An advocate for women and girls in Afghanistan was the special guest speaker at an International Women’s Day lunch Saturday at Newlands.
Lauryn Oates has been passionate about women’s rights there since 1996, when she first learned how the Taliban was treating women. She converted her passion into action by setting up a chapter of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WAfghan) in Vancouver, and is currently projects director for the organization.
“Girls were banned from school. Women couldn’t work outside the home and weren’t allowed to even leave their homes without a male relative. The rules effectively meant that women and girls were no longer human beings,” Oates said.
She first went to Afghanistan in 2003, after the Taliban was overthrown, following the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the United States by Al-Qaeda.
She told the more than 200 people at the event, sponsored by the Langley Central Rotary Club, that Afghanistan is “a place of extremes.” In some areas, a fairly high number of girls are getting an education, but in others, literacy is minimal, child mortality is high and vaccination levels are very low.
“Educating mothers is the single biggest factor in improving the whole situation,” she said. “The best prediction of a state’s peacefulness is how women are treated.”
Oates is a big advocate of literacy, and not just learning to read, but making reading an enjoyable everyday habit.
“The human right to read is the key that opens the lock,” she said “Literacy allows women to become independent.”
She told the crowd that the “human rights of others far away from us are entwined with us here. In our comfort here in Canada, we have sometimes forgotten that rights were not given, they were taken. There is no excuse for treating people differently, even when you are told to mind your own business.”
Three local women of distinction were honoured at the event.
Marilyn Gabriel is hereditary chief of the Kwantlen First Nation, and in her almost 20 years of leadership has helped the First Nation regain its traditional name, expand its cultural and educational programs and enter into a number of business activities. It has good relations with other levels of government, and Gabriel has empowered the people of her community.
Ingeborg Violet is a member of the Langley Central club, and with her late husband Claude, started Domaine de Chaberton Winery in South Langley — the first winery in the Fraser Valley and the first of many wineries to come to the area. Since they sold the winery in 2005, after operating it for more than 20 years, she has been an active community volunteer, raising funds for Langley Memorial Hospital and other causes.
Christina Bucholtz, 23, began The People’s Foundation of Sierra Leone to empower young people in the west African country which endured a 12-year civil war. The foundation is involved in health education, encourages mentoring and provides university scholarships.
She is there at present, as a volunteer teacher. Her award was accepted on her behalf by her mother Bonnie.