From Where I Stand: “I Empower Women Who Survived Violence to Stand Up for Their Rights. This is My Job. My Dream Job” - Khatera’s story, psychologist in rural Afghanistan.

Khatera Akhgar, 26, always stood up for her rights in her conservative community in Afghanistan. Now she is helping other women heal from the psychological impact of gender-based violence. Her journey as an advocate for gender equality started at home, where she was treated differently because she was a girl and could not understand why. Ms. Akhgar is a psychologist at a UN Women-supported protection center that provides life-saving support to women survivors of violence. She provides individual counselling, and group therapy. She believes that building women’s confidence and self-esteem is the key to creating strong communities.

Date: Monday, August 24, 2020

Khatera Akhgar, 26, is a psychologist with UN Women-supported Women’s Protection Center in Afghanistan. Photo: UN Women/Nangyalai Tanai

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When I was a child my father said that women cannot be like men. For men, there is nothing they cannot do, but for women it is different. He would point to my brother and say ‘You cannot be like him. That is a reality.’ 

I never understood this and eagerly waited for the day to prove to my father that he was wrong, and that women and girls can be anything they choose to be. They can do everything. Gender does not determine who can achieve what.

I studied psychology in Iran and completed a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in Afghanistan. Now, I am currently working my dream job. I stand up for my rights and  empower other women who survived violence in their families, to re-gain their confidence, self-esteem and to feel valued.

Most of the cases I handle involve women suffering from the psychological impact of gender-based violence. These women experience depression, loss of hope, isolation, and low self-esteem. They think they have no future. 

With the restrictions and lockdown imposed due to COVID-19, violence against women and girls has increased. It has been especially difficult for women and girls as schools have closed, health services that were already insufficient are even more stretched, and transportation for daily tasks involved in running a household is not available or limited. The women’s protection center I worked for remained open during this whole period to provide shelter and services for women who escaped violence. My parents would ask me to stay at home since the whole town, and the country, is in lock down. But I insisted that there are women who need our help more than ever before. I had to keep working. 

When I see women transform after they attend our self-esteem building sessions, it inspires me. These women who have struggled so much, and have lived so long without hope, now begin to speak about a future that has possibilities and promise. It shows me the power of having confidence and fills me with courage. We must overcome barriers and change mindsets that prevent us from pursuing our dreams. And change starts at home. 

My wish is that one day all women stand confident and work together to bring down the societal barriers that stand in their way until nothing is considered a taboo simply because you are a woman or a girl." 



SDG 5: Gender equality

UN Women, under the Ending Violence Against Women and Girls (EVAW) Program supports women’s protection centers to provide life-saving services to women survivors of violence against women and girls in Afghanistan. The program is funded by generous donations from the governments of Australia, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Khatera Akhgar’s story contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 5 which aims to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls in both public and private spheres.