KABUL: Laleh Osmany says that she was shocked when one evening, three years ago, she received an invitation from a renowned writer to attend a religious ceremony in honor of his wife who had died a few days earlier.
While the invitation card had his name on it, it did not include any details of the woman who had been his life partner for several years.
“I could not understand the logic behind this and why a renowned writer and teacher like him felt ashamed of mentioning his wife’s name on the card, which was for an occasion dedicated to her,” Osmany told Arab News by phone from the western Afghan city of Herat.
The next day, the 28-year-old graduate of Islamic law from Herat University decided to launch the #Whereismyname social media campaign to call out Afghanistan’s “misogynistic” culture.
A crucial part of her efforts, Osmany said, was to have authorities include the names of mothers next to those of fathers on all national IDs, especially for women who were divorced, had lost their husbands to the decades-old Afghan war or whose spouses were missing or had disappeared.
“They faced tough times sorting out legal issues such as the right to inheritance, guardianship or issuance of passports for themselves or their children in the absence of a father,” Osmany said.
After the hashtag went viral, and armed with a flood of support from social media users both at home and abroad, Osmany says her efforts finally bore fruit when the Afghan government — after several days of deliberations with religious scholars — amended the census law and accepted the proposal last week.
“I was thrilled to see the amount of support people showed for the cause, both from within the country and outside. I’m really happy that our campaign and push for a right cause, which has no contradiction with Islam, our culture and tradition, has finally been accepted,” Osmany said.
The next step is for the parliament to endorse the move which, according to several lawmakers, could happen as soon as it resumes after the summer break.
“We also joined the #Whereismyname campaign and talked about it in parliament, and to our constituencies who welcomed it greatly. Both men and women in the parliament and outside support this to a large extent,” Fawzia Naseriyar, a legislator from Kabul, told Arab News.
It is a rare win for women’s rights activists in the deeply conservative and male-dominated country, where due to deeply ingrained taboos a woman’s name is often missing from her wedding invitation or even her grave.
In public, young children and, at times, adult men, often get into fights if someone even mentions the name of their mother or sister — an act which is seen as an attempt to bring dishonor and shame to the family.
According to estimates shared by the Statistics and Information Authority, women make up 49 percent of the total population of 32.9 million.
And while there are 68 women in the 250-member parliament and several serve as cabinet members, a majority have struggled for years to assert themselves as legal guardians of their children, both in government offices or to carry out business transactions in their names, in the absence of a man.
The government’s endorsement is amid preparations to hold the much-awaited intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban to end more than 40 years of war and facilitate the total departure of US-led troops from Afghanistan by next spring.
The Taliban banned women from seeking education or procuring jobs during its five-year rule until it was toppled from power in late 2001. It has, however, pledged to uphold women’s rights as part of the peace process and negotiations.
Mary Akrami, the chairperson of Afghanistan’s Women Network, described Osmany’s efforts and the government’s endorsement as a “positive step toward establishing women’s identity.”
“Even if you go to graves, you hardly find the names of a deceased woman on the tombstone. Women have been born here obscurely and will die obscurely too,” she told Arab News.
Second Vice President Mohammad Sawar Danesh, who worked to change the law, agrees and said in a statement last week that the endorsement was “a big step toward gender equality and the realization of women’s rights” in the country.
The move has been applauded by the US and British ambassadors to Kabul who called it a “significant boost for women’s status and rights in Afghanistan.”
Osmany, however, said that the endorsement is just the first step in what could be a long and arduous journey.
She should know. Since launching the campaign, she has faced challenges and “received threats from unknown people,” asking her to abandon the cause. Several have openly protested against it.
Irfan Talash, a school student, mocked the move, saying that the government’s acceptance of the proposal was “as if it had managed to resolve all other problems in Afghanistan and the inclusion of mothers’ names on the ID was its last problem.”
Experts said that while it may be a small step for women in the country, it is a giant one for gender equality in Afghanistan.
“It’s a very positive development without any doubt, but there are some conservatives and traditionalists who may oppose the idea,” Taj Mohammad, a former journalist and currently an analyst, told Arab News.
Nasratullah Haqpal, another expert on regional affairs, disagrees and said that Kabul had accepted the proposal to “appease America and Europe.”
“Afghan women do not rejoice with the inclusion of their names on ID but will want to see the end of blood-shedding of their children. They want nothing more.”