Conflicts & War

Afghan women make great strides with top government positions

By Baber Khan Sahel

Kabul, July 29 (efe-epa).- When Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani appointed Zuhra Ahmadzai as the first female deputy governor of Paktia two years ago, she not only carried the responsibility of the insecure province on her shoulders but also dreams of other women in a country that has lived under the shadow of a decades-long war.

There were only a few women who worked as government employees in the province when the 67-year-old took charge in a high-ranking government position.

Two years later, the number of women working in the government sector has increased significantly. There are women doctors, teachers, and female employees holding offices in other public sectors.

“Women suffered the most in the war. The foundation stone for (their) progress has been laid. But they still need legal, moral, and financial support to make further progress,” Ahmadzai told EFE.

She was referring to the situation in Paktia where conservative traditions have stopped the social and cultural empowerment of women.

Ahmadzai herself suffered cultural and security problems during the early days of her appointment. She had to hire her son as an aide and a few other relatives as secretary, driver, and guards to reduce the level of risk.

“When you are a woman and work in such a remote place (her family lives in Kabul), you have to have your aides who are trusted. You can’t trust everyone in such an untrustworthy environment,” she said.

Ahmadzai was one of the six women appointed for the first time as deputy governors in Herat, Kabul, Daikundi, Bamyan, Nangarhar and Paktia provinces by the government in 2018.

It was a pilot-based project as part of the government’s structural reform to empower women.

The pilot has helped in bringing changes and the government earlier this month decided to appoint female deputy governors in all of the country’s 34 provinces for the first time in its political history.

“These six women brought significant positive changes. They helped to solve women’s problems, promoted their rights and boosted women’s role in decision making. Therefore, we decided to appoint female deputy governors for all 34 provinces,” Sayed Shah Saqim, a spokesperson for Independent Directorate of Local Governance, told EFE.

Their role will be to help remove all social, cultural, and administrative obstacles towards women empowerment and improve women’s access to education and health services. The decision was widely welcomed in Afghanistan.

But Ahmadzai warned that the government needed to be careful in making such appointments.

“These posts are really sensitive, full of responsibilities. New appointees should take their societies into confidence and not play with people’s emotions,” she said.

“If these (sensitivities) are not considered, instead of any progress, it will have adverse and irreversible consequences for women,” she warned.

Latifa Mohsini, 35, the deputy governor of the central Bamyan province, is confident that the newly appointed female officials had the “capacity and knowledge” to overcome traditional and cultural obstacles.

“New appointments of women can help form a new platform of cooperation among women of various provinces to share experiences towards progress,” Mohsini said.

For Habiba Kakar, the deputy governor of eastern Nangarhar province, Afghan women have made progress but unfortunately, it is limited to Kabul and few other major cities.

“Problems still exist in remote areas where families bar their daughters from going to schools because of traditional and cultural problems.”

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