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Young feminists on the move!

Young people – particularly young women – are on the rise, leading feminist movements around the world. They are taking a stand and making big strides – they see what’s happening in their communities and around the world, and they’ve had enough. Now more than ever, we need the leadership of young people, to drive forward the kind of transformation we need. 

Young women are leading the charge for change. We’re seeing this everywhere – from Afghanistan to Alabama, from India to Iran, from Tonga to Texas.

And these days, there’s more reason to rise up than ever. I’ve said over and over and over – we’re just not doing that well. Equality is farther than ever, and every single one of our basic rights is at risk. Yes, everywhere. 

At the same time, young women’s movements are bringing us hope. They’re rising up relentlessly – often in the face of great risk. And they’re just not taking any crap.  

Young women are lighting figurative – and literal – fires everywhere. This fight isn’t about other women, over there – it’s all of us. In Iran, the movement ignited following the murder of Mahsa Amini is the fire sparking the feminist revolution in Iran. Following Amini’s death, brave women took to the streets to declare their call to action: Women! Life! Freedom! 

On November 10th, the UN General assembly called on Afghanistan’s Taliban to stop restricting women’s human rights. Women and girls are guilty simply for being women and girls – and women’s rights in Afghanistan have been on the decline since the Taliban reclaimed power in August of 2021. Women – especially young women – are taking a stand there, too.

In a recent article on Afghanistan, an Afghan woman asked: “When you have no freedom in your own country, then what does it mean to live here?” The same question can be asked by any woman today, in any country. Yes, even the US. Countries can not deny freedom, equality, rights to half of their population. All women – and particularly young women – are not going to let that happen.

On November 8th, young American women demanded to be heard. The overturning of Roe v. Wade has lit a fire amongst young women voters – they aren’t going back. The US Midterm Elections were supposed to bleed red, however young feminists demonstrated who really has the power. The strong turnout from young voters turned the red wave into light pink. 

The message from young feminists is clear: we are young AND feminist AND we will turn the vote. Or take to the streets. Or do whatever it takes. 

There’s a lot of conversation about young women’s feminist activism and leadership. I recently came across a guide by the World YWCA on how to consult young women-led feminist movements. This methodology differs from others in that it is meant to ignite transformation. That’s how I feel too – even raising key issues helps plant the seeds for change. The World YWCA Methodology centers girls and women in all their diversity, using a democratic and decolonized approach to place power firmly in the hands of young women as the architects of their own lives and choices. 

In fact, the World YWCA built this perspective from what they call Goal 2035, a quest for 100 million young women and girls to transform power structures to create justice, gender equality, and a world without violence and war. Goal 2035 aligns with other global goals including the Sustainable Development Goals to fully realize the potential of women and girls and the urgent need to bring forth change. 

All of that stuff is great on paper. But what does it mean in practice?

Full blog linked here!

“Humanitarian Day”… and we’re still harassed

Lina AbiRafeh

Today is World Humanitarian Day, a day we celebrate people who help people. I used to be one of those people, so I’ve got a lot to say about it.

Firstly, the backstory. World Humanitarian Day was born out of tragedy. On 19 August 2003, a bomb attack in Iraq killed 22 humanitarian aid workers. In 2008, the United Nations designated 19 August as World Humanitarian Day.

That’s today. Again.

Today we’re supposed to renew our commitment to advocate for those affected by crisis — while also not compromising our safety and security in the process. And we are at risk — this is undeniable.

In 2021, 460 aid workers were attacked: 140 killed, 203 wounded, and 117 kidnapped.

But there are other risks, too.

Three years ago, a group of female humanitarians — friends, colleagues, women I admire whose work has spanned decades and regions — got together to discuss. The result was an impromptu social media poll with over 600 responses in a matter of days.

What challenges do you face in the field, we asked?

41% of respondents said sexual harassment was their biggest concern.

We couldn’t leave it there. Individually and collectively, we four had been working to promote women’s rights and gender equality in the countries we’d worked in — and within the system itself. And in all our experience, we continuously argued that aid agencies should be — claim to be! — champions for gender equality but that female employees face violence and discrimination from within the system.

This isn’t just us — there’s tons of research to back this up.

We had spent hours, days, years in the field lamenting the “cowboy culture” of our humanitarian work, where women are told that they must “handle” the harsh realities of the work — or find a job elsewhere.

We released an article on 19 August 2019. That year, World Humanitarian Day was dedicated to women — the “unsung heroes”. We argued that praise rings hollow without real change — and even more so when the women they celebrate are victims of the system.

Our article — Praise for female aid workers rings hollow when harassment is pervasive — is now three years old. It’s worth asking… What has changed?

In our article, we noted that respondents — our colleagues — felt that the system rewards sexism and discrimination and hides abuses, while simultaneously paying lip service to “gender equality”.

Violence and discrimination exists within aid agencies — it exists everywhere. But aid agencies lack safe and confidential reporting mechanisms.

More than 400 women shared stories describing a culture of sexual exploitation and discrimination — where they are mocked for arguing in favor of their own safety and forced to tolerate the “boys club” culture that pervades. They shared being denied opportunities like equal pay, benefits, and protections — simply because they are women.

