Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghan Women Excluded from Public Life

A lack of representation has led to a vicious circle of marginalisation.
By Mohammad Hakim

Women in Afghanistan’s southern province of Ghor say that they are being routinely excluded from public life, with almost no representation in local government, the justice system or any other decision-making bo

There are only 27 women among the province’s 9,000 local government employees, according to Mohammad Shoaib Khalili, an advisor to Ghor’s Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission.

A lone female prosecutor serves the entire province, and Ghor governor Ghor governor Ghulam Nasir Khazay said that there was only one woman working in his 70-strong team.

Ghor is one of Afghanistan’s most underdeveloped provinces, with some areas ruled by insurgents and entirely out of government control. Gender violence is widespread.

Underage and forced marriages are a major problem along with “baad”, the custom of settling disputes by handing over a girl to the family of the perceived victim of a crime.

Those few women who manage to take on jobs in male-dominated spheres sometimes even risk their lives.

In March 2018, 30-year-old police officer Panjagul was shot dead in a motorcycle ambush outside her house in Ghazi Dara Ferozkoh one morning.

Panjagul had been working in the domestic violence department and her mother Zuleikha said that she had been killed simply because she was a woman.

Zuleikha said that her daughter had twice received telephone death threats, including a message left on her voice mail that said, “First you are a woman, and then you are a police officer, so we cannot tolerate your work.”

Former Afghan lawmaker Sima Joyeenda, who spent six months as Ghor governor in 2015, said that women not only lacked access to education and health but were deprived of justice, she said.

“A woman is viewed as an object of male sexual desire created to meet men’s needs,” she continued, adding that women were bought and sold like animals in the province.

(See Afghanistan: Sold for a Herd of Cows).

However, Joyenda herself was criticised for defending harsh punishments for so-called “morality crimes”. After a court-ordered flogging of a couple accused of adultery in Firozkoh during her time as governor, she told Afghan media outlets that the punishment was in keeping with Islamic law.

Khazay, the current governor, acknowledged that women faced complex challenges in the province.

“Women do not have job security in government offices in Ghor,” he said.

He added that a lack of access to education meant that women in Ghor were simply more poorly educated than men, further excluding them from decision-making roles.

As well as 36 girls’ school across the province, there is one state-run college for women, the Higher Education Institute of Ghor, which opened nine years ago.  

Lailuma, a resident of Ferozkoh, graduated from there in computer science in 2016, but has had little luck in getting a job since.

She said that she had applied for an administrative position at the municipality in April 2017 and had been interviewed by Ghor mayor Muhammad Arif Qazizada.

However, during the interview, he lectured Lailuma that she should improve her character and morals if she ever wanted to get a job.

“I was shocked by the mayor's speech and I did not apply to the municipality again,” Lailuma said.

Qazizada confirmed that he had made the comments to Lailuma, but said that his intentions had been good.

Then in December 2017, Lailuma successfully applied for a teaching position at the state-run Sultan Raziah high school. She said that she when she took her letter of appointment to Ghor’s education department, its director Khalil Ahmad Mobarez rejected it.

Mobarez declined to comment when IWPR asked him why Lailuma had been rejected.

Although there is no university in Ghor, some young women manage to study in other provinces.

But many educated young women say they have been unable to find jobs once back in Ghor, highlighting prejudice as the major reason.

Qandi Gul, 24, is from Dara Sheikhan in Shahri Ferozkoh district. She said she had overcome many challenges to graduate in social science from Kabul university in 2016, but had since failed to find any work.

Immediately after graduating, Gul applied for an administrative role in the department of education and then for a social worker position at the department of labour and social affairs. Neither attempt was successful.

“Officials in Ghor province are misogynists, and that’s the reason why I couldn’t get a job,” she said.

Fatima, 24, also graduated from Herat university two years ago but is still unemployed.

She said that she had applied for roles at the Ghor governor’s office and the provincial department of education but had been stymied by the requirement to have three years of work experience.

“How can I have three years of working experience when I’ve just graduated from college?” she asked.

Hajira Bashiri, head of the legal affairs at the provincial department of women’s affairs, said that these kinds of difficulties in pursuing a career had deterred girls and young women from going on to higher education.

 “Girls in Ghor now think of getting married after they graduate from school rather than of continuing their studies, because they are sure that they will remain unemployed even with qualifications,” she said.

Local civil rights activist Gul Aqa Ramish told IWPR that the lack of representation in local government had further alienated women, creating a vicious circle.

“Women in Ghor are not even willing to go to government departments to make complaints,” Ramish said.

Ghor provincial council member Anisa Ghayour said that she was among only three female representatives on a 15-member body and herself felt excluded.

“We three women do not have executive power and authority in the provincial council, although we do what we can to raise women’s issues to get justice,” she said.  

Those few women who have managed to take on senior roles stress the importance of having female representation in public life. Obaida Sharar is the only female prosecutor among 37 officials at the attorney general’s office working on gender violence. She said that 70 lawsuits were filed with their department last year.

Sharar explained that the lack of female prosecutors had left women unable to seek justice. Conservative traditions meant that it was extremely difficult for women to speak freely to male officials, especially about sensitive subjects such as domestic violence.

“In many cases, male prosecutors can’t understand the issues women bring before them and this gap means the cases are not properly addressed. Women are the ones who end up being worse affected.”

This report was produced under IWPR’s Supporting Investigative Reporting in Local Media and Strengthening Civil Society across Afghanistan initiative, funded by the British Embassy Kabul.