Volunteer Profile: Latifa Yusufi Woodhouse, Blazing the Trail for Afghan Women

Board of Directors member, New Student Orientation teacher and host, Leadership Academy faculty member, and beloved khale to everyone at The Initiative, Latifa Yusufi Woodhouse has been blazing the trail for Afghan women - and Afghan women’s equal rights and education - since not long after her birth in Kandahar, Afghanistan on October 29, 1952. With her father and mother’s love and great support, despite prevailing cultural norms to the contrary, Latifa was allowed to continue her education and to attend Kabul University, where she finished her degree in two years in stead of four. Strong, educated women had been her role model at home. “As a young girl, I knew that having a good education would make a difference in my society and abroad.” That inspiration served Latifa very well; in July 1977 she enrolled at The States University of New York in Albany as Afghanistan’s first female Fulbright Scholar.

Educator and Mother

In 1978, midway through her master’s degree programs in English as a Second Language and Counseling and Guidance, Latifa joined the feminist movement. A year after that, her professional teaching career began at Bridgeport University, which lead to other college teaching positions in Ohio and Long Island, and then to the New York City High Schools, where she taught ESL for 26 years. In addition to teacher and activist, Latifa’s roles during that time included devoted wife of Colin Woodhouse and loving mother of five children: Jessica, Sara, Sophia, Alexandra, and Evan Woodhouse.

Activist and Advocate

Perhaps the most important time in Latifa’s life as an activist was right after 9/11 when she and several other initial members founded Women For Afghan Women. During those first days after the attack, she rallied both Afghan and American communities in New York City to support the development of educational and health facilities for women and children of Afghanistan. As part of that work, she has helped create greater public awareness of the fate of the Afghan Women by speaking about Afghan women's rights in our local newspapers, local TV channels, Hofstra University radio, CWPost Long Island University radio and many churches, temples and mosques. Today, Women for Afghan Women is the largest women’s organization in Afghanistan providing mediation, protection, and life-saving services to women, girls, children and their families. The organization boasts an over 780-member team that operates 33 facilities across 14 provinces in Afghanistan, a community center in New York, and an advocacy office in Washington, DC.

Role Model

Latifa has always worked on women's issues. For the past 19 years, she has served on the Women’s Board and as President of the Women’s Group at The Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock (UUCSR) as well as on its Human Rights and Service Committees. Latifa says her most rewarding effort was teaching for 26 years in the New York City High Schools, knowing she has made a significant difference in the lives of her ESL students and advisees. We are so grateful to Latifa for continuing that work at The Initiative and for sharing her experience as a trailblazing Afghan woman who pursued and used her education to help other Afghan women.

“As a young girl, I knew that having a good education would make a difference in my society and abroad.”

- Latifa Woodhouse, Board Member

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