November 6, 2001 - Center for Women: Jennet Robinson Alterman worked in health care in remote areas of Afghanistan

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Afghanistan: Peace Corps Afghanistan: The Peace Corps In Afghanistan: November 6, 2001 - Center for Women: Jennet Robinson Alterman worked in health care in remote areas of Afghanistan

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Jennet Robinson Alterman worked in health care in remote areas of Afghanistan

Jennet Robinson Alterman worked in health care in remote areas of Afghanistan

What of women in Afghanistan?

By: Elsa McDowell Of The Post and Courier Staff

Originally Published on: 11/6/01

Page: B1

Photo Information: One B&W Box

Jennet Robinson Alterman isn't one to shrink from challenges, be it hunger in Swaziland or health care in remote areas of Afghanistan.

But don't ask her to try on the chador she brought back from her time as a Peace Corps volunteer there. She won't do it. She winces at the suggestion.

The traditional veiled covering that extremist Muslim sects in Afghanistan require women to wear means more to her than an uncomfortable, hot and restrictive garment.

It means oppression of the worst kind for women.

And it symbolizes civil rights abuses that must be addressed if post-war Afghanistan is to be sustainable.

Alterman is executive director of the Center for Women in Charleston. Her mission is to help women here find resources they need to be successful - a mission that mirrors a world view where human rights are essential.

During her years as a Peace Corps volunteer and later as an employee of the Peace Corps in Africa and in Washington, D.C., she became convinced that the condition of women makes the difference between a country immobilized by poverty and one with hope for a bright future.


Women, she says, in even the most oppressive societies, make key choices about issues like education, nutrition and health care. When women are disregarded, the standard of living suffers. When women move toward equality, the standard of living improves.

Alterman gives an example: The United States, in an effort to raise the standard of living on an island in the Philippines, provided farmers with a new variety of rice that produced twice the yield of the variety they had been growing.

Islanders' income dropped. The reason, Alterman says, is planners failed to interview women before initiating the program, and it was women who harvested and threshed the rice. They also used a byproduct to make baskets, which they sold to pay for vegetable gardens.

The high-yield variety of rice took twice as long to harvest and thresh. It left women no time to make baskets and no money for gardens. The islanders' nutrition suffered along with their incomes.


Alterman says things are different from when she was in Afghanistan in 1977 and 1978. They are even more oppressive for women. Now, like then, women are not allowed to get medical care from males who are not family members. But then, unlike now, women could be educated for careers in medicine.

Her job was to develop materials to teach women, most of whom were illiterate, about caring for their family's health.

She went places westerners had never been. In remote villages, she met men because they were leaders. But she also met women and came to know them as witty, hospitable and self-confident.

It is those women, Alterman says, who must play a role in the future of Afghanistan if that future is to be successful.

And it is the unquestionable responsibility of those countries involved in that next step to insure that invisible women of Afghanistan not remain so.

Jennet Robinson Alterman will speak more extensively on the topic of women in Afghanistan at noon Dec. 13 at the Center for Women. Admission is free.

Elsa McDowell may be reached by phone at 937-5558, by fax at 937-5579. Her e-mail address is and her mailing address is 134 Columbus St., Charleston, S.C. 29403.

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Story Source: Center for Women

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Afghanistan; Women's Issues



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