We noted that the discrimination we face is layered. National women and those with intersecting marginalized identities face much greater obstacles than expatriate women.

Some women were told they were “too young and too pretty” to be managing complex emergencies — and perhaps should serve as the admin instead.

Gosh! What do women want?!

Our article outlined solutions. Like equal treatment, greater leadership, and, ultimately, a shift in the humanitarian culture.

We want to dismantle the unequal distribution of power.

We said it then — and we still want it.

Read the full article here.

Afghanistan One Year Later — and the story of one Afghan woman

Lina AbiRafeh

One year ago today — on August 15, 2021 — Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. Again.

We all know the story of how Afghanistan, after two decades of aid and military support, unfathomable amounts of money, numerous elections, and many feeble attempts at peace, returned in 2021 to where it had been in 2001 — under the suffocating rule of a regime known as the Taliban.

I will, however, tell the story from the perspective of women, the ones who have been — and continue to be — most affected by this story. Here, we will begin with a so-called peace deal that betrayed women, bargaining their rights away. A deal made between men, all with blood on their hands. It is a story that, for Afghan women, came full circle.

Last year, as Afghanistan was falling, I reached out to my friend Aziza, women’s rights leader and partner from my time in Afghanistan. I asked how she was, and how the women’s movement would fare. The full conversation was published in my 2022 book, Freedom on the Frontlines.

On 11 June 2021, Aziza wrote:

Things are not going to get any better. We feel stuck in a vicious cycle and fear from this precarious situation. Aid has ended and NGOs have long been closed. We will not have achieved what we had hoped. What we set out to do. What we started to do. And now we have to adapt to whatever that may come in order to survive.

On 16 June, I published a piece on CNN arguing that the US rhetoric of liberation that animated their invasion nearly 20 years ago had fallen short of its goal. This built on an argument I made in my 2008 doctoral thesis and later in my 2009 book, Gender and International Aid in Afghanistan. There, and again here, I argued that the status of Afghan women was used as the barometer to assess social change, and that the promise of freedom had fallen short.

The $780 million the US spent to promote women’s rights in Afghanistan was about to go to waste, I explained, as the hasty withdrawal of US troops would likely lead to greater human rights violations, more school closures and increased violence against women. The voices I heard from Afghanistan were fearful. Women’s rights were hanging in the balance. Again.

Two decades of investment in women undoubtedly did achieve many goals: schools reopened for girls, giving them access to education, including university. Women had access to employment. They worked, flew planes, joined the military, became government ministers, and more.

But gains were patchy. Progress was perpetually met by major backlashes, a resurgence of a fundamentalist order, and more violence against women. Rural women still lived in Taliban-controlled areas, under severe restrictions. They did not benefit from these improvements. Opportunities for work, health care, or education never reached them.

On 22 June, Aziza told me this:

We could have predicted this. Patriarchy is so embedded in the culture and roots. There is need for gender awareness, education, and prolonged efforts to change what generations of men in power have created. The work that was done during the last two decades was not enough to change the fundamentals. It provided a short-term relief to what women had suffered during Taliban, but it could get worse when there is no more intervention.

On 24 June, I was invited to speak on CNN, building from my article. I was asked how serious things were for Afghan women. Very serious, I explained. At that point we had already heard of greater human rights violations, more school closures, increased violence against women. It was just getting started — things would get worse.

At that time, despite gains made, two-thirds of girls remained out of school, 70 percent of Afghan women and girls still could not read or write, and more than 80 percent of Afghan women and girls experienced abuse. Most of this took place in the home. Women’s security in the home is a reflection of the security in the country. If women cannot be safe at home, they’re not safe at all. And if women are not safe, then no one is safe. This, I have long argued, should be the barometer by which the entire intervention is judged.

Afghan women are incredibly strong. They have always demonstrated that strength, along with incredible courage and resilience. They always had strong voices and the ability to use them. But, are we listening? They have powerful voices, but they have no microphone. Did we do all we could to amplify their voices as they articulated their own needs? Did we even meet those needs?

On 10 August, US intelligence warned that it would take 30–90 days for the Taliban to topple the government and occupy Kabul. The city fell five days later.

Aziza wrote to me, explaining that progress made through international intervention was patchy — and only for the urban elite. Rural women’s lives hardly changed. If anything, Aziza explained, “financial aid may have fed their families, but the patriarchy remained.” And, she added, “today they are under the same abuse — or even worse.”

On 15 August 2021, the Taliban reached Kabul.

Read the full article here.

Time to put girls first…

Lina AbiRafeh

“The first time I was raped, I was 9,” Caroline told me as we sat side by side on a broken branch in the mud. The first time. I couldn’t turn to face her. All I could do was give her space to talk, while I listened…

“It’s the bathrooms that are most dangerous. We try not to go unless it’s urgent. Even then, we can shit in a bag and throw it outside. We have learned how to protect ourselves”.

Caroline told her story, while we sat in the dirt side by side on the small step leading to her hut in Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya, if not the world. An open sewer ran by the hut. Children played in the rubbish around the slum — most not wearing any pants. They kicked a Coke can around and laughed. An emaciated goat looked on.

