Editor’s Letter: an interview with a passionate change agent

Masooma Shuja, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of OTTAfghanistan.org To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the formation of the Women’s Action Alliance in Afghanistan, Project Sharing has gathered important voices from across the world…

Editor’s Letter: an interview with a passionate change agent

Masooma Shuja, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of OTTAfghanistan.org

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the formation of the Women’s Action Alliance in Afghanistan, Project Sharing has gathered important voices from across the world who work to empower Afghan women, both physically and mentally.

At the very outset of the Women’s Action Alliance, women in Afghanistan were allowed to run their own businesses and serve as government employees, but in recent years women have been confronted with increasing insecurity as security deteriorated and corruption flourished. As a result of these challenges, under the government’s vision, Afghan women were reduced to “mothers, wives and property,” while men had become “attractive and holy.”

Since the beginning of the year, several key developments have happened to strengthen the status of Afghan women. Hailing from very different backgrounds, in a place where all women come from equal parts of powerlessness and empowerment, Masooma Shuja was one of the brightest young minds coming from the land of high education.

Masooma Shuja, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of OTTAfghanistan.org

As a teenager, Masooma felt a bond with the women in her community. She was an aspiring poetry poet, helping to educate villagers as a high school teacher in one of the rural districts of Afghanistan, when the Taliban’s yoke was imposed over the country. After Islamic clerics in Iran were successfully represented at the Iran-Afghanistan Regional Conference in November of 2001, Masooma’s thoughts were transformed as the value of education was reinforced as an effective tool for women to survive and progress in life. Knowing the importance of education in promoting gender equality in society, she traveled to Iran to attend college and later worked with NGOs in multiple countries before choosing to become a change agent in her home country.

The war in Afghanistan was a challenge for Masooma but she was fortunate enough to secure the funds she needed to start a drama theater group, along with a dream of someday playing a role in helping the Afghan people achieve independence and equality.

Having learned from her successes and mistakes, Masooma now uses her “true skills and power” as a leader of vision, purpose and diplomacy in her communities, people and countries to help women develop self-esteem, strengthen the backbone of their family and create micro-entrepreneurs.

With the return of refugees to Afghanistan, Masooma’s creative vision was turned into a job as Director of Creative Affairs for women entrepreneurs in Kabul, enabling them to venture into starting their own businesses by organizing conferences and building sustainable businesses. Additionally, as a prolific poet, Masooma also has published a memoir and biographies that have been translated into several languages. It is through this accomplished and unique strength that she helps her fellow Afghans to walk their inner circle, keep their fears in check and be the hero to others. Masooma has also won awards for developing sport for girls.

Recently, OTTAfghanistan was named one of 3 Afghan Women Entrepreneurs Distinguished Category finalists in the 2018 Hero of Mechie Awards. The vision that Masooma has moved into as an individual has been key to the success of OTTAfghanistan. Through her vibrant online presence, she has been able to connect women and men from every region in Afghanistan, helping to bridge the existing gender barriers and raise awareness about the need for change and empowerment. As a result, OTTAfghanistan has been able to provide services in over 25 districts of Afghanistan and spread the positive story of success. In the future, Masooma hopes to expand her impact and continue developing leadership skills to help her fellow Afghans succeed in a difficult environment.

When Masooma is not working on her own business, she is involved in other humanitarian efforts for women’s rights, expanding across the Middle East and North Africa and operating in Pakistan, Turkey, the Middle East and Africa.

Many of Masooma’s personal and professional accomplishments have been recognized, with many of her awards coming from international organizations like the UN, the Asian and African Woman Entrepreneurs Associations, the UN Women, and the United Nations Trust Fund. Her achievement as a female leader and woman of her community is significant and one that those who support Afghan women can aspire to achieve.

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