University Women Helping Afghan Women (UWHAW)

Building A Voice For Women: One Club Makes A Difference



Photo provided by: Falah Malik
Recent Graduates at Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education in Kabul

A Canadian Federation of University Women-Ottawa International Project:

  • To educate ourselves about the issues facing women and girls in Afghanistan
  • To raise public awareness of their challenging situation, locally, nationally and internationally
  • To maintain contact, advocate for, and support them, with a focus on post-secondary education
  • Specifically to raise funds for girls scholarships at the Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education in Kabul.

The joyous mortar board toss above at the Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education in Kabul is a seminal sign of hope for the women in Afghanistan.

Physician and human rights activist Dr. Sima Samar founded the Institute in 2010 to educate a corps of men and women to take leadership roles in a future Afghan government. In the same year, Dr. Samar came to Ottawa, Canada, to tell the tragic story of Afghan women under harsh Taliban rule to the Canadian Federation of University Women Annual General Meeting. Inspired by Dr. Samar’s eloquence, Ottawa women formed an advocacy and fundraising group called University Women Helping Afghan Women (UWHAW). Ten of the girls from deprived families who graduated this January from Gawharshad received scholarships from this energetic CFUW-Ottawa group.

UWHAW began by learning as much as possible about the lives of the women they wanted to support talking first to the military as Canadians were still deployed in Kandahar when the group began. They read books, reports from international organizations, heard lectures at Ottawa’s three universities and the Aga Khan Foundation, tapped into NGO stories, met with diplomats and development workers, and listened to Afghans, both students and recently arrived immigrants to Canada. From this base of knowledge they felt they had a viable voice to advocate for these women which they have done in Canada, at GWI in Istanbul, at a Parallel Session at the UN CSW in New York City, and at the AGM of Women Graduates-USA.

Concerned particularly with post-secondary education, UWHAW was attracted to the Gawharshad Institute – its philosophy is visionary. The student mix, which covers all religions and ethnicities, includes the highest percentage of female students in institutions of higher education in Afghanistan. At Gawharshad the classes are mixed, a quite exceptional circumstance, and the importance of human rights for all is threaded throughout the curriculum. Tuition, a reasonable $600 per year, makes the goal of post-secondary education a possibility.

Supporting the girls at Gawharshad as they work towards their dreams, has been a life-enhancing experience for many CFUW-Ottawa members and a life-changing experience for the Gawharshad girls and their families.

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