I tried to focus on the can and the shuffling of little bare feet in the dirt. Concentrate. Don’t cry. It doesn’t help. But I really wanted to find a private place to cry — next to impossible in an overcrowded slum.

“Girls are raped because they don’t have underwear,” Caroline continued. “It just makes things easier for men”.

Her elbows poked through the holes in the sweater she wore as a dress. She wasn’t wearing any shoes, and I suddenly wanted to use my too-solid hiking boots to clear the soda tabs from her patch of dirt. I could feel grimy sweat rolling down my neck into the collar of my t-shirt. I wished it would rain.

“Everyone calls me Caro”, she added.

I turned to Mercy Musomi, director of the Girl Child Network, working in Kibera. She stood with her head slightly bowed. She’d heard all these stories before — and far worse.

It was Mercy who led me to Kibera — and to Caro. “How much,” I asked her. “Just tell me how much it will take”.

I left Kenya the next day, leaving my remaining cash and the contents of my suitcase behind for Mercy to give to Caro and other girls.

That was 2007. I’ve been supporting and advocating for the Girl Child Network ever since.

When I met Mercy, the Network provided for the basic needs of 40 girls in the slum. Most were HIV-positive. Most had survived rape — at least once. And most had undergone genital cutting. And yet they were filled with power and courage — and still able to laugh. Mercy’s Girl Child Network had been raising money for years to build a safe haven for girls just like Caro.

The Network supports girls to stay in school and builds leadership skills through after-school activities. Once, Mercy noticed that the girls were missing up to a week of school a month because they did not have sanitary supplies. And so she found a way to raise money to distribute pads. And then she noticed that the girls did not even have underwear. And so Mercy found a way to provide that too.

When I met Caro, she did not have the time to participate in the Network or to think about school.

Caro left school to care for her parents, who both died of AIDS when she was 10.

“If I could, I would teach one day”, she told me. “I feel like I have been teaching all my life”.

I left Kibera — and Kenya — committed to helping the Girl Child Network continue to support girls like Caro. And I supported Caro as well, paying for her education and whatever else I could in order to give her a chance to become whatever she wanted, to make her own choices, to control her own life.

In a slum of over 1 million people, helping one girl doesn’t feel like much. But I wasn’t going to leave until I helped one girl.

The Girl Child Network was founded in 1995 after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing to work on child rights — girl-child rights specifically.

Mercy founded the Network because she herself is a survivor of violence. “I was 12 when I experienced gender-based violence,” she told me. “No girl should ever have to go through this. For me, it was my school principal. He was married and in his 50s. And I was a student. A child. I only wanted to learn.”

Mercy understands all too well how important it is to ensure that schools are safe. And how no one, or nothing, should get in the way of a girl’s right to learn.

She continued: “It is always older men who take advantage of young, innocent girls. Girls who have no role models or mentors to empower or support them.”

These girls now have Mercy. They cannot ask for a better mentor. Or a stronger champion.

Get involved here.

Read the full article here.

The not-so United States of Abortion

Lina AbiRafeh

I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in 1989, four years after it was published. I was in high school. And I was appalled. The story takes place in a supposedly-fictional patriarchal state, where women known as “handmaids” are forced to bear children.

Margaret Atwood’s “futuristic dystopian” novel was, to me, the stuff of nightmares. Something that could never actually come to pass in my lifetime. Women on their backs — literal and figurative — as they are subjugated and stripped of any agency and individuality. A world where women’s reproductive rights did not exist. No choice, no voice, no opportunity. Essentially: sexual slavery.

Damn! That’s nuts! I thought, when I was 15. That can’t ever happen…

Fast forward more than 30 years.

I’ve worked on violations of women’s rights around the world for decades, often to hear “but this doesn’t happen here” when in the US. Well, maybe now we’re reminded that yes, it’s been happening here all along.

In an unprecedented breach of proceedings, a leaked document from the US Supreme Court exposed a sinister plan: to overrule Roe v. Wade, the 1973 constitutional ruling granting reproductive protections in the form of legalized abortions.

Put simply, Roe meant that women could choose to have an abortion and not be thrown in jail for it. That women could choose what happens to their own bodies.

This new ruling would mean an end to federal protection of abortion rights, allowing each state to decide whether to ban abortion or not, undoing nearly 50 years of guaranteed reproductive rights. It is likely every state that supports abortion now will continue to and every state that is restricting it will continue to.

What 15-year old me thought could never happen has actually come to pass. Reproductive rights are on their way to being rewritten. Erased. We’ve just experienced the most consequential abortion decision of our lifetime. And a total transformation — destruction — of women’s bodily autonomy in America.

Abortion has always been a particularly divisive issue in the US, and once again, women’s bodies have become a political playground. There are religious and conservative undertones to all this, surely. But this ruling is about power — control over women’s bodies and choices.

Bodily autonomy and reproductive rights are fundamental rights. A fact that slips through the cracks during the flip-flopping of Democrat versus Republican politics. This has been brewing for a while.

On one hand there has been a massive failing from Democrats in power — how on earth did we get an anti-Roe v. Wade majority in the Supreme Court under a Democrat President? In 2008 when Obama was elected, he had a majority in the House and a 60 vote Senate, but did not pass an abortion law, signing an Executive Order instead. They ignored women’s rights because they were cowards — and now we’re paying the price. Relying on Executive Orders to get things done — like Biden is doing now — instead of going through Congress, just means the next president can just reverse them all.

