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

Afghanistan: Nangarhar's Sole Female Lawyer

Lack of representation means that women find it even harder to access justice.
By Zahir Tarakai
  • Nangarhar University graduates. (Photo: UNAMA News/Flickr)
    Nangarhar University graduates. (Photo: UNAMA News/Flickr)

Out of hundreds of female law graduates in Nangarhar province only one has been able to find a job as a state lawyer, IWPR has found.

Shekeba Danish is the only female lawyer employed by the Nangarhar attorney’s office, although bureaucratic problems meant that she has actually been registered as a government employee in Paktia.

“The posts which were supposed to be filled by women are held by men and there are no more jobs available for women,” she told IWPR. “Female lawyers need to be appointed to the attorney’s office.”

Other female graduates complain that despite completing the four years of a law degree they have been forced to remain at home, find jobs as teachers or undertake menial work.

“It is impossible for us to find jobs in our own field in the legal department in Nangarhar province,” said Wahidae, a Nangarhar university graduate. “I tried very hard, but I couldn’t find a job. I am so disappointed.”

She continued, “Women are not treated fairly in Nangarhar province. There is discrimination against us. There should be jobs set aside for women, or they should recruited according to their talent and competency.”

Law graduate Nasrin now teaches at a school.

“Eight of us girls graduated together from university, but none of us were able find a job in the attorney’s office,” she said.

“We didn’t study for four years to become schoolteachers. We want to work in our own specialised field,” Nasrin continued, adding that female lawyers were essential for women were to be able to access justice.

Conservative Afghan traditions mean that it is often hard for women to communicate with male legal representatives, especially when it came to sensitive issues such as gender violence.

“We want to defend the rights of female criminal suspects because these women can’t explain their problems to male attorneys and prosecutors,” she continued. “In fact, these women are [often] innocent, but they are jailed and handed heavy prison sentences.”

Danish also raised this issue, arguing that employees of offices dealing with issues such as domestic violence should be female. Currently, all those dealing with these issues in the provincial prosecutor’s office were men.

Wahidullah Wahid, the head of the department dealing with gender violence at Nangarhar’s appellate prosecution office, agreed.

“The presence of female attorneys will help our work and make it more transparent,” he told IWPR.

“Female defendants and convicted criminals can explain themselves better and feel more comfortable giving information to female lawyers, but it’s difficult for them to communicate in the same way with male attorneys.”

Legal expert Safiullah Tarakai also emphasised the importance of employing female lawyers.

“The role of female attorneys is vital,” Tarakai continued. “Male lawyers find it hard to investigate cases related to women. In addition, due to cultural restrictions, male attorneys can’t always collect that much information when investigating cases involving women, so they have to make decisions on the basis of very little data. This problem would be solved if we had female lawyers.”

The director of Nangarhar’s prosecutor’s appeals office, Mohammad Wali Hashimi, acknowledged there was a serious shortfall.

“There are some cases which can only be tackled by female attorneys and the outcome of these cases is more transparent when female attorneys investigate them,” he said.

Asked why there was only one female lawyer employed by the state in the province, Hashimi replied, “Hiring people is not in our remit and all staff are appointed by central government.”

Jamshed Rasooli, the spokesman of Kabul’s Attorney General’s Office in Kabul, also accepted there were problems with the recruitment of female lawyers in Nangarhar province.

Rasooli said that another plan was to roll out exams targeted specifically at female law students to recruit them into state positions.

 “We don’t deny that these problems exist. In the past we had no female lawyers at all,” he said, noting that following Danish’s appointment, the province did at least now have one female lawyer. “We want to appoint more in the future because we need female lawyers and we accept this is a problem.”

Experts say that other issues needed to be addressed to help women access jobs in the state’s legal system. There needed to be better facilities for women in government offices, and more support regarding travel, especially when lawyers were sent to the districts to gather information.

Syed Shafiqullah Mushfiq, head of the lawyers’ union in Nangarhar province, said that only a quarter of female lawyers were even licensed.

“The others are jobless or work in other fields,” he told IWPR, highlighting two main problems.

“The conditions [of employment] are not suitable for women and, on the other hand, the government hasn’t focused enough attention on the recruitment process for women.”

Anisa Imrani, director of Nangarhar’s department of women’s affairs, said that another issue was that female lawyers preferred not to work for the low salaries paid in governmental positions.

 “If female attorneys come to the department of women’s affairs, we will strongly defend their rights and also help them finding jobs,” she said, adding that women in this position had yet to approach them.

Observers say they fear that the lack of job opportunities will deter families from supporting female members pursuing professional studies.

Nangarhar resident Karimullah (not his real name) said, “Under very difficult conditions, I facilitated my daughter’s education. She graduated from the faculty of law, but is now at home and has to do sewing and knitting.”

“My daughter tried very hard to find a job, but she couldn’t find a job in her chosen field,” he explained. “When she grew tired of searching, she started teaching at a private school and taught for six months. But after that, she stopped working and trying to find a job for herself. It was the most disappointing moment of her life.”

He added, “When I see her near a knitting machine, I become sad, but what can we do?”

Karimullah continued, “This problem will have a negative effect on those girls who are busy studying. When even educated women still face an uncertain future, families will never let their daughters study and may marry them off at a young age, which will surely affect their careers.”

 “If female graduates girls don’t get jobs related to their own fields, it will discourage their families and this will negatively affect the educational process and metal stability of these girls,” concluded Sheba, a social activist.

She added that the situation in the legal sector reflected a wider bias in state institutions.

“Women are treated unfairly across Nangarhar province. If you look at all the government offices, you will find out that presence of women in these offices is almost zero. We have so many female attorneys, but only one has an official job. How is this fair?”

This report was produced under IWPR’s Promoting Human Rights and Good Governance in Afghanistan initiative, funded by the European Union Delegation to Afghanistan.