DAWN – Documenting Afghan Women’s Narratives – is staging an exhibition at the Fairfield Halls from next Monday, April 8, until April 14.
Additional to the exhibit will be an event where women involved in the project will discuss their experiences and answer questions (on Wednesday April 10, from 6.30pm). The exhibition and event is free and open to all.
“I wanted to bring the real faces of the UK’s Afghan women to the attention of the outside world,” said Zarghona Rassa, the founder of British Afghan Women’s Society, about DAWN. “This is the first oral history project uniquely documenting the lives of Afghan women in the UK.
“Through this project, we wanted to move beyond media stereotypes, and show the complicated, yet hopeful, stories of Afghan women in the UK. We were delighted when Fairfield Halls offered to host the exhibition in Croydon – with its rich history of migration, and diverse population, we hope that the exhibition can make a contribution to cross-cultural sharing and understanding.”
Rassa set up the Afghan Women’s Society in 2001 to support Afghan women living in Britain. “I came to the UK in October 1994 with my two children (seven-year-old son and three-year-old daughter) and quickly found myself very lonely in London. Other communities seemed to be much more settled and I felt isolated,” she said.
“My own knowledge and experience of British society and the existing systems of support for newly arrived asylum seekers and refugees made me want to become involved in volunteering and community work in order to give this much-needed support to other women who arrived from Afghanistan to be settled here.
“After the events of 9/11, when the world’s attention turned to Afghanistan, I began to feel that any media coverage of Afghans was based on stereotypes, and was fuelling negative perceptions of Afghan people, particularly women. There were few, if any, authentic and real life positive stories,” Rassa said.
“Afghanistan is a country where women traditionally are either housewives or occasionally professionals such as nurses, teachers and in some cases, doctors. They are rarely involved in other non-traditional employment or, indeed, other social or public affairs.
“Many challenges still remain, for Afghan women in Afghanistan and in the UK. We found this to be the case during our research and interview process as many women and girls did not want to be interviewed at all or some who already agreed to take part dropped out for certain reasons. Others told us that their father, brother or husband did not want them to do it. Some agreed to audio interviews only because they did not want to be filmed.
“Both single and married women from Afghanistan, even from the most educated and liberal families, are traditionally controlled by close male relatives. However, the situation for the younger generation, especially the ones who were born or brought up in the UK, is different. They are more independent and do not follow the same traditions as their parents do.”
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