Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Afghan Women Denied Identity Cards
A full 70 per cent of women in the eastern province of Nangarhar do not hold Afghan identity cards and thus are denied access to a wide range of services, IWPR has discovered.
The documents, known as tazkira, are vital to access basic facilities from medical care, education and banking to employment and voting.
But many women told IWPR that their family had refused them permission to apply for ID cards.
Aisha, 28, said that ID cards were only obtained for women in a narrow set of circumstances.
"IDs are taken out for women in order to get passports when they go on the hajj pilgrimage or toother countries. Otherwise women do not get IDs. I myself don’t have an ID so far."
Women being denied permission to obtain ID cards are a problem nationwide. Across Afghanistan, 56 per cent of women do not have tazkira. But the figure in Nangarhar is much lower.
The director of the provincial population registration office, Haifzullah Pahlawan, told IWPR, "Seventy percent of women in Nangarhar do not have IDs."
Pahlawan said that only women who had jobs, travelled abroad or had graduated took out ID cards, and this only applied to women living in urban areas. In more remote parts of the province, men deemed it shameful for female family members to obtain such documents.
He explained that they distributed 300,000 IDs in 2015 and 400,000 IDs in 2016 with nearly 20 per cent of them for women, adding, "In the past we held public awareness programmes with the help of UNICEF over this issue, but the process has stopped in the past six months."
Gulalay, a resident of the Majburabad area who said that she was around 30 years old, said that male family members had a responsibility to obtain IDs for their sisters, mothers and wives but this simply did not happen.
“There are 14 women in our family, including my mothers, five sisters, three sisters-in-law, and four nieces, but none of them has an ID," she said.
Marhaba, who said she did not know how old she was but appeared to be in her mid-30s, explained that she only realized she needed an ID after she became ill and her family decided to take her to India. When they applied for a passport, they were told they needed to obtain an ID card first.
Marhaba said that the other six women in her family have no IDs.
Nangarhar’s director of women's affairs, Anisa Emrani, told IWPR that they were had received no complaints of women lacking access to tazkira.
"This is new for us,” she said. “We will try to provide public awareness about this to encourage women to get IDs."
But Hashima Sharif, the head of women's affairs at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in the east, said that she was well aware of the problem.
In a male-dominated society such as Afghanistan, women were routinely denied such basic rights, she told IWPR.
Hashimi explained that when women approached them or other agencies for help they were asked to produce their ID cards. This meant that those without the documents faced a long period of limbo waiting for their cases to be dealt with by the relevant offices.
"If women have no national IDs, we cannot call them Afghans. But families do not take IDs out for them," she continued, adding that AIHRC workshops and seminars in both the provincial capital and the regions had failed to change attitudes.
Some community leaders say that they are trying to spread the word that tazkira were important for both men and women. Tribal elder Mohammad Wayez Zahirzai said that he and his fellow leaders were informing people about the benefits of tazkira and encouraging everyone to obtain one.
"If one is talking about honour and shame, there is nothing involved in this to harm their honour. This actually determines that they are Afghans. If one does not have an ID, he should not call himself an Afghan, because he is not."
A religious scholar, Mawlawi Imaduddin, also said that obtaining an ID card was necessary.
"Every person's identity must be known,” he said. “ Taking out an ID means registering one's background as well."
But attitudes are taking a long time to change. Jalalabad city resident Asad Khan, 42, agreed that men had should help their female relatives obtain ID cards and said that he believed more and more were doing so.
However, when asked how many women in his family had tazkira, he smiled shamefacedly and said, "Why should I lie to you? There are nine women in the family and none has an ID."
This report was produced under IWPR’s Promoting Human Rights and Good Governance in Afghanistan initiative, funded by the European Union Delegation to Afghanistan.
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