Today my assistant and I drove away from another disheartening interview with another woman being subjected to violence who doesn't trust the justice system enough to consider reporting this crime through official channels. I could see that the accumulation of the past week of interviews in this vein were taking a toll on her as much as they have been on me.
There is a very delicate balance to be maintained in this work between pragmatism and despondency. Most days, most weeks, I manage to hold this balance by focusing on specific goals:
- we will document all these cases and prepare a report;
- we will train all the Department of Women's Affairs' staff to use the new standardised data form for cases of violence against women;
- we will set up this briefing meeting for visiting experts with local women's organisations;
- we will help this Afghan women's NGO find donors.
Some days it feels like enough - we have thrown all the chaos out onto the table and identified these small but concrete steps we can take. Some days it just isn't enough of a response to the overwhelming sense of injustice, pain and fear we find all around us. Some days you give yourself the benefit of the doubt and hope that it is all adding up to something bigger and better than the piece that you can see.
My assistant and I have taken to categorising days - there are:
- 'it's not certain, but if we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt there is a chance that we did something good today' days;
- 'it's all futile lets just go for a walk around the compound and talk about your future career plans' days; and
- 'there is a good chance that today we achieved something worthwhile' days.
As long as we have at least one or two of the latter per fortnight we seem to be able to keep up a sense of momentum for the other nine days. Yesterday was one of those days. I'm still enjoying the afterglow.
On all the other days I remind myself that just getting to work with two incredibly smart young Afghans, to nuture their natural intelligence and mentor them to become skilled and confident human rights officers, is more than enough to achieve in any given week.
My decision making took a short detour today into a street marked "Afghan Women's Oral History Project", it's about women, violence, trauma, survival, and transitional justice. Come on, you can't blame me for thinking that a project like that might be a once in a lifetime opportunity... So my resolve to leave is wavering, but I'll be back in Ghor soon and with plenty of time to listen to my gut. I'll let you know if I ever figure out what it is trying to tell me.