Sixty five years ago (1943), during Zahir Shah’s reign, a twenty-member union of women established an institution called Women’s Grand Organization, in order to organize, train and educate the women, at the center of Kabul city (in a building east of the present Kabul Serena Hotel). Two years later, in 1945, by proposal and follow up of Bibi Zainab sister of late King Amanullah, a land plot was purchased in Shahr-e-Naw area of Kabul city (the present location of MoWA) for this organization, on which a kindergarten, a school, a cinema and offices were built. The cinema was named Zainab Cinema. In the Women’s Grand Organization school, under management of Ms Ruqia, married women, who could not continue their education due to various problems, continued their education.
In 1963, this organization was incorporated into Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and was called Women’s Association, which continued its activities until 1978 under management of Humaira Noorzai, Kobra Noorzai, Saleha Etemadi and Dr. Nilab Mobarez respectively.
In 1978 the name of Women’s Association was changed to Women’s Central Club. In 1986 this club was transformed to Women’s Central Association which continued its activities under this name until 1991.
After the event of 27 April 1978, the Women’s General Council was formed as a social-political organization, which was led by Dr. Anahita Ratebzad; this organization was supported by the government. Women’s Central Association, which had 360 members, became a second division of this council. Women’s General Council had social and political activities among women. This council established its branches in the capital and provinces. The ladies who were leading Women’s General Council were: Feroza Marjan, Masooma Esmati Wadak, Soraya, Belqis Tabesh, Jamila Nahid, Guljan, Shahla Sherzad, Tahera Dardmal and Fawzia Nekzad. The activities of Women’s Association were mostly vocational training such as cloth sewing, carpet weaving, typing, flower making, beauty parlor, internal decoration, needlework, etc, which were limited to Kabul city.
In 1991 when Mujahedin came to power in Kabul, the Women’s Grand Organization was restored, and first led by Mahbooba Hoquqmal and then by Qudria Yazdanparast.
In 1994, parallel to Women’s General Organization, Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs restored Women’s Association in its organizational structure, which continued its activities until October 1996.
In October 1996 Taliban entered Kabul, and women and girls were forbidden to go to school or work. Taliban incorporated Women’s Grand Organization with Women’s Association, and hired men instead of women. Taliban regime fell down in 2001. Ministry of Women’s Affairs was established according to agreements of Bonn Conference and became part of the executive of the Interim Administration. The male and female employees of Women’s Grand Organization and Women’s Association were recruited and re-employed. MoWA transformed its strategy from charity activities to policy making.
The first minister of Women’s Affairs was Sima Samar who served in this post from 2001 to early 2003. Dr. Habiba Surabi from 2003 to 2004 and Dr. Massoda Jalal from October 2004 to July 2006 served as Ministers of Women’s Affairs respectively. In July 2006, Dr. Husn Banu Ghazanfar received vote of confidence from the Parliament to become Minister of Women’s Affairs. The ladies who served as deputy ministers in policy and vocational affairs were Shafiqa Yarqin, Soraya Sobhran, Mazari Safa, and deputy ministers in financial and administrative affairs were Tajwar Kakar, Najiba Sharif and Maliha Sahak.
This Ministry has 9 central department and 34 provincial departments.
The first procedural regulation of MoWA as a central institution was passed by decision No. 3 of 05.04.2004 of Ministers’ Council, and approved by Decree No. 26 of 24.05.2004 of President of Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan in 4 chapters and 24 articles. Article three of this regulation states that: MoWA has the responsibility over implementation of political and social policy of the government in order to secure and expand legal rights of women and ensure the rule of law in their lives within its activity area.
MoWA, in executing its activities, shall follow the laws, decrees, decisions of Ministers’ Council and provisions of this regulation, and ensure its proper implementation in the respective activity areas of this ministry.
Ministry of Women’s Affairs - Gender Policies Observer in Afghanistan
Still questions exist regarding vision and mission of the newly founded government entity, Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA), which was included in the organizational structure of Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission (IARCSC) a decade ago. MoWA’s vision is creation of an Afghan society free of sexual discrimination, and its mission is growth of women, promotion of women’s leadership and their participation in all aspects of life, and women’s access to opportunities, services and facilities of growth and development. The Ministry plays a bridge role between women and the government; from one side, MoWA is protector of women’s interests and profits in the country and on the other side, it is responsible to empower and mobilize civil servant women’s human resources to contribute in the government programs.
MoWA drafts and develops plans and policies of the government towards women and monitors their application, to change life situation of the women. The Ministry’s key role is oversight implementation of gender related national and international policies. The national gender policies are available in documents such as Declaration of Women’s Main Rights in 2001, Bonn and London agreements, Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS), National Action Plan for Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA), Constitution of Afghanistan, Labor Law, Civil Service Law, and Law of Elimination of Violence against Women. International gender policies are also available in documents such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA), and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and UN Security Council 1325 Resolution.
Drafting policy requires comprehensive data and information, derived because of survey analysis, statistics, and reports. MoWA drafts vital and necessary policies regarding women. After scrutiny by professional and expert institutions, the approved policies are enforced. The ministry has a vital supervisory role in the implementation phase of policies and reports on policy application. Hence, MoWA development of women related policy drafts using surveys and statistics, and monitoring policy implementation is a difficult process requiring professional staff and facilities equipped with modern technology and sufficient budget.
