At 583 Park Avenue last Wednesday, a group of about 350 people sat at round tables under the high ceiling and massive chandelier. The crowd, which was mostly women, chatted abut their lives, made introductions, and talked about the state of affairs in Afghanistan as they munched on chicken and vegetables.
This was Women for Women International's 2011 fundraiser luncheon. The event included a discussion about Afghanistan with panelists Sayed Ishaq Gailani, the founder, chairman and president of the National Solidarity Movement of Afghanistan, Zainab Salbi, the founder and CEO of Women for Women International, and Sebastian Junger, journalist, author and co-director of "Restrepo." The moderator was Isobel Coleman, senior fellow from the Council on Foreign Relations.
"Afghanistan is a rich country, but its people are poor," Gailani said.
Involvement in the region is full of complicated issues, and while aid is needed in many areas, outside help isn't always welcome. The panel discussed leaving regions that are opposed to U.S. intervention in favor of focusing on those more interested.
Junger pointed out that, had America not been distracted by entering Iraq, we might have made a lot more progress in Afghanistan by now, and may not even need to have this conversation anymore.
Another topic of discussion was how to help women in the country. Women for Women International educates them on vocational skills, rights awareness and literacy, and the organization was collecting sponsors to put women through their 12-month program. They were asking attendees to give $30 a month, which allows an Afghan woman to attend the WFWI classes, plus gives her spending money to use as she sees fit. The group signed up about 130 new sponsors at the luncheon.
With the country in a state of transition, activists are trying to make sure women are heard. Salbi pointed out that the two most important things for a woman to have are access to resources and a voice. And while the organization teaches them how to gain those as much as they can on their own, they are also working with sympathetic leaders to assure rights aren't being negotiated away during government talks.