On the other hand Republicans are almost universally opposed to abortion.

Justice Alito, author of the draft, went so far as to state that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start.” And Donald Trump, no friend to women, was able to appoint three conservative justices to the Supreme Court — the most appointments in a single term in decades.

Unfortunately, we saw this coming. And I wrote about this only recently. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, 26 states could ban abortion. That means more than 25 million women of reproductive age losing access to an abortion. Losing access to basic health care. Losing their right to choose.

Let’s be clear — abortions won’t stop. Safe abortions will stop, putting women’s lives at risk.

We’ve all seen the coat-hanger image. I’m not trying to be alarmist. This stuff is real.

Regardless of what states allow, we will be faced with a humanitarian crisis where millions of people will be forced to travel hundreds of miles — 279 miles on average — for an abortion. If they can. This becomes less likely for those in poorer communities, black communities, minority communities.

Wondering what a post-Roe world would look like?

  • Will young women be forced into being mothers before they are ready or willing to do so? Yes.
  • Will illegal and unsafe abortions increase? Yes.
  • Will maternal mortality increase? Yes.
  • Will women’s economic opportunity decrease? Yes. Will women earn even less? Yes.
  • Will girls’ education be compromised? Yes. Will drop-out rates increase? Yes.

Meanwhile, the very country that now wants you to bear children against your will actually will NOT offer universal subsidized child care for those children. In fact, the US has one of the lowest expenditures on childcare for children under 2–0.2% of its GDP, which translates to $200 a year for most families. Maternity and paternity leave in the US is also considered one of the worst among so-called developed countries.

This means that millions will be robbed of liberty, bodily autonomy, freedom — the stuff that America claims to be built upon. And, this isn’t just America. This decision will have a global impact, further fueling conservative misogynist movements already taking hold around the world.

But this big-deal bad-news isn’t a done deal — yet.

Read the full article here to find out what we can do and what organizations we can support.

The Economy She Deserves and the Path Forward

Photo credit of Wellesley College


The majority of us have heard of a recession before — a significant, long-term decline in economic activity. But have you heard of a “she-cession?” During the Economy She Deserves summit, author and economist C. Nicole Mason explained that she coined the term to describe the devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on women’s labor force participation. Let’s take a look at what this “she-cession” really was, its impact today, and what needs to be done to correct it in the future.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the United States was hit by a recession that led to significant job losses, as well as food, housing, and healthcare crises for many Americans. Betsey Stevenson, former Chief Economist for the U.S. Department of Labor, explained during the summit that it is very rare for women to lose jobs during a recession: “1 in 4 women work in private sector education and healthcare jobs, and in every previous recession, that’s been an industry you might consider recession proof… it continues to grow during recessions.” Yet, the 2020 recession proved to be an exception. Within the first year of the pandemic, women’s labor force participation dropped to a level not seen since 1991 — for White women, this drop was around 1.5%, while for Black and Latina women the drop was close to 4.5%. For men, the effect of the pandemic on labor force participation was much less significant, thus explaining why the term “she-cession” describes the situation so aptly.

So, the big question is, why? Why were women, especially women of color, hit so hard by the pandemic?

One significant factor is that women are overrepresented in the industries that suffered the most during the pandemic. With the introduction of COVID-prevention lockdowns, the U.S. lost nearly ½ of all jobs in the leisure and hospitality sectors, which meant disproportionately large job losses for women. In addition, the sectors that were previously “recession proof,” such as education and certain types of health care, contracted significantly during the pandemic, thus worsening the economic status of women. 

But, on a larger scale, the economy is simply not built for caregiving women.

One of the key points addressed by all panelists in the Economy She Deserves summit is that millions of women with care responsibilities were forced to quit their jobs during the pandemic. Why? Because when paid care infrastructures collapsed during the pandemic, women were forced to set aside their careers and take on enormous burdens of unpaid care to provide for their families. Shauna Olney, former Chief of the Gender, Equality, and Diversity Branch of the International Labor Organization, stated that women were 4-5 times more likely to have increased care responsibilities at home beginning in 2020. The most shocking part? This is not a new trend.

In 2018, 600 million women worldwide (compared to only 40 million men) declared themselves unavailable for employment due to unpaid care responsibilities — this was before the pandemic. Such a statistic might prompt questions about why women were neglecting their careers to take care of their dependents when childcare and eldercare services existed. Well, with women (especially women of color) forming 64% of workers in the 40 lowest paying American jobs, childcare that costs an average of $216 per week and eldercare that can cost up to $290 per day is a far-fetched dream for many, especially during a worldwide pandemic. Thus, women are faced with the choice of supporting their professional journeys or their families, with virtually no pathway for attaining both. And we have seen the effects of this difficult decision.

