For Immediate Release                                Contact: Jessian Choy,  WIN, 415/221-4841

Calling the Circle of Women from the U.S. and Afghanistan:

Collective Action Connecting Women

In Celebration of Women’s History Month


San Francisco-Fremont, CA…In celebration of Women’s History Month, a historic event is occurring on March 2, 2003, in Oakland at Zazoo’s Restaurant, Jack London Square at 7:30 p.m. The Women’s Intercultural Network (WIN) and Afghan Women’s Association International (AWAI) have called together a circle of Bay Area women and organizations, who are making history connecting women across cultures for collective action.  Conversation, food, music, and an auction of  Afghan arts, antiques and rugs will serve as a backdrop to Bay Area Afghan women and an array of local leaders, advocates, and community supporters as they gather together to share professional, educational, and political leadership skills to help reconstruct a post-Taliban Afghanistan that includes Afghan women in the planning.

This is the first of many events reflecting the partnership and collective action of (WIN) and (AWAI). Their shared vision is to build a real and virtual grassroots network between Afghan and US women for on-going dialogues and information exchange that will support Afghan women’s participation in building and planning their democracy and economy.  March 2’s “Calling the Circle” of powerful and empowering women announces this revolutionary undertaking.

What does “Calling the Circle” mean? "At this critical time in our history, it is imperative that women of the world come together and create alliances, networks and bridges across all divides,” Marilyn Fowler, WIN President and CEO, explains. “WIN wants to ensure that the voices of all women and girls are heard—we create venues, real and virtual, for the voices of our sisters who have not been able to speak for themselves." This U.S.-Afghan circle will link to a global network of CIRCLES in progress in California, Uganda, and Japan. The goal is to link skills and resources that will be applied to a range of projects inside Afghanistan, including the active participation of women in civic and political leadership, the creation and improvement of schools, and development of small businesses for women. To support efforts through December 2003, this project was awarded a seed grant in August 2002 from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Education and Cultural Exchange.


Delegation to Afghanistan

As part of the leadership and resource exchange, AWAI and WIN will take a delegation of ten women leaders from the U.S. to Afghanistan in March 2003 for ten days. They will include professionals in organization development with expertise in working with women after war, education specialists, of which six are women who speak Farsi and some local dialects.

Focus of the U.S.-Afghan CIRCLE delegation will be to build ties between US  and Afghan Women’s organizations, to define ways and resources needed to increase the participation of Afghan women in civic and political leadership, and to begin the ongoing exchange of leaders and training for grassroots community leaders actively involved in girls’ education in Afghanistan. This will include meetings with regional Afghan women’s associations, touring schools, developing ideas for small business enterprises, and assessing women’s access to electronic communications. Dr. Cynthia Gehrie, an Ethnologist who video documents women's stories, will train two young Afghan women in documenting Afghan girl's voices.

A delegation of eight women leaders from Afghanistan will then visit the U.S. and meet with women’s organizations throughout California who are a part of the California Women's Agenda (CAWA) network of over 600 non-governmental organizations implementing the Beijing Plan of Action in California.  Delegates and California representatives will exchange information on government, economic, health, and education systems, and examine how our organizations operate and effect change within the systems. Ideas for specific projects and mutual activities will be explored, and resources, training, and information needed to support project development will be defined. Ongoing connections and network relationships will be formed to further the ability of Afghan women to become full participants in the development of their economy and democracy.


For more information about this Project and “Calling the Circle,” contact WIN at 415/221-4841 or AWAI at 510/574-2180.  Visit the website of Women’s Intercultural Network at   Or e-mail: [email protected]



Background:  U.S. Delegation to Afghanistan

The US delegation to Afghanistan will include the following extraordinary women:


Rona Popal, Executive Director of Afghan Coalition, founder and President of Afghan Women’s Association International (AWAI) based in Fremont, California. She worked for Alameda Social Services for 15 years (1987-2000) and is a representative of the Northern California Afghan community to Loya Jirga  (Grand Assembly) in Kabul. She founded the Afghan Women's Association International in 1992, and has worked for women's rights since.   She graduated from Cal State of Hayward in 1999 with a major in Political Science and International studies.

