How the Afghan Women’s Employment program is helping refugees land on their own feet

YWCA Metro Vancouver launched the six-week program to offer employment training and resources in Pashto and Dari.

YWCA Metro Vancouver's AWE program

Credit: YWCA Metro Vancouver. The graduation ceremony for the third cohort of the Afghan Women’s Employment program

YWCA Metro Vancouver launched the six-week program to offer employment training and resources in Pashto and Dari

When Friba Rezayee flew in from Afghanistan to study political science at UBC in 2011, she had an advantage that many Afghan women arriving in Vancouver today don’t: she was proficient in English.  

When the Taliban forcefully took over Afghanistan last year, they shut down schools and banned women from working. In response to the hostile situation, the Canadian government pledged to resettle 40,000 refugees. Soon, the number of refugees in the country started to spike, making one thing abundantly clear: a lot of the women arriving in Vancouver couldn’t speak English, and that was preventing them from being able to start over. 

As the need for resettlement programs catered towards Afghan refugees continued to grow, YWCA Metro Vancouver launched the six-week long Afghan Women’s Employment program (AWE) to deliver professional training, counselling and resources.

“This is a very unique program that I take pride in because it’s offered in the first two official languages of Afghanistan, Pashto and Dari,” says program manager Rezayee. “It makes it very comfortable for Afghan women to join and participate because it’s a safe space for them.” 

Training and resources

For the first four weeks, the three-person AWE team uses workshops, curriculum and materials to prepare participants to join the local workforce. This covers everything from worker rights, minimum wages and financial literacy to T4 forms, pay stubs and holiday pay.

“Because the work environment and culture here in Canada varies from that in Afghanistan, we try to bridge the gap between the Afghan woman and the Canadian workplace,” notes Rezayee. “On Fridays we offer one-on-one training with our career advisor. And the last two weeks are intense work search. We work with them to make sure that their needs are met, that they have the training to write resumes, cover letters and complete job applications.” 

Having a trauma-informed approach is a priority for this program, and something that the staff are trained to do. Still, it’s not easy for Rezayee to see the painful circumstances that members of her community have found themselves in.  

“What happened to Afghanistan was not fair,” she maintains. “It’s very difficult to overcome. However, because the YWCA provides training and knowledge about employment, as an Afghan woman helping other Afghan women, that really empowers me.” 

After the six weeks are over, the AWE team follows up to make sure that participants are comfortable and happy where they’re working. And if a former participant has not been able to secure a sustainable job, they have the option to rejoin and go through the program once again.

Employment training and relevant volunteering has resulted in an 89 percent success rate for AWE, which has supported 38 women since its first cohort in March 2022. And Rezayee attributes that success to the leadership behind it: “The leadership is from Afghan women to Afghan women for Afghan women.”