In honor of March 8 International Women’s Day. I thought I’d profile Afghanistan’s first ever female mayor. In a country where it is impossible for a woman to hold any stature, this is a HUGE step for the remote Afghan town of Nili. Could the election of the country’s first female mayor be a change in attitude towards women in the Middle East?? Will it’s neighbors follow suit? We can only hope.
Meet Azra Jafari, the 34-year-old mother and Mayor of Nili. “Mr. Mayor” as she is called as a sign of respect, lives on a salary of $76 a month while raising her 4-year-old daughter. She grew up in Ghor province, where the population is poor and mainly Shia Hazara. (Source: Guardian UK)
Married to an Afghan film-maker, she is currently the subject of a documentary series called Afghanistan at Work, the sequel to Kabul: A City at Work, which is about ordinary working Afghans doing extraordinary things at a time of war.
Like thousands of Afghans, Jafari fled the civil war in the early 1990s, taking refuge in Iran, where she ran a school for Afghan refugee children. She moved back to Afghanistan in September 2001 and 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.
For one year she served as the Deputy Director of the Equal Rights Association, based in Kabul, before she enrolled in the Institute of Health Science. In 2007, she graduated with a concentration of midwifery.
Before President Karzai declared her the country’s first female mayor in 2008, 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. (Source: Diplomat courier)
Jafari has written two books: The Making of the New Constitution of Afghanistan, published in 2003 and I am a Working Woman, published in 2008.
Her dress-code has been criticized but she has not conformed to the traditional.
“I like to dress formally,” she explained. “This means clothes tend to be more fitted and a bit tighter, but this is the way formal, professional people dress. Not traditional loose, wide clothing and people need to accept this.”
She believes her dress code has nothing to do with who she is or her ability to get the job done properly.
“What I’ve really learned is that it makes no difference whether you are a man or a woman, what matters is that you do your work properly and you work hard and how seriously you take your responsibilities,” she said.
The Mayor is confident that she has influenced the way younger women think.
“I’m like a template for women,” Jafari said.
The possibilities are endless when women and girls are given a chance. Hopefully one day it will be acceptable for the Afghan people to call her Mrs. Mayor.