As of April 2022, the United States seems to be emerging from the pandemic and beginning an economic recovery. According to Betsey Stevenson, 93% of jobs that were lost during the pandemic have been brought back, with 6.5 million jobs added in just the past 12 months. These statistics sound promising, and they are, but we are far from making a meaningful recovery that will not just benefit the White men of the working world, but also the women, and especially the low-wage women and women of color, who have suffered the most. In the face of a growing care crisis, Stevenson states that “…if we take a look at things like nursing care facilities and childcare jobs, we’re still missing a ton of workers in that space…” a statement which suggests that millions of women are still unable to fulfill their caregiving needs and return to their jobs.

But we are not helpless in the aftermath of the “she-cession.” There are many policies that we, as citizens, can advocate for our governments to enact, in order to build the economy women deserve. By far the most popular item on the policy wish-list of the summit panelists was universal paid family leave. The emphasis is placed on “universal” and “family” leave for two main reasons. First, although some companies do offer paid leave for the birth of a child, this leave is NOT consistent across all sectors, especially sectors where women of color dominate in low-paying jobs. Second, paid family leave is often NOT offered to fathers, thus reinforcing couple inequity and harmful gender roles surrounding women and motherhood. Panelists also called on companies to provide high-quality childcare services for their employees, so that women can return to work as quickly as possible and still manage their families’ needs. Lastly, several panelists discussed the concept of equitable flexibility, where companies allow employees (especially working parents) to set their own hours and work from home WITHOUT creating an environment where such “flexible” work is seen as less valuable or unproductive. These are just the most popular suggestions brought up during the summit; other options include raising the federal minimum wage, introducing child tax credit, increasing job benefits, and creating a domestic workers’ bill of rights. Ultimately, any one of us can research and advocate to become a better ally to the working women of our world. And in case you didn’t already realize it, this is not just a “women’s issue.” It is everyone’s issue. 

If the economy doesn’t work for women, it doesn’t truly work for anyone.

The Plight of Afghan Refugees and the Failure of the Outside World

Photo credit of CNN


Is the photo above familiar to you? It most likely is. The so-called “Afghan Girl,” recognized primarily for her blazing green eyes, has been a tragic symbol of the Afghan refugee crisis for almost 40 years. The Western world has profited off her troubled image in newspapers, magazines, documentaries, and more, though very little has been done to understand her plight and help her to safety — a situation very symbolic of the refugee crisis as a whole. This is her story, the story of Afghan refugees, and the story of how they have been largely failed by the outside world.

It is important to understand that the Afghan refugee crisis has existed long before the tragic Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021. The international community first began seeing massive influxes of Afghan refugees in the 1970s and 1980s, when 6.2 million Afghans crossed the Iranian and Pakistani borders to escape the rise of a Communist regime. In the decades that followed, more and more Afghan refugees — fleeing war, political upheaval, social crises, and economic insecurity — reached the E.U, the U.S, Australia, and other locations beyond the MENA region. Tragically, many were forcibly returned, their asylum claims rejected by various countries. Pakistan and Iran heavily restricted the political and economic rights of Afghan refugees, and often used discriminatory legal actions and violent tactics to “voluntarily” repatriate Afghans. Afghan women arguably suffered the greatest restriction of rights in Pakistan, with local attitudes towards women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa barring them from exiting their homes in the presence of strangers.

One must acknowledge the severe economic and social strain associated with processing a massive influx of refugees in a short amount of time, especially when cultural and linguistic barriers exist between the host country and country of origin. Yet, one must also question whether such strain is reason enough for a nation to violate international human rights legislation by denying refugees safety and by returning thousands to a country where they face persecution, extreme insecurity, or death. I say not.

We have all seen the desperate scenes from Kabul in August 2021.

We all watched as thousands of terrified Afghans tried to push themselves past airport barricades and onto U.S. airplanes, desperate to escape the Taliban. Amidst the chaos and tragedy at the Kabul airport, approximately 123,000 civilians (80% of whom were women and children) were evacuated from Afghanistan over the span of several weeks. Some were U.S, U.K, or other foreign nationals, while others were activists, former translators, or employees that had supported embassies and international organizations. 

By the end of 2021, the Taliban was in full control of Afghanistan, and there were approximately 2.7 million Afghan refugees in the world. Up to 3 million Afghans were internally displaced, 2.4 million of whom were women and children. 

Where did all of these refugees end up? 

An estimated 2.2 million are in Pakistan and Iran, where they continue to face injustices. Many of those evacuated through the Kabul airport were taken to emergency processing centers in Germany, Spain, Qatar, the UAE, and Uzbekistan, though their journey beyond became much more complicated. In a time when international unity and open-door policies were needed the most, the world became more closed-off to Afghan refugees than ever before.

Some countries, such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, offered only to help Afghans transit to other countries. Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran, which had previously served as the most active transit and host countries for Afghan refugees, announced they did not have capacity to take in more refugees, choosing instead to tighten border security and call on Western countries to bear the brunt of the influx. However, while nations such as France, Germany, the U.S, the U.K, and Australia did accept thousands of refugees, much of the E.U. expressed firm opposition to opening its borders, citing fears of a repeat of the 2015 Syrian migrant crisis.

