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Do you think about Afghanistan?

By Robyn Hutchinson

Robyn is a community volunteer (among many things) who works with helping refugee and new migrant families settle and make lives for themselves in the little Riverina town of Leeton, NSW.

Afghanistan. What do you think of?

Afghan Rugs, Afghan dogs, Afghan biscuits?

Do you think of Afghan women?

Do you know any Afghan women?

Would you like to be an Afghan woman?

What is it like to be an Afghan woman this week?

If you were an Afghan woman this week, what would you wish for?

We have a vibrant Afghan community living in the Riverina. I didn’t know this before 2010. Since, I have met, taught English to, and enjoyed the company of many people who were born in Afghanistan. My heart has filled with compassion, frustration, and at times, despair for them.

I did a course some years ago at Leeton TAFE training as a volunteer English tutor. For members of the Leeton Multicultural Support Group Inc., teaching English is a small part of helping people to settle. One of the major groups I was closely associated with were Hazara-Afghan women.

There were days when I witnessed their true resilience like when an individual shifted from hearing dreadful news of a loved one ill and just so far from joining them, to worksheets on past/present/future tense English verbs. The question, "Do you want to go on?" met with a simple hand clasp and a nod.

I have a Middle-Eastern cookbook, purchased in the 1970’s but it doesn't tell the stories behind it. I have since cooked with women in their Leeton kitchens who made those very same recipes passed down from generations. In their new broken English, they gave me the stories. They made me laugh praising my much chunkier milk slice, my collapsed baklava, or Bolani that was just a bit too flat.

Celebrating birthdays, births, feasts closing Ramadan, graduations or marriages seem especially joyful with Afghan women, who abandoned their jeans and donned their most exotic traditional dresses, scarves and accessories for the occasion. Their men, attired in neat tunics, cargos, jeans and Aussie shirts would be clearly proud. Music and dancing brought an enormous hum. The youngest of children, adept.

One of my privileges has been drawing upon secondary school teaching experience, honed from the beginning of the 80’s in Riverina Schools, to work with kids who began school in Afghanistan. Unlike their mothers, this generation of Afghani girls attending our local high schools, speak English fluently and are hopeful of a place in the workforce or Universities of Australia. The only help they need is navigating the assessment system or styles of delivering educational outcomes and picking up cultural and historical threads that weren’t part of their early childhood. They are so grateful. They are also so tolerant of those who do not see their own automatically granted privilege.

These girls, like their parents, are afraid for their families back in Afghanistan now. They know that a return to the restrictions, poverty of status for women and what has diminished women in the past is devastating for them. Devastating for Afghanistan, for Australia and for the World. We lose a rich, beautiful, and valuable element of our multicultural life in losing the chance for more Afghan women to thrive.


Since the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan commencing in 2014, the world has witnessed the Taliban forcibly take over the country - the Taliban have destroyed homes, displaced thousands of people and reintroduced draconian laws synonymous with their previous rule - including a demise in women’s rights and protections.

Sign the petition ACTION FOR AFGHANISTAN to call on the Australian Prime Minister to commit to an additional 20, 000 refugees from Afghanistan now.

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