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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Profiles in Politics: Azra Jafari of Afghanistan


Posted on September 29, 2011 by Administrator
- By Hanna Trudo

It’s not just her gender – a woman in male-everything Afghanistan – or her role as the country’s first female mayor that makes Azra Jafari revolutionary.

Jafari, who was a refugee in Iran for several years to escape the Taliban’s Islamist fist, returned to Afghanistan in 2001 when the country was in need of parliamentary strength post-U.S. invasion.

Many women who fled from Afghanistan during Taliban control stayed in neighboring Pakistan and Iran for education and work opportunities. But Jafari, the daughter of Afghan refugee parents born in 1978, sought to impact the poor province of Dai Kundi, and was named mayor of Nili, the capital, in 2008 by President Hamid Karzai.

Jafari left her former roles in teaching, editing, and welfare rights activism to join a government that was, and still is, unused to a mother filling a traditionally-male mayor’s seat.

Two years after the Taliban took control of the Afghan government in 1996, Jafari became the Editor-in-Chief of Farhang Magazine, a social and cultural publication in Iran in 1998. She also created an elementary school for Afghan refugees in Iran during her seven-year commitment to the Refugees’ Cultural Centre as Officer in Charge.

In 2001, Jafari joined the Emergency Loya Jirga in Kabul – the consultative council that dates back three centuries – where she organized a seminar for female members and participated in the election process that ultimately led to President Karzai becoming the new leader of Afghanistan.

The following year, Jafari’s activist instincts led her to a one-year stint as the Deputy Director of the Equal Rights Association, based in Kabul, before she enrolled in the Institute of Health Science. In 2007, Jafari graduated with a concentration of midwifery.

Before President Karzai declared Jafari the country’s first female mayor, she headed the gender and rights division of Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA, an independent, non-governmental organization that focuses on peace building, women’s empowerment, and human rights in Middle Asia. On Thursday last week, she was awarded the Meeto Memorial Award at the Pakistan National Council of the Arts for her work and commitment to social development.

Just two weeks into her role as mayor in January 2009, Jafari worried that conditions for women had worsened, and that Afghanistan wasn’t ready for a woman to work alongside men in the government.

Jafari told Reuters, “Unfortunately, Afghan society has not yet become a society which can accept that women are able to do this job, like any other person.”

But female-political opposition in Afghanistan didn’t deter Jafari in her new role. As mayor, she commutes, twice a month for two days, from Nili to Kabul across danger zones to get the job done.

Surveying the government transition time from 2002 to 2004, before President Karzai came into more permanent power, Jafari said women were in a better place then, according to Reuters.

“Unfortunately, day by day, the position of women fades… We had three or four women ministers during the interim government period, now we have one. President Karzai himself wants to see women progress and wants to seem them strengthen as part of a democracy, but Afghanistan is a male-dominated society,” Jafari said.

The risks involved with being a female government official in a male-centric land are real, but Jafari continues to work valiantly to combat poverty in Dai Kundi. Her efforts are fueled by the desire to make a difference in the disenfranchised community because she is a citizen and activist, not because she is a woman.

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