And even then, most (if not all) of the countries that did take in refugees struggled — and in some cases, neglected — to efficiently process incoming Afghans and secure stable futures for them. Take the United States as an example. The Department of Homeland Security has received over 43,000 humanitarian parole applications since July 2021, but has processed fewer than 2,000. The U.S. Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) and P-2 programs have created an alarming degree of gender inequity in the resettlement of Afghan refugees, as the programs do not provide resettlement pathways for thousands of at-risk Afghan women who worked for U.S. subcontractors, sub-grantees, and community-based organizations. Of those Afghans who have been processed in the U.S. (through parole or other methods), approximately 4,000 are still living in temporary housing. Many of them are Afghan women with unique — but unmet — needs for reproductive and maternal care, cultural and linguistic training, resources for supporting their dependents, and more.

Clearly, such a complicated issue does not present one clear solution. While some nations that initially opposed accepting Afghan refugees have recently opened their borders, some observers argue that it is necessary for the international community to more actively combat anti-refugee rhetoric, revise resettlement programs to address processing issues and gender discrimination, and pressure more nations (as well as their citizens) to host Afghan refugees. Others argue that more focus needs to be directed to the 3.5 million internally displaced peoples who are still in Afghanistan, the majority of whom are women and girls taking life-threatening risks in their attempts to cross borders and escape the oppressive Taliban regime. 

Currently, the world is facing yet another refugee crisis; the ongoing Ukrainian-Russian war has displaced between 4 to 5 million people as of April 2022, and no end to the conflict is presently in sight. In this time of great turmoil and international tension, it is vital to not forget the millions of Afghans, both within and outside of Afghanistan, who continue to suffer poverty, persecution, and neglect. It is best to analyze the plight of Ukrainians and Afghans in tandem, and to ask why the world responded somewhat effectively to the Ukrainian crisis, while leaving Afghans in the shadows. Perhaps the solution to ensuring the safety of all refugees involves a delicate blend of political will and awareness, unity, and determination the world has yet to discover.

Saudi Arabia, what’s next?

Photo courtesy of Abdul Latif Jameel.


“Abaya or no abaya?”

For decades, the answer for women in Saudi Arabia was always “abaya.” Are you going to the grocery store? Don’t forget your abaya! Do you want to grab a snack at Dairy Queen? Do you need to go to a dentist appointment? Do you want to go to the mall? Abaya, abaya, abaya.

But why is that question so important to me — so important that I started this blog with it?

Well, Saudi Arabia was my home for three years.

Out of all the foreign countries I have visited or called home, Saudi Arabia is undoubtedly the most interesting, unique, and dynamic. Saudi Arabia is a nation of fascinating history, beautiful landscapes, and warm, welcoming people. It is also a country in the midst of sweeping changes that are transforming the lives of Saudi citizens, especially Saudi women and girls.

When I first arrived in Saudi Arabia in 2018, the Vision 2030 framework and its goal of creating a “moderate, open” Saudi Arabia was already unfolding. However, I saw a nation still plagued with restrictions and inequality. Women that ventured into public spaces (some of which were segregated by gender) were always heavily veiled and always accompanied by a male guardian. It was almost impossible to find a woman working anywhere. To a 13-year-old girl that had never been to the Middle East before, Saudi Arabia was a shock. 

But very rapidly, with a wave of Vision 2030 reforms, things began to change.

Throughout 2019, I began to wear my abaya less and less. I watched incredibly talented female entrepreneurs, academics, and doctors begin their own businesses and expand their profiles. With the official end of the guardianship system in August 2019, I began sharing airplane trips with confident, single Saudi women who were eager to enjoy their new independence.

And when I departed from Saudi Arabia in mid-2021, I could hardly recognize the nation I had initially arrived to. 

I must be clear — It was not just a long list of sweeping legal reforms that caused these broad changes to occur. Simply permitting women to work, drive, or travel without a guardian did not necessarily make women feel welcome and safe in embracing those new rights. Longstanding cultural norms, not just laws, would need to change as well. In this regard, a couple of key factors about today’s Saudi Arabia have proved highly beneficial: Saudi society is overwhelmingly young (70% of Saudis are under the age of 35) and incredibly connected (Saudi Arabia has one of the most connected populations in the world in terms of internet penetration and usage).

With the launch of Vision 2030, young Saudis were introduced to an unprecedented opening of their society, economy, and country. For the first time in Saudi Arabia’s history, movie theaters, concerts, art shows, sporting events, and other forms of entertainment were allowed — and were enthusiastically embraced. Additionally, the Kingdom opened itself up to tourism from abroad. 

Such developments might seem insignificant to a discussion on gender equality, but in reality, these new aspects of daily Saudi life proved to many citizens that cultural and societal changes were viable in their nation, and were making their lives palpably better.

Many question the motivations behind the Vision 2030 reforms, as well as their true significance. Some critics view these reforms as simply amounting to window dressing for the Kingdom’s attempts to attract positive media coverage, foreign investors, and support. Others assert that Saudi Arabia’s progress in gender equality is just not enough. For example, when Saudi authorities released two prominent women’s rights activists from prison in May 2018, critics pointed out that many other activists remained incarcerated without a fair trial. Additionally, one can argue that these activists, who for many years advocated the expansion of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, were the real impetus behind the Vision 2030 reforms. Their arrests brought widespread international criticism to Saudi Arabia and generated questions about the country’s evolution and its extent.

