About Åsne Havnelid

Åsne Havnelid is the Secretary General of the Norwegian Red Cross.

A voice of hope for Afghanistan’s women

In February, I went to Afghanistan. I met many of the country’s women, living in cities and remote villages. In spite of the despair haunting Afghanistan, they gave me hope for the women of Afghanistan. The women I talked to were engaged, energetic, eager to learn and inventive – and they had a strong desire to make a difference to others.

Åsne Havnelid, Secretary General of the Norwegian Red Cross, visits one of the Red Cross's seven orthopaedic centres in Afghanistan. Photo: Olav A. Saltbones.

Åsne Havnelid, Secretary General of the Norwegian Red Cross, recently visited Afghanistan. She met several women who have volunteered to work for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Afghan Red Crescent Society. Photo: Olav A. Saltbones.

I am convinced that the future of Afghanistan lies in creating resilient local communities, by Afghans, for Afghans. We must assist civilians in covering their basic needs and dealing with disasters. If we are to succeed, we have to take their situation and context into account. We also need to reach the women in the most isolated parts of the country. If we have access to the women, we have access to the entire population.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and our sister organization The Afghan Red Crescent Society have recruited volunteer women to be trained in first aid and preventive health care, taking their unique situation into account. For instance, there are big differences between regions, villages and even families when it comes to living standards as well as women’s position in society. In Mazar-i-sharif in the north, women were allowed to go out by themselves, in Kabul women actively took part in working life, but in Kandahar in the South, I did not spot any women in the streets.

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