Source: The Guardian
By Fran McElhon
A trio of vets in Afghanistan are braving bomb blasts and discrimination to head up an animal welfare practice and inspire a new generation of women
npredictable and indiscriminate bomb blasts don’t deter the three women heading up Afghanistan’s only large-scale animal shelter and veterinary clinic, in Kabul. Neither do the attitudes of the people who told them they couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be vets.
Afghanistan is one of the lowest-ranked countries in the world for gender equality. In this strictly patriarchal society, women are still traditionally married off soon after school age and remain housewives for the rest of their lives. They may face imprisonment for running away from home and many are still behind bars for “moral crimes”.
So for Dr Maliha Rezayi, Dr Malalai Haikal and Dr Tahera Rezaei to be at the helm of the Nowzad Conrad Lewis Clinic in Kabul, they are not only changing the course of animal welfare in Afghanistan, but resetting the course of history for women in society too.
The women, all in their 20s, say they are “always busy” at the clinic, which was founded by former British Royal Marine Pen Farthing. These are Afghanistan’s next generation of women, the millennials changing the future of their country, animal by animal, person by person, through a gradual but potent ripple effect.
Rezayi’s parents were born in Iran after her grandparents moved there to escape the civil war in the early 1990s. When she was 13, the family, including her six siblings, moved back to Afghanistan. Although her parents, a shopkeeper and a housewife, backed her determination to attend school and eventually go to university – and to become Afghanistan’s female boxing champion while still a teenager – her extended family were unremittingly scornful.
“My parents and brothers and sisters supported me and made me feel that I could be anything I wanted to be,” says Rezayi, 27, who had an amicable arranged marriage two years ago. “But my wider family members were not supportive. Most of them grew up in Afghanistan and thought girls can’t go out. This is not a good culture here.
“Of course it was hard, but it made me work harder, to prove everyone wrong. The attitude was that girls can’t do anything and I wanted to show them that girls aren’t less than boys.”
When she went to Kabul University in 2012, there were around 20 women and 140 men on the course. Her experience was mixed; although there were some supportive tutors, there was also a culture of oppression towards female students.
“Some of the teachers didn’t want us to do well and would mark my grades down,” she says. “In our society, there is a belief that you can’t do things because you’re a woman. So when I go out to help someone’s animal, sometimes people don’t want me to touch it. But after I get them to trust me, they thank me.”