Afghan Women Win Fight for Their Own Identity

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Delegates attend the last day of the Afghan Loya Jirga meeting in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, May 3, 2019.
© 2020 AP Photo/Rahmat Gul

Afghanistan’s president has signed a new law that will, for the first time, include mothers’ names on their children’s birth certificates and identification cards. The law is a major victory for Afghan women’s rights activists, who for several years have campaigned for both parents to be named under the social media hashtag #WhereIsMyName.

The reform will have important real-life consequences, making it easier for women to obtain education, health care, and passports and other documentation for their children, and to travel with their children. It will be especially significant for women who are widowed, divorced, separated, or dealing with abusive partners.

It is also part of the important, if slow, cultural shift taking place in Afghanistan toward ending the erasure of women in Afghan society and overturning harmful ideas, like that women and girls should not be seen or spoken about. Denying women the right to be recognized on their children’s identification essentially gave state backing to the idea that children are the property of the father, and that women should not exist in public life. Women in Afghanistan still face enormous barriers to equity, including discriminatory laws, failure to enforce laws that should protect them, and discriminatory barriers to education and employment. The Afghan government has often failed to respect women’s rights, so government support for this law is encouraging.

This is also an important victory at a moment when Afghan women know that their rights could be sacrificed in the upcoming talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and that the 3 women on the 21-member government-backed negotiating team will be hard-pressed to ensure that a final agreement fully respects women’s rights.

The struggle for women’s rights in Afghanistan has been long and hard, and many Afghan women fear their rights could be rolled back in the negotiations. Despite changes since 2001 that have seen women gain more rights, discrimination against them remains severe and pervasive. This new law is a confidence boost and reminder of the many battles Afghan women’s rights activists have fought – and won – since 2001. One of their hardest battles is ahead of them, at the negotiating table; the Afghan government owes them its support there too.