afghanistan. Its entire staff is comprised of Afghans who have lifetime ties to the local communities they work in. Most work closely with village leaders and elders who are sympathetic to and often openly supportive of our work. We also run women’s human rights training programs in rural villages within these provinces. Many of our trainers are men, all of whom have been well received by both female and male training participants. WAW, a grassroots women’s human rights NGO, was founded in 2001, but the work WAW is currently doing in Afghanistan began in 2006. Before then, WAW developed literacy and vocational training programs for women/girls and reconstruction projects in villages hard hit by war and the Taliban regime. We also raised money to build schools for girls in provinces where no schools existed. In 2006, WAW ED Manizha Naderi did a feasibility study in Kabul on how the organization could help women and girls in Afghanistan. By that time, credible reports had revealed their dire situation, their lack of access to justice, their revictimization through long prison sentences for having been raped, the brutal physical abuse that brought many to the edge of death and beyond. The Family Guidance Center/shelter (FGC), the result of that study, opened in Kabul in March 2007. Since then, the facility has expanded to 8 additional provinces: Kapisa, Balkh, Kunduz, Nangarhar, Badakhshan, Faryab, Sari-Pol, and Takhar. All FGCs require shelters for women and girls who cannot return home safely or whose cases are protracted. Shelters are hidden in another part of town. Ten shelters currently exist (2 in Faryab). The FGC employs caseworkers who work with clients and willing families to solve family crises, end violence, and reintegrate the client. We employ lawyers (male and female) to defend clients against charges in civil and criminal courts and encourage prosecution of criminals. While their cases are in progress, clients stay in the shelters. For women who can not return home safely when they transition from prisons and shelters, WAW has opened Transitional Houses in Kabul, Mazar and Herat and a Halfway House in Kabul. In these facilities women take literacy, life skills, and vocational training classes. Many enter school, and WAW finds employment for most. The purpose of these programs is to prepare them to live independent, self-determined lives. In 2009, WAW opened the first Children’s Support Center (CSC) in Kabul, a model residence/educational center for children over 5 years old who had been living in prison with their incarcerated mothers. We opened CSCs in Mazar and Kunduz in 2011 and in Herat in 2014 There are now very few children over 5 remaining in prisons in Afghanistan. Since most children are illiterate when they arrive, they enter the centers’ accelerated learning programs. Within months, most qualify for enrollment in public school at age appropriate grades, and there they thrive. The CSCs also supplement the meager public school curriculum in Afghanistan with classes in English as a Second Language, computer skills and math. They also provide physical and psychological health care, sports, entertainment, and required, regularly scheduled visits to their mothers in prison. WAW is also a strong public advocate for women’s and child rights. We advocate primarily for women’s access to justice, for the protection of shelters, for implementation of the LEVAW, for the end of the impunity that protects men who brutalize women and girls and undermines the rule of law. WAW employs 618 staff in positions ranging from guards, drivers, and cooks to counselors, lawyers, program managers, the country director and the ED. Every staff person is a local Afghan. WAW programs are not Western interventions imposed on a resistant people. They are created by Afghans and managed by the Afghan staff in provinces where local governments invite the organization to open facilities for women and children.

Where should this idea be implemented?

This idea is best implemented where WAW already has ties to the local community and a foundation for this work. Therefore WAW intends to implement this project in the following 10 Afghan provinces where we operate facilities, including women’s shelters, and conduct our current training program: Kabul, Kapisa, Balkh, Nangarhar, Saripul, Faryab, Herat, Kunduz, Badakhshan and Takhar.

How might you prototype this idea and test some of the assumptions behind it?

Because WAW has been conducting the Women’s Rights Are Human Rights training program for four years, we have been able to test Stage 1 and make changes that ensure its effectiveness. While this program was focused on educating women and empowering them to seek justice, we also educated thousands of men on the LEVAW, most of whom have been open to learning. We have also employed male trainers in Stage 2, although they have been experienced educators, not local mullahs or CDC members. Only Stage 3 is new, completely new to us and the country. The prototype for the idea is actually Stage 3, which has never been tried as far as we know. We are assuming that a critical mass of men will participate in an national effort to fight VAW. It will give those who join and actually participate a sense of personal powe. and self worth, a stake in the future of their country. It would be possible to open a limited program to test the critical idea in this proposal, and we would consider that, but it would be extremely complicated and labor intensive. We would have to include Stages 1 & 2 and write a manual for Stage 3. Furthermore, in a project like this, the more numbers we have, the greater the likelihood that a critical number of men will embark on Stage 3. We are optimistic that we can drastically multiply this number with sufficient education and training. WAW has always used a grassroots approach to tackling the issue of violence against women. We have been, and remain, open to learning, adapting, and changing to best serve the needs of Afghan women and girls.

What might a day in the life of a community member interacting with your idea look like?

We anticipate that life in these Afghan communities will begin to look different once the program takes off. For mullahs and community leaders who participate in the trainings, we believe they will discover the value of transforming a culture of control and violence to one of compassion and peace. We see them begin to practice non-violence to women in the home and then openly condemn violence against women and girls in their community. In fact, we have already seen this progression in a project we conducted under the UNHCR in Nangarhar. We imaging the local young men who participate in the trainings slowly re-evaluating past beliefs and behaviors and engaging in dialogue with each other about the issue of women’s rights for the first time in their lives. We see them begin to treat the women in their lives with respect. We also envision that fathers will reconsider selling or marrying off their young daughters and accept the importance of educating women. We imagine communities where families, headed by men who have participated in or learned about the trainings, openly talk about domestic violence and human rights. We anticipate that these conversations will cause a reduction of crimes against women and girls and empowerment of the entire family.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Karolle Rabarison

Congrats, Vanessa! Looking forward to seeing the trainings and campaign in play.

