The Afghan National Unity Government was established in June 2014. After a notorious and controversial 2014 presidential election, Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan agreed to split the power with Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive of Afghanistan. Agreement over the presidency of Ashraf Ghani and the appointment of Abdullah Abdullah, as Chief Executive, ended the political deadlock that otherwise would have allowed Afghanistan to the frontier of political collapse.
The life of the Afghan National Unity Government is approaching to its end legally. During these four years, President Ghani and Chief Executive, Dr. Abdullah had made many promises to the people. The most important ones were holding Loy Jira for Amendment of Constitutional Law, issuing the electronic ID Cards, reforming the election body and many more other promises. But none of these promises were fulfilled, on the contrary, security got worsened, and poverty and unemployment have increased over the past four years.
Despite all the problems, unfulfilled commitments and promises, and other paradoxical political statements issued by the Afghan National Unity Government for reforms in Afghanistan, the Afghan National Unity Government is worthy of being praised and admired for providing opportunities for Afghan women and girls to demonstrate their potentials – to prove that they are not weaker than men. They can play a constructive role in the economic, social, educational and political aspects if given the chance. They can prove that gender does not determine someone’s talent, capacity, and competences. They can be the winners, too, in any kind of competition and under any kind of circumstances as long as the processes are meritocratic and transparent.
Opportunities and Competences
The followings are the instances of some of these opportunities provided by the Afghan National Unity Government to women. These Afghan women were able to occupy high-political positions during the National Unity Government either via competitive recruitment processes or through Afghanistan’s president’s directives.
Last year in December 2018, the Afghan government appointed the Deputy Foreign Minister of the country, Adila Raz, as the permanent representative of Afghanistan at the United Nations. This is the first time a woman from Afghanistan has been appointed to represent the country at the United Nations. Ms. Raz succeeded Mahmud Saikal, who had been presenting Afghanistan for the past four years at the United Nations.
Ms. Adila Raz has studied her postgraduate in the United States in diplomacy. She previously worked as Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Cooperation in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ms. Raz was a vice presidential spokesman for former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, and then also a deputy head of his office. Ms. Raz also previously has worked for the UN in Kabul for some time.
In another unprecedented example, Kabul Municipality for the first time announced that 11 women have been selected as the deputy districts in different districts of Kabul. As the Kabul Municipality argued that the goal was to increase women’s participation in urban affairs activities, fight against corruption and attract people’s cooperation.
Likewise, last year in November 2018, the Afghan government appointed Ms. Roya Rahmani as Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States. Ms. Rahmani was previously appointed as Afghan Ambassador to Indonesia in 1395. She has replaced Hamdullah Mohab, who serves currently as the National Security Adviser of Afghanistan.
Ms. Roya Rahmani studied at Columbia University of New York and McGill, Canada, and before 1395, she was the director of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Regional Cooperation Division. In addition to Ms. Rahmani, Afghanistan has also selected other women as ambassadors. Currently, Ms. Soraya Dalil is Afghan ambassador to Switzerland, and Shukria Barakzai is on the mission as ambassador to Norway and Shahgul Rezai is also Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tajikistan.
Recently, the Afghan government appointed Ms. Marjan Mateenas the new deputy minister for curriculum and teacher training of Ministry of Education. Ms. Mateen has an MA from the Jawharlal Nehru University of India. Previously, she has been a university professor for several years. Her previous portfolio also focused on education and youth development.
The above-mentioned Afghan women who joined the Afghan National Unity Government are just a few examples. The list of Afghan women servingin the entire governmental institutions are beyond the scope of this paper. But overall, currently, the presence of women working in the Afghan government offices is 22 percent. At the beginning of 2018, the Afghan Reform Office announced a new plan to increase women’s participation in government institutions. According to the Afghan Reform Office officials, women’s participation in government agencies was expected to increase by 2 percent in 2018, and women’s share of the government would reach 30 percent in the next two years.
Although the situation of women in Afghanistan has improved since 2001 in sectors like education, health, and political participation, the results and progress are still far behind the objectives of the national gender strategy and international obligations. Women in Afghanistan remain highly vulnerable related to security, domestic violence, social marginalization, and limited access to assets and justice. For instance, Ms. Zarifa Ghaffari was appointed as Mayor of Maidan Shahar, the capital of Wardak, a province in western Kabul, about six months ago via the Afghan presidential decree, had not been able to begin her career due to the “patriarchal” view and the intervention of local powerful people. So, it demonstrates that despite the tangible achievements of Afghan women over the past years, there are still serious challenges toward their participations in governmental institutions.
The above instances of providing opportunities for women echo one pivotal point that the Afghan National Unity Government has done far more than the previous government for gender equality and women’s participation in Afghanistan. Some may argue that all the above appointees have political reasons. Whatever the reason is, but I firmly believe that this is the only way for Afghan youths – males and females – to enter the politics, power, business and governmental institutions. I strongly believe that the only way to have shared in the political power is entering the governmental institutions. And, merely blaming the government for its weaknesses and flaws gets us nowhere. There is no government in the world flawless and absolutely transparent, accountable and honest in its services. On the other hand, as the famous saying goes on: Rome was not built in a day. So, it takes time to fix all the problems of Afghanistan and hence we had better be patient and optimistic rather than being cynic and having dark views.
As an educational policy and human capital analyst, I am inclined to articulate that gender inequality is rooted in the cultural norms and values of Afghan society. So as to fight and challenge these rigid and male dominated cultural norms, the government of Afghanistan, and very particularly the educational sectors of Afghanistan should begin fighting with gender inequality from schools. Because schools are the main places where children learn cultural norms and embody them when they enter society later as civil servants and officers. Having said that I have the following suggestions for the Afghan government and responsible entities for addressing the issue of gender inequality:
First, introduce a new compulsory subject: Gender Education—aimed at developing a social and political understanding of gender in as part of the official school curriculum for both boys and girls, at the post-primary level in all state and central education boards. Explicit conversations and critical dialogues on gender bias and power should officially become part of the student experience. Defining Gender Education as a standalone curricular subject will give it legitimacy and create a stronger impetus for incorporating gender in the classroom. This will also necessitate the development of the requisite curricular and teacher materials, which the curriculum and teacher training department of Ministry of Education should create in collaboration with NGOs like the USAID Promote: Women in Government Project and other relevant governmental and non-governmental organizations.
Second, incorporate gender education compulsorily, in pre- and in-service teacher training and teacher education programs. Teachers are potentially powerful agents of social change, provided they can perceive themselves as such. Training in effective communication of gender-related issues with the community should also be included in pre-service training. All of the above implies intensive in-service training of teachers and educators, along with the development of teacher training materials and curriculum, which should be created by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with NGOs.
Together these commitments form a robust policy mandate that supports the integration of gender equality and empowerment programming in the post–primary education in schools across Afghanistan. At every social and political platform, there is a call to change deeply entrenched patriarchal ‘mindsets.’ School education is a good place to facilitate mindset change in a whole generation of boys and girls. To do this, it is time we made our curriculum truly progressive by including lessons in gender equality.