KABUL: Women in Afghanistan have welcomed President Ashraf Ghani’s decision to sign an amendment that allows the name of a mother to be printed on childrens’ national identity cards.
Activists said on Saturday that it was a “significant” victory for women’s rights in the deeply conservative country.
Ghani made the decision on Thursday without securing parliamentary approval, despite his government saying earlier this month that the amendment would require a house endorsement before being signed into law.
However, speaking to Arab News on Saturday, Ghani’s chief spokesman Sediq Seddiqi said: “Since the Parliament is in recess (annual leave), the cabinet endorsed the amendment and the president signed it into law.”
Endorsing the president’s move, Breshna Rabi, a woman lawmaker from northern Balkh, about 450 km from Kabul, said that the bill did not need a “debate” because it was not a “controversial issue.”
She added: “This is great news and a victory for women in Afghanistan. Not only women, but men also support and welcome this decision both within and outside the parliament.”
Rabi was joined by independent actor Freshta Kazemi, who hailed the move as a “historic milestone” for the country.
“Including the Afghan mother’s name on the national ID is an important mark in Afghan history on the changing and emerging identity of the nascent Afghan democracy. It only makes sense that all our mothers’ identities are now honored on an institutional identity level,” she told Arab News.
While Ghani was praised across the country, several people said credit should also be given to a 28-year-old university student Laleh Osmany, who championed the cause by launching the #whereismyname social media campaign three years ago to fight Afghanistan’s “misogynistic” culture.
A crucial part of her campaign, Osmany said, was pressuring authorities to include the name of a mother next to the father on national IDs, especially for women who were divorced, had lost their husbands in war, or whose spouses were missing.
“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, a graduate of Islamic law from Herat University, told Arab News.
After the hashtag went viral and she was armed with 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 earlier this month.
On Saturday, Osmany said she could not “contain her joy” after hearing of the president’s decision two days ago.
“There is no doubt that this victory is the result of a persistent campaign among campaigners and citizens, both men and women. The government also stood by citizens, and I express my gratitude to the president himself and his deputies for their support. I also thank everyone, men and women who supported our campaign and raised their voice, and congratulate all campaigners,” she told Arab News.
It is a rare win for women’s rights activists in the deeply conservative and male-dominated country, where taboos mean a women’s names are often missing from wedding invitations and even graves.
In public, young children and sometimes adult men often fight if someone mentions the name of their mother or sister — an act seen as an attempt to bring dishonor and shame to a family.
According to estimates shared by the Statistics and Information Authority, women make up 49 percent of the total Afghan population of 32.9 million.
While there are 68 women in the 250-member parliament, with several serving in the cabinet, many women have struggled to assert themselves as legal guardians of their children, both in government offices or when carrying out business transactions in the absence of a man.
Recognizing the historical significance of the move, Heather Barr, interim co-director of the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch said in a statement: “Good news on women’s rights does not happen every day in Afghanistan.”
She added that the law is a “major victory” for Afghan women’s rights activists, who for several years have campaigned for both parents to be named. She said it would have a “domino effect” on their lives.
“The reform will have important consequences, making it easier for women to obtain an education, health care, passports and other documentation for their children. It will be especially significant for women who are widowed, divorced, separated or dealing with abusive parents,” she said.
Ghani’s signed the amendment amid intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, that aim to end more than 40 years of war and organize the departure of US-led troops from Afghanistan by next spring.
The Taliban banned women from education and 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.
Commenting on the campaign, Sayed Akbar Agha, a former Taliban commander, said last week that “mentioning mothers’ names on IDs was a dishonor.”
Experts have said that, while the move may be an important first step to promote women’s rights in the country, “it isn’t enough.”
Wali Ullah Shaheen, a former journalist, said: “Women need education, training and more importantly security rather than mentioning their names on ID.”
The government has been under fire for failing to stop targeted killings of women activists and officials in controlled areas, including Kabul in recent months, with prominent actor Saba Sahar and a woman negotiator in the intra-Afghan talks, Fawzia Koofi, being the latest victims.
Osmany, too, said she faced challenges and “received threats from unknown people” requesting she abandon her campaign.
When asked about her plans for the future, Osmany said she will “take a break for now.”
She added: “This campaign made my hair to go white. Working honestly in Afghanistan is difficult.”