Marilyn Fowler, President/CEO Women's Intercultural Network (WIN) is coordinating the Delegation, and has led several delegations of women in cross-cultural exchanges into developing countries including Uganda, 2001 and 2002, China, 1995 and 2000. A full biography  is at

Charlie Toledo is Director of Suscol Intertribal Council, a community-based organization in Napa, and Chair of WIN Board of Directors. She is of Towa/Tiwa ancestry (New Mexico) and has served since 1997 on the executive Board at DQU, the only tribally controlled Community College in California, and one of the first tribal colleges in the U.S. With over twenty years in alternative healthcare fields, she has extensive travel experience in developing countries and a background in mediation and reconciliation.


Zakia Kohzad, a graduate of  Kabul University in 1981 with a degree in Literature, has worked in Afghanistan as Director of Pamir Journal, and FM Radio Executive Director of Diversity program at Kabul Radio. A member of Afghan Journalist Association, Zakia wants to assist in interviewing Afghan women about their needs and organizations and establish more connections between Afghan Radio and Television and the U.S. media.

Elahe Amani, President of the Coalition of Women from Asia and the Middle
East (CWAME), and Professor at UC California at Fullerton. She serves as State Chair of
International Section of American Association of University Women California, and as a WIN Board Member. As a specialist in conflict resolution who speaks Farsi, Elahe wants to connect the Afghan women's education to AAUW in California for curriculum and   other organizational resources.

Cynthia Gehrie, Ph.D. of The Documentation Fund is a videographer and ethnographer,  who has documented women in several war torn areas including Bosnia, Croatia, Chiapas and Uganda. She wants to teach the use of digital camera and computers for documentation and will work with two young women interns while in Aghanistan. A full bio is at:

Taiba Hosseini is the Office Manager for the Afghan Coalition.  She graduated from Kabul University, and received her Master Degree in Public Administration from the University of Nebraska, Omaha, NB.  She has been a member of AWIA since 1993 and worked with the Afghan Community since 1992. She has worked in the Ministry of Finance in Kabul. She wants to work with women's organizations to reconstruct the education system.  She attended the UN Panel on Women's Right, 1999 and has been involved with the Afghan Widows Project and health centers in Heret.


Nazima Momand  has been a Medical Translator and Family Plnnng Educator for Alameda County Health Care Agency for th epast 17 years.  he graduated from Kharkoc Insittute of culture in the Soviet Union, 1982.  She is a Certifed Trilingual (Farsi, Phto, Russian ) translator.  She has worke dwith many Afghan refuegees here, and want s the oppotu;nit   to visit Afghanistan and start a women's health project to benefit women and children, especially in the area of family planning.


Joining the grant delegation from Uganda will be The Honorable Annette Mukabera, Member of Parliament, Republic of Uganda, and WIN Board Member. She will represent women of Uganda and speak about their role in the reconstruction of Uganda and their participation in the Uganda democracy with elected seats in their districts and Parliament. Annette comes from Kisoro, a very rural district that is well known for its organic, sustainable and productive farming practices.


Supporters and recommendations received for this project include:

Senator  Barbara Boxer, Congresswomen Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Lee. 

Partner organizations include the American Association of University Women, Coalition of Women from Asia and the Middle East, Planned Parenthood of Golden Gate, National Women’s Political Caucus, Global Exchange, Commissions on the Status of Women, Suscol Intertribal Council, Human Rights Advocates, Jewish Family & Children’s Services of the East Bay, Department of Labor/Women’s Bureau Region Nine, as well as the organizing leadership of California Women’s Agenda (CAWA). 


Insights from Participants

Rona Popal, Director of the Afghan Coalition and AWAI (based in Fremont, California), and representative and delegate to Kabul for the Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly), captures the issue when she explains:


“We have to remember that Afghanistan has been at war and occupied for more than 23 years. War oppresses women. For Afghan girls the suicide rate is very high, because they will kill themselves before they will be sold to men for an arranged marriage or worse, for sexual slavery. There is no law against selling girls but, although this is not an Afghan tradition, it comes with the culture of war and the poverty and desperation from war.”


“Many women in countries around the world had been supporting Afghan women, but unfortunately the world finally took notice only after the Taliban was defeated. The tragic events of September 11, 2001, mobilized women globally. Bottomline, Afghan women want help in organizing and building their associations from the “ground up” and reconstructing educational opportunities. They need training support systems to help them become leaders in their community rebuilding.”


Charlie Toledo, WIN Board of Directors’ Chair and Director of the Suscol Intertribal Council, Napa: marks the power of this endeavor and partnership:   “One person alone can be an inspiration, but a group working collectively can be a transformation.”