Photo of Luisa Fernanda

Congratulations on making it to the 15 Shortlisted ideas. You have done an incredible job and we look forward to seeing this idea impact the lives of women and girls.

Great work!

Photo of Meena Kadri

Would be great if you can fill out the two additional sections in the submission form: Show Us What Implementation Might Look Like + Get a User's Perspective on Your Idea. We're sure you've got further insights to share for both sections, ahead of our Evaluation phase which starts in a couple of days.

Photo of Vanessa Dubyn

Definitely. Please check that out. We are adding material. And thank you very much for the suggestion.

Photo of Vanessa Dubyn

Timeline (implementation) now in updated presentation.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Glad to hear you managed to upload it, Vanessa.

Photo of Shauna Carey

Hi Vanessa,

Congratulations on making it into Refinement!

As a member of the Amplify team, I wanted to check in to see how you are coming along. Feel free to ask any questions you have about the additional information we have asked for in this phase from ideas like yours.

A great tip is to post the various components as you have them ready. That way, you can start to get feedback from our team and the community on some of the information while you keep working on the rest.

One thing I thought of while reading your idea is that there may be some learnings that could be drawn from Tostan's similar community-based model to fight FGM. They work very closely with male community leaders as well.

Let me know if you have any questions. We're here to help!


Photo of Vanessa Dubyn

Hi Shauna. I've been trying to upload a file that contains answers to questions the Ideo team sent. I've tried at least 20 times but it doesn't come through. Any ideas?

Photo of Luisa Fernanda

What format is your file on? Are you using the "upload file" or the"upload image" button? You can only upload .jpg, and .png files using the upload image button under make it visual field. If your file is a PDF please use the upload file button which you can find at the end of your contribution form. If it doesn't work save the pdf again and make it lower quality so that the file becomes smaller. If none of the above work email and specify your problem and attach your file.
Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congratulations on making it to the Women's Safety Challenge Refinement list, Vanessa! Our team is really enthusiastic about your proposal to educate mullahs and other community leaders on combatting gender-based violence. As you work to refine your idea in this next phase, consider the answering the following questions: How does this proposal build or expand upon your current work? Which elements are new and which are activities that you have already initiated? What will be your first step be if the project is supported by Amplify? What challenges do you foresee in gaining mullahs' support for this project and encouraging participation? How will you ensure that they do not participate solely for the economic incentive? You mention that this programme will be primarily based off of a manual currently in use by your organisation. How has this manual been developed and tested? What indications have you seen of its success and how do you foresee building upon it? For more tips for this Refinement phase, check out and catch our Tools for Refinement at

Photo of Vanessa Dubyn

I believe we have answered these questions. Please check our most recent uploads. Thanks. You raise important issues.

Photo of Vanessa Dubyn

Here are the answers to the questions above. I have not been able to upload the reply:
Which elements are new and which are activities that you have already initiated?
We have divided our program into 3 stages:
Stage 1. Training mullahs (all of them male), Community Development Council members (male), and male university students in numerous districts in 9 provinces on issues of women’s human rights. The focus on this population, especially mullahs and college men, is new. We have been using the training material for many years.
Stage 2. The idea of training individuals who will then train classrooms of others in a cascading effect to reach the widest number of people is not new. We call it the “cascading effect.” But focusing on a particular population, in this case men, is.
Stage 3. Training select groups of trainees who are interested in starting a national movement is entirely new.

What will be your first step be if the project is supported by Amplify?
Stage 1 is the first. As soon as mullahs, CDC members and university students are trained, they will enter the 2nd step (become trainers themselves).

What challenges do you foresee in gaining mullahs' support for this project and encouraging participation?
We see many challenges because most mullahs are conservative and have a difficult time giving up the customs they believe underpin their power. Seen answer to next question.

How will you ensure that they do not participate solely for the economic incentive?
We can’t ensure that they won’t. We have to hope that even those who do participate for money (And who can blame them; there is dire poverty all over Afghanistan and everyone suffers.) will also be influenced by the material. These are not mutually exclusive conditions. They know things are changing in Afghanistan. The election showed mullahs that the people want democracy and are sick of Karzai and his corrupt government. The unexpected turnout of women, who braved the Taliban threats of violence, showed them that women are becoming empowered to reject subjugation and demand their right to a role in public life. Mullahs saw that the people, uneducated people from rural villages all over the country, were willing to risk their lives to vote, to change the country. In addition, thousands of WAW trainees in the past have lost trust in religious authorities because they have learned that mullahs have been feeding them false information about the role of women in Islam for generations. Enough mullahs will realize that they had better get on board or the train of change will leave them in the station, without a constituency, without a power base, without influence.

You mention that this programme will be primarily based off of a manual currently in use by your organisation. How has this manual been developed and tested?
It has been used to train over 125,000 Afghans in rural districts and cities around the country. It was developed by WAW’s Educational Director, who was assisted by our then Program Director (a female), who was a graduate of a high level Islamic Studies program in a Kabul university.

What indications have you seen of its success and how do you foresee building upon it?
Indications are the number of local Afghans from all walks of life in 10 provinces who have flocked to our women’s rights trainings (over 125,000) and who request more trainings. Another indication is that wherever we train using this manual, there is an increase in the number of female victims of violence who come to us for help. These are women and girls who believed submission to abuse was their lot in life, who had never heard of human rights in general or their ownership of those rights in particular, and who did not know help was at hand (WAW). Our trainings change them. As we say a number of times in this submission, the time for building a men’s movement against VAW is now, when the elections have validated the progress we have been describing and before the troops leave Afghanistan.

Photo of Designed By6

Nice idea!