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Afghan Mothers Win Right To Have Names On ID Cards

FILE: Afghan women attend a consultative grand assembly or Loya Jirga in Kabul in April 2019.
FILE: Afghan women attend a consultative grand assembly or Loya Jirga in Kabul in April 2019.

Afghanistan’s cabinet approved the proposal of including mothers' names on national identification cards on September 1, a major win for #whereismyname? campaign activists that have spent three years fighting for the issue for women's rights in the country.

The announcement has been met with positive responses from women's rights activists and supporters who already began introducing themselves with their names and their mothers' names on social media. Others, however, are still on the fence regarding the issue, suggesting it is a step too soon for a deeply conservative country like Afghanistan.

Kabul resident Samiullah is happy to have his mother's name added to his ID card. He says it's their right as parents to be included, and he criticizes people who feel differently. “My name is Samiullah and my mother's name is Shukria. If my father's name is written on my ID card, writing my mother's name is not a shame; either way their name is already known. It is not a shame."

But Mohammad Wares, who came to Kabul from Laghman, says those who are not living in major cities are not ready to accept such a change. He tells Radio Free Afghanistan that "they have not reached the point of accepting it. This issue has been made too early for our people, and the people in the villages and outskirts of the country do not have the capacity to agree with this."

The decision was made after repeated demands from campaign activists to include mothers' names on official documents alongside fathers' names, whereas the current identification card only includes the names of male family members such as a father or grandfather.

Hoda Raha, a women's rights activist, said she faced many problems while participating in the campaign, but is now happy that the cabinet committee has accepted their request. “My name is Hoda Raha, daughter of Khanum Gul and activist of #whereismyname? campaign. I was faced with a lot of criticism and backlash because of our religious and social beliefs in society, but the efforts of the campaigners eventually led people to support the campaign," she said.

The press office of Sarwar Danesh, the second vice president, reported that the plan was reviewed and approved at the committee's meeting. According to the office, the plan was prepared in response to continued requests by women's rights activists for the inclusion of mothers' names on the card.

A draft of the amended Population Registration Act was approved by Danesh, who chaired the meeting. The draft is expected to be forwarded to the cabinet and then to the parliament for approval before it can be enforced. If necessary, it may be enforced by a legislative decree from the Afghan president.

Danesh tweeted the major news, saying, “The legal committee’s decision on August 31st regarding the inclusion of mother’s names in the Afghan identification card is a big step towards gender equality and protection of women’s rights. Hopefully, this decision will be approved and endorsed as it is in the legislation process.”

Meanwhile, Shahla Farid, a social affairs expert, tells Radio Free Afghanistan that while the proposal is a step toward ensuring women's rights in the country and “not a problem at the global and Islamic level,” it is rather “a cultural problem.”

“Remember, people are living in the 21st century,” he said. “They are literate, but still their understanding is low. These are people who want justice so that they don't have problems with the law. But people need to be understanding both religiously and culturally.”

Members of the Afghan Parliament welcomed the news including Maryam Sama, a parliament member from Kabul who advocated strongly for this change. She wrote on Twitter, “Our struggles paid off, congratulations to everyone, especially to those who worked tirelessly.”

She continued by stressing the importance of having a strong society that is accepting and cooperative with women as they make the necessary progress to succeed. “What is more important is to adapt and provide cultural contexts to digest and accept this issue,” she wrote. “To achieve this, more cooperation is needed between civil society, the media, human rights activists, women, and every responsible citizen of this country.”

Many parliament members like Sama see the news as a steppingstone toward women’s empowerment in a male-dominated society.

Since 2017, women's rights activists have turned to social media using the hashtag “#whereismyname?” to generate discussion on the importance of including women's identities in all aspects of society.

Along the way, they have been faced with challenges because of longstanding taboos and deeply rooted societal restraints, limiting the advancement of women's participation and presence in society.

If the bill is approved by the cabinet and approved by the Wolesi Jirga or lower house of the Afghan Parliament, it will be the first time that the mother's name will be written on Afghan ID cards, a plausible step to reducing sensitivity and ongoing debate on the matter.