In May 2008, Barakat started a No Smoking campaign at its schools in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is an Islamic country, where drinking alcohol and gambling is prohibited according to the Islamic faith. However, smoking is a widespread practice among Afghan men.
Barakat’s No Smoking Campaign is aimed at a more clandestine smoking practice. Women in Afghanistan live restricted lives, spending most of their time indoors, with little human interaction. They are expected almost solely to tend to domestic duties. How did the women behind purdah (curtain) gain access to cigarettes and develop such a desire that it became an addiction before they knew it? Sometimes, a male relative who feels pity for a woman’s mundane existence might introduce her to smoking cigarettes. Some women bring cigarettes to bridal parties to share with other female guests. Smoking becomes a way for some women to escape their present or allows them a chance of rebelling in a small way against a claustrophobic social system. Through this practice, many Afghan women have become addicted to smoking.
Extent of the problem
This is a problem among the closeted society of women in Afghanistan, particularly in the areas where Barakat works: Faryab and Jowzjan Provinces. It is our belief that this issue cuts across the different ethnicities because it is intrinsic to the lifestyle of women in most ethnic groups, with very few exceptions.
At Barakat, we are using our current educational programs to spread the message about the harmful effects of smoking through powerful visual aids in the form of posters, accompanied by talks, explanations and question-answer sessions between the teachers and the students about the process of how one can get addicted to smoking, and the damage that can be incurred by the habit. The girls and women who attend Barakat’s programs are encouraged to discuss this issue at home with other women, and we hope that this conversation will be continued in the Parent Teacher Association Meetings that we will have in the Barakat schools.
Ignorance and Boredom: A Deadly Combination
Awareness-raising is possibly the first step towards prevention of cigarettes. To a large extent, the habit is caused by the utter ennui of the lives of women in purdah, but also by their ignorance about the harmful long-term effects of smoking.
We care that the populations we serve are protected by being informed about the substances that they use for their own individual pleasure or in order to be part of a peer group. Barakat’s No-Smoking Campaign was started in March 2008 and we will continue to monitor the response we get from the program, in order to understand more about the complexity of this issue so we can address it better still.