MoWA has been operating since 2001 based on the decision of Bonn-Germany Conference as a liaison between women and the Afghan government for promoting women’s awareness, capacity development, mobilization, formation and increasing their participation in national development. The Bonn agreement founds a democratic and stable administration in Afghanistan and provides women’s involvement and focus on their rights to promote overall peace and reconstruction in the country.
MoWA is an executive organ of the system and administrative structure of the Afghanistan government and the Executive Branch is one the state’s three brunches. The Council of Ministers has approved and enforced regulation of MoWA execution and activities in four chapters and 24 articles of government legislation.
The second article of the regulation states: “MoWA, as a central government administration, regulates and leads its duties in the center and provinces.”
MoWA is member of Executive Branch of the government of Afghanistan, and its Minister is a member of the cabinet (Council of Ministers). Its budget entails national budget and funded by the government. As mentioned in article 21 of MoWA Activities Regulation, “The structure and budget of MoWA is approved by the Council of Ministers based on the request of the Ministry and confirmation of Ministry of Finance.” Likewise, article 18 of this regulation confirms MoWA as an executive institution “The leadership board decision adopts by the majority of votes and is applicable after approval of the Minister. Decisions of leadership are mandatory for all of MoWA’s relevant institutions and organizations.”
Administrative, financial, and organizational performance of MoWA are in accordance with the enforced laws and regulations of the government. MoWA regulates its activities according to the programs of the government and law. It executes decisions and approval of the government, as stated in article four of MoWA Activities Regulations, “MoWA operates based on the enforced laws and decrees, approvals of Council of Ministers and provisions of this regulation, and assures of its intact application in the related fields.” The Council of Ministers of Afghanistan approved NAPWA in 2008 as a historical and important deed and called it a strategic plan for government. The President of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan specified the position of the government regarding this plan in a message:
The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan focus on women’s interest since the creation of Interim Administration has continued with the elected government in the country. The Government of Afghanistan, taking in mind the principles of Holy Religion of Islam, and considering the values of precious national and international documents such as Bonn agreement, constitution of the Country, London agreement and ANDS attempts to equalize social gender and eliminate discrimination against women. The government considers the women role vital for national development. Therefore, the government supports the draft of NAPWA presented by MoWA to the Cabinet of Afghanistan and bounds all the government administrations to execute it. MoWA will supervise implementation of the NAPWA. By signing this strategic plan, I seal the role of women, their rights, and obligations of government institutions.
For this purpose, all institutions of Afghanistan’s government from ministries to the local provincial administrations must include and execute objectives and values of NAPWA into their plans, budgets, and programs and ensure its implementation. They are obligated to present reports to the President’ office every six months through MoWA. Meanwhile, we ask our international partners to help the government and people on implementation of this plan. Implementation of NAPWA is an important and historical duty of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and I am sure by implementing it, we will see fundamental and sensible changes in the lives of women in the country.”
Women are involved in all layers and levels of the society, and encompass every structure of society, government, and civil institutions. Women serve just like men in society, families, and the government. Serving women does not belong to one or two ministries but all institutions. Administrations are busy working for men and women. Women, just like men, need health, education, security, transport, legal, and other social services like water, power, education, medical, etc. MoWA cannot provide a special services office for women. Having a separate service provider for women in transport, courts, security regions, traffic, customs office, bank, etc., may lead to disintegration of the government and the society. The characteristics of our society require separate health and education services in hospitals and schools, but the provider will have the same main mechanisms, structures, and budget to support women.
MoWA is an executive, supervising, and at times a service provider institution. To fulfill its role in a better manner, MoWA established Women’s Affairs Directorates in the provinces; which will be expanded later to district levels. MoWA is not bound to offer material services, but to design and implement some new, development services in small project format while not intervening in other’s affairs. Meanwhile, not to get far from its main objective, which is monitoring gender policies; launching sample and pilot projects can be a good motive for other administrations where MoWA, sometimes conducts temporary and pilot projects.
MoWA is not a service entity in a specific field; nor does it intervene in services affairs of other administrations. MoWA is not the government alternative but it is a cooperator. MoWA, as a technical colleague to service provider administrations, supervises their performances. MoWA plans and implements some service projects for women. This is a temporary action, as a sample solution but working permanently on such service projects is against the mission of this ministry. The MoWA mission is changing the negative mentality of people in the society about the role and position of women, and changing the route of patriarchy. As mentioned earlier, the duty of MoWA is to provide government’s policies towards women and supervise its implementation in terms of inter-ministerial relations, and reporting women’s life situation to the government. According to article 3 of the MoWA Activities Regulation on performance and activities:
“Ministry of Women’s Affairs is responsible to implement government’s social and political policy to secure legal rights of women in the country by respecting the law.”
The law of Elimination of Violence against Women in 4 chapters and 44 articles endorsed on 2001 also specifies MoWA obligations supporting gender equality and women empowerment.
The service cycle for women is immense and includes the majority of government administrations. MoWA selects some development projects, as it is currently busy providing services for increasing and building legal and law awareness, organizational and political capacities, legal consulting, placement and professional skills provision, marketing women’s products, and supporting vulnerable women in protection centers. MoWA is launching campaigns, providing leaflets, building gardens for women, holding workshops and seminars, establishing gender and design institutes, providing exhibitions, assessing women’s cases and complaints, and supervising women shelters.