So, the question is, has Saudi Arabia truly progressed toward gender equality? Well, I guess it depends on your definition of true progress.

But I say yes.

I am in no way claiming that Saudi Arabia is perfect, or that the road toward gender equality ends here. There is still so much work to be done to improve the status of Saudi women:

  • In December 2020, only 6.8% of professional women held managerial positions.
  • The unemployment rate of Saudi women is 24%, almost double the rate for Saudis overall.
  • All positions in the Saudi cabinet of ministers are held by men.

However, I have seen the impact of the Vision 2030 reforms. I have seen fierce, brilliant Saudi women emerge from the constraints of guardianship and solidify their positions as change-makers, professionals, entrepreneurs, and leaders in every walk of life. I have heard the dreams of Saudi girls — to become doctors, lawyers, diplomats, and more — dreams that are now encouraged for their generation and beyond.

So my question is:

Saudi Arabia, what’s next?

Stop asking me to speak for free

Lina AbiRafeh

It’s the end of March, the end of so-called Women’s History Month, the month when we “celebrate” women’s contributions by exponentially increasing their emotional labor.

Ironic, in a month that was created to recognize and value women’s contributions and women’s work. Why, then, do I have to organize my own celebrations? My own commemorations? My own campaigns?

And why, why, why do I have to speak for free? Not just this month, but every month?

We know that women have a hard time asking for what they’re worth, we hear this time and again. Lean in, ladies! we’re told. Claim your space. Bring your folding chair. Yes, we do those things. But we also need a culture — in our workplaces and in our homeplaces and in everyplace — that recognizes what we bring to the proverbial table.

Asking for women’s contributions is not a favor to women. It is a global non-negotiable. And for that, we deserve to be remunerated, just as anyone else.

And yet, when I announce that I charge for my speaking, people are shocked. If an organization asking me to speak has the resources, then they have an obligation to pay. How is this shocking?

This rant is inspired by conversations I’ve had with so many women who share my frustration with having to pay — of our time and resources and energies — for the privilege of being present. There is a growing understanding of the emotional labor of so-called nonprofit work — and its risk of exploitation. And a growing need to put down our collective feet.

Many women have reported being asked to work for free in the context of International Women’s Day — their very own day. Firstly, the burden to promote women’s rights and equality is — ironically — exclusively on women. Why?! Everyone should be doing it. We didn’t cause the inequality in the first place, so how could we be solely responsible for fixing it? Supporting women is not just “good practice”. It’s about building a good world.

And secondly, companies undertake these hollow exercises in their own interests, as a way to further promote their brand and image as champions of women’s rights. Women’s Day being co-opted by organizations in a superficial corporate show of feminism exploits women further and amounts to nothing more than ‘genderwashing’.

The façade of feminism is fashionable in corporate circles. Companies benefit from projecting a progressive image of gender equality at the expense of female employees who experience little to no advancement.

And we are fed up. So much so that a dedicated twitter account was set up to call out this BS. Every time employers tweeted about International Women’s Day, this account retweeted the company’s gender pay gap. It proved a point — and packed a punch. Organizations started deleting their women’s day well-wishes for fear of being called out on their hypocrisy.

But it’s not just March. Women’s work isn’t valued across the 11 other months as well. And women themselves constantly lament that they wish they could value their own work. We hardly ask for pay, for raises, for promotions, for professional opportunities.

The economy would be better if our contributions were valued. Women are the majority of the world’s poor. And the majority of those who are unemployed. And when they are employed, they earn far less than men — in every occupation. The wage gap is real — and really big. We say that globally women earn 77 cents for every man’s dollar. Specifically in America, women earn 83 cents for every man’s dollar, but when we factor in benefits, insurance, bonuses, etc., women actually earn 57 cents — and even less for women of color.

Women work an average of 63 unpaid days per year as a result of the gender pay gap. If the pay gap were to close, the world’s GDP would grow by $12 trillion by 2025.

That’s the formal economy. Let’s talk about the rest really quick. Two-thirds of the world’s low-wage workers are women, usually in the informal economy, with its great risks and no protections. Women do the majority of unpaid work — 75 percent of it — which includes childcare, cooking, and cleaning. Women spend between 2 to 10 more hours a day than men caring for children, the elderly or the sick. Women in Arab states perform nearly five times as much unpaid care work than men — the highest disparity in the world. Not only does this division of labor mean women work longer hours by combining paid and unpaid work, but it also results in women having less time to engage in paid labor.

Maybe then we should… value women’s work and pay them properly? It doesn’t take a genius. I’m here like a broken record, restating the painfully obvious. But it appears to be easier to remain oblivious.

Asking women to work for free is a particular problem in my field of work. I’ve howled about my feelings before, but there’s more. And other activists have come out with their experiences of being asked to work for free. Let’s call it what it is: emotional blackmail.

I recognize the value of my knowledge and experience. Shouldn’t you?

Don’t get me wrong: I do a lot of pro bono stuff. Decades. And a proven track record. And I’ll continue doing it — for those who can not pay.

For the rest, I am now putting a value on my worth. It is insulting to have to perpetually defend this value. To those who can afford to pay but will not, I now say: This is my rate. Thanks and goodbye.

