“We learn something new every day and they are helping us in every part of our lives” — shelter client.

Why we care: 88% of women in Afghanistan are illiterate and most are unable to surmount this barrier to protect themselves and assert their legal and human rights.

How we’re solving this: Women for Afghan Women’s shelters provide a safe space for women to learn practical life, literacy, and vocational skills.

Women for Afghan Women (WAW) was founded in 2001 to advocate for Afghan women and girls both in Afghanistan and New York, recognizing that they are one of the most underserved and vulnerable populations in the world. The literacy rate for Afghan women is only 12 percent, one of the lowest in the world. In rural areas, where approximately 75 percent of all Afghans live, the situation is even more pronounced, with an estimated 93 percent of women lacking basic reading and writing skills.

In 2008, WAW opened its Family Guidance Center (FGC) and Women’s Shelter in Mazar-e-Sharif in the northern Balkh province to provide legal aid, safe shelter, and education to women and girls who are victims of human rights violations.

As part of WAW’s overall objective to improve women’s human rights in Afghanistan, we provide literacy and life skills empowerment classes at the shelter. A special curriculum was designed to meet the unique needs of clients, as most have never had access to education in their entire lives. They learn how to read and write as well as critical math skills such as how to count. Most clients have never handled money before.

Regardless of whether clients are in the shelter for a few weeks or two years, they all learn that women can learn to read and write. We see this as a first step to women’s overall empowerment in the country and as an opportunity to awaken the potential of our clients.

In September, a group of clients in a shelter literacy course were asked what they had learned through their classes. “We learn something new every day and they are helping us in every part of our lives,” one client said.

“I’ve learned that women are not less than men,” another client added.