University Women Helping Afghan Women (UWHAW)

Building A Voice For Women: One Club Makes A Difference



Photo provided by: Falah Malik
Recent Graduates at Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education in Kabul

A Canadian Federation of University Women-Ottawa International Project:



  • To educate ourselves about the issues facing women and girls in Afghanistan
  • To raise public awareness of their challenging situation, locally, nationally and internationally
  • To maintain contact, advocate for, and support them, with a focus on post-secondary education
  • Specifically to raise funds for girls scholarships at the Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education in Kabul.




The joyous mortar board toss above at the Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education in Kabul is a seminal sign of hope for the women in Afghanistan.

Physician and human rights activist Dr. Sima Samar founded the Institute in 2010 to educate a corps of men and women to take leadership roles in a future Afghan government. In the same year, Dr. Samar came to Ottawa, Canada, to tell the tragic story of Afghan women under harsh Taliban rule to the Canadian Federation of University Women Annual General Meeting. Inspired by Dr. Samar’s eloquence, Ottawa women formed an advocacy and fundraising group called University Women Helping Afghan Women (UWHAW). Ten of the girls from deprived families who graduated this January from Gawharshad received scholarships from this energetic CFUW-Ottawa group.

UWHAW began by learning as much as possible about the lives of the women they wanted to support talking first to the military as Canadians were still deployed in Kandahar when the group began. They read books, reports from international organizations, heard lectures at Ottawa’s three universities and the Aga Khan Foundation, tapped into NGO stories, met with diplomats and development workers, and listened to Afghans, both students and recently arrived immigrants to Canada. From this base of knowledge they felt they had a viable voice to advocate for these women which they have done in Canada, at GWI in Istanbul, at a Parallel Session at the UN CSW in New York City, and at the AGM of Women Graduates-USA.

Concerned particularly with post-secondary education, UWHAW was attracted to the Gawharshad Institute – its philosophy is visionary. The student mix, which covers all religions and ethnicities, includes the highest percentage of female students in institutions of higher education in Afghanistan. At Gawharshad the classes are mixed, a quite exceptional circumstance, and the importance of human rights for all is threaded throughout the curriculum. Tuition, a reasonable $600 per year, makes the goal of post-secondary education a possibility.

Supporting the girls at Gawharshad as they work towards their dreams, has been a life-enhancing experience for many CFUW-Ottawa members and a life-changing experience for the Gawharshad girls and their families.

UWHAW 2017 Graduates


Current UWHAW students enrolled at the Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education




June 2018: Canadian Federation of University Women, Ottawa continues efforts to help Afghan women

The 7th annual University Women Helping Afghan Women (UWHAW) Voices for Afghan Women concluded with a June garden reception. UWHAW is an outreach group of the Canadian Federation of University Women-Ottawa that aims to learn about the realities of life in Afghanistan, raise awareness in their own community about the ongoing challenges that face women and girls in that country, to advocate for their rights, and to raise funds for their university education.

Voices for Afghan Women VII offered outstanding speakers who told the more than 100 guests about current affairs in Afghanistan and Canada’s efforts to help the Afghan people by promoting human rights, with a special focus on women and girls. Diane Harper, Executive Director of the Afghanistan Division of Global Affairs Canada, noted that “the situation has gone from appalling to merely very bad”. But, she acknowledged that fundamental change is occurring. Canada’s aid includes funding for health projects, particularly the fight against polio, and the establishment of schools in remote areas where community support ensures the children are less likely to drop out. Canada also partners with foreign governments, international aid organizations and Canadian non-profit groups to fund reconstruction efforts.

Voices for Afghan Women VII June 2018. From left to right: Sarina Faizy, Provincial Councillor, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, Diane Harper, Executive director, Afghanistan division, Global Affairs Canada, Hally Siddons, founder of UWHAW and garden party hostess, Maryam Monsef, Minister Status of Women Canada, Francois Rivest, Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Heather Lewis, President, CFUW-Ottawa and Lorna Bickerton, Convenor, UWHAW

Sarina Faizy, an elected representative to the Kandahar Provincial Council, urged Canadian leaders to further their support for Afghan peace efforts and she voiced optimism that more women will become elected officials since 30 women are currently standing for election in the provinces.

Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Francois Rivest, spoke of the declining security in rural areas and the rise of the Taliban where young men join for a minimal income and to protect their families. Other concerns voiced included, the still common practice of child marriage, that only 18 per cent of the women are literate, and that 55 per cent of the population earns less than $1 per day. He described Afghans as living in “survival mode” yet he has hope given that maternal mortality has declined and children’s attendance at school has increased nine-fold.

The Hon. Maryam Monsef, Canada’s Minister for the Status of Women, a refugee to Canada and the first Afghan Canadian in Parliament, said “Volunteers make the world go round”, recognizing the work of UWHAW, and encouraged the group to continue to advocate on behalf of the Afghan people. It is the young people in Afghanistan who are rebuilding the country and the world should know about the important successes and progress that is being made.

Throughout the year the group learned from outstanding speakers about women’s empowerment in rural areas, misogyny within the justice system, and social change in the country as it is reflected in public opinion, among other topics. Fundraising efforts at the garden party and a luncheon will ensure more poor and marginalized women in Afghanistan have an opportunity to attend the Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education. To date UWHAW has supported 31 graduates with 35 more currently attending school.

According to Hally Siddons, who was the driving force behind the establishment of UWHAW, GWI has provided “tremendous encouragement to our group and has shared information about our activities in their publications and at the Triennial meetings. We are very grateful for the opportunities provided by GWI. As a consequence of this support and exposure, several other university women’s groups have taken on projects with Afghan women.”

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