When we advocate for ourselves, we are advocating for the cause. For the value of the cause. For the value of our work in supporting the cause. For the value of decades of work dedicated to trying to advance this cause — much of which comes with no pay, no recognition, and even no progress.

Claiming space for ourselves also shines a light on the issues we care about. Value me — if you value women’s rights. Because this is precisely what I value. And I have dedicated my life to increasing the value of this very thing.

We’ve argued time and again about the lack of funding for women’s rights. About the rhetoric that fails to meet reality. We see what happens when we do not fund women’s rights work. Inviting a women’s rights expert to speak is not a tick-box. It is not the same thing as dedicating actual resources to the work.

Let’s be clear: there is nothing “soft” about the so-called “softer fields.” This isn’t voluntary. It’s not charity. We have training, experience, technical expertise, decades of knowledge and know-how, field experience, academic credentials and so on… why is that worth less?!

Read the rest of the article here and the next time someone undervalues your work send them here too:

International Women’s Day…I still hate you

Lina AbiRafeh

I wrote last year that I hate International Women’s Day. It resonated with so many of you that here I am, writing it again. Why?! Because nothing has changed.

Oh, wait. Actually some things have changed. Let me tell you how. Things have gotten WORSE.

But aren’t we closer to equality, you think?! I would have thought so too. And yet, the world’s gender gap has gotten wider.


In 2020, we needed 100 years to close the gap. Now we need 136 years. Anyone planning to be around for this event — for the long-overdue closing of a gap that should have never existed in the first place?! I will not. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to get angry. I’m still angry.

So let’s bring out another International Women’s Day — because, if we dedicate one-day-a-year to fighting for equality, I’m sure things will move that.much.faster. Why don’t you smile, girls?! 136 years is just around the corner!

Rinse and repeat.

So, here I say again: I hate International Women’s Day. I hate the one-day-every-year that we are supposed to remind ourselves of how far we’ve come — and how far we’ve got to go for equality. Did we need reminding? Even worse to be told “happy” International Women’s Day. What, precisely, is “happy” about it? We are still not equal. How can I be happy about that?

Quick reality check: All around the world, women and girls are still not able to fully participate in all aspects of social, economic, and political life. They have less choice and less voice — and are further burdened with the responsibility of rectifying this imbalance. Achieving equality is viewed as “women’s work”. As if we caused this mess in the first place.

So please, don’t “Happy International Women’s Day” me. Not yet.

In our world today, the majority of children who are out of school are girls. Child marriage is far too common, happening far too often — just about everywhere (yes, even in the US). Women’s unemployment is higher than men’s. Women do the majority of unpaid work and when they do work — they earn far less than men, in every occupation. In positions of power and decision-making, inequality is most visible because women are rendered virtually invisibleWhat bothers me most, is violence against women. One in three women and girls worldwide will experience some form of violence against women in their lifetime. One.In.Three.

Economically, we’re an under-utilized force, still relegated to feminized sectors, still fighting the wage gap, still the majority of the informal economy, still bearing the burden of unpaid care. In fact, more than 75% of unpaid care is dumped on women. And women represent only 27% of managerial positions around the world. I read somewhere that there are more CEOs named John than female CEOs… I can’t even.

We need a whopping 268 years to get to equality here.

Politically, we’ve declined. Women hold even less positions of power, leadership, and decision-making. Only 26% of the world’s parliamentary seats are occupied by women. And only 23% of the world’s 3,400 ministers are women. 81 countries have never had a woman head of state. They’d probably be a lot better off if they had!

It will take 146 years to close the political gender gap.

Education and healthcare are improving, although not fast enough. The majority of children who are out of school are girls. The majority of people who are illiterate are women. Two-thirds, in fact. That’s nearly half a billion women and girls who still cannot read or write.

Inequality runs deep. More than 2.5 billion women live in countries with discriminatory laws — literally, laws on paper that fail to view women as equals. In 100 countries, laws restrict the type of work women can do — for example needing permission from their husbands before pursuing a new job. Women are more likely than men to live in extreme poverty. Women are hardest hit by conflicts and insecurity. And the least represented in peace and security. I will say again: There is NO peace without women.

I am a broken record.

So I can not — WILL not — say “happy” International Women’s Day when we fight day after day and year after year for the same rights and respect that we should have always had, when women are still restricted in every aspect of our lives, when we are denied choice over our own bodies, when women cannot be safe in public or private space, when women still experience violence and discrimination, when the justice system fails women, when our voices are ignored or denied, when women in senior positions are still the exception and the “first” — rather than the norm. Should I go on?

Women are not an add-on or a side event or an afterthought. They are not a “day”. No-thank-you for the charade. I’m not playing games here. I usually have a good sense of humor. Not today. And this woman surely is not “happy” about women’s rights right now.

Personally, I don’t need a day to celebrate my feminist sisters or to refuel for the fight. It’s my whole damn life.

Let’s try to end on a constructive note. There’s stuff you can do. No — there’s stuff you HAVE TO DO. Wake up, look around, read/listen/learn. Take it personally. Take action. Use your voice. Amplify others.

Get angry.

Until we’ve achieved equality, it’s International Women EveryDay.

Please don’t make me repeat this rant next year.

The full version of the article is available here: