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Breaking the Status Quo: Female Leaders of Afghanistan

Blog , 2015-05-27

In the past few decades, women in Afghanistan have been subject to unthinkable oppression and surmounted challenges that most of us in the West cannot possibly comprehend. Woven within the stories of are the inspiring tales of women who are breaking barriers and standing out as role models. Here are a few.

1.    Rula Ghani, First Lady of Afghanistan

Time Magazine

The Guardian

The First Lady of Afghanistan, a Lebanese-born Christian, was named as one of the 100 Most Influential People by Time. She is not satisfied to stay quietly in her husband’s shadow, and she has vowed to improve living standards for women in Afghanistan. While she is well respected and supported by her husband, time will tell of the impact she will have on Afghanistan.

2.    Qandi Gul Kazimi, Owner, Bamiyan Women’s Café

The Diplomat – Bamiyan Women’s Cafe

Bamiyan Women’s Café is the first of its kind in Afghanistan, tucked in a corner of historic Bamiyan. Twenty-three year old Qandi Gul Kazimi opened the shop to offer a place for women to be able to gather for socialization, discuss issues of business and society, and sell their handicrafts. She has plans to open another near the site of the Bamiyan Buddha and Band-e-Amir and even organized an event at the coffeehouse to celebrate International Women’s Day.

3.    Niloofar Rahmani, First Female Afghan Pilot

Tolo News

Another remarkable twenty-three year old, won the 2015 International Woman of Courage Award from the U.S. State Department, has served with the Afghan military for four years, can fly both airplanes and helicopters, completed a two year training program with NATO, has flown over 600 hours and has participated in 360 operations. She is well respected by her commanders and male colleagues and is being considered to be a flight instructor.

4.    Shabana Basij-Rasikh, Founder School of Leadership Afghanistan

PRI – School of Leadership Afghanistan

Born in Kabul during the civil war and attending school in secret during the Taliban years, twenty-four year old Shabana initially wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer but decided that wasn’t a big enough dream so more than six years ago she co-founded School of Leadership Afghanistan.

5.    Afghan Women’s Climbing Team


While Afghanistan is a mountainous country, mountaineering is a new sport, and nearly unheard of for women. Led by Marina Kielpinksi LeGree, director of Ascend, twelve Afghan women will attempt to summit Afghanistan’s highest peak, Mount Noshaq on an undisclosed date sometime this year. The women must surmount challenges including daily access to nutritious food, proper climbing gear, trainings in a stadium formerly used by the Taliban to execute Afghans most notably women, and cultural pressures.  LeGree says her goal is to “create a crop of Afghan heroines passionate about improving their country and who inspire other women to break barriers.”

6.    Afghan Women’s National Cycling Team



In a country where women almost never drive cars or ride bikes, with the support of an American mountain biker, a team of women are taking to the roads as the Afghan Women’s National Cycling Team are training in secret despite constant harassment and death threats, even winning regional medals. With support from non-profit Mountain2Mountain, the women are breaking barriers and will be features in the documentary Afghan Cycles.

7. Women of the Afghan Police Force

NY Times

USA Today

Hiring policewomen has been a key priority of the West, arguing that women who have face high levels of violence would be more likely to report incidents to other women.  After a decade of effort and millions of dollars only 2,700 women are of the force of 169,000, falling significantly short of the modest goal of 5,000. The cultural stigmas and taboos have created constant barriers to the women struggle to maintain good reputations while often branded as “little more than prostitutes, dishonoring their families.” It’s clear that “the repressive views of women were not just a Taliban curse, but also a deeply embedded part of society. The women who battle these changes to create equality and security for other Afghan women are to be respected for their fortitude in the face of such rigid cultural traditions.

8.    Kubra, Fatima, Nikbakht and Sediqa, The Female Rangers of Band-e-Amir Park

Al Jazeera

Band-e-Amir, once a popular tourist destination for it’s stunning scenery and the famed Buddhas of Bamiyan that were destroyed by the Taliban, has become a dangerous place due to visit in the years of war and destruction. Band-e-Amir is Afghanistan’s first national park, and recently four women have been hired as park rangers breaking gender stereotypes and protecting one of Afghanistan’s most beautiful treasures.

9. Nancy Hatch Dupree, The Grandmother of Afghanistan

Washington Post

In her late 80s, Nancy Hatch Dupree first arrived in Afghanistan in the 1960s and has spent a lifetime in the tumultuous country fondly called the country’s grandmother by many Afghans. She has met Osama bin Laden, written books about the country, witnessed the exile of Afghanistan’s king, coups, the Soviet Union, the rise and fall of the Taliban and the arrival of U.S. troops.  Despite her concern about the country’s future she has no intention of leaving.

10.  Farkhunda, martyr of women’s rights

The Guardian

In March, a young woman was beaten to death and lit on fire in the streets of Kabul after the deeply religious woman was falsely accused of burning the Qur’an. The incident caused waves of dissident throughout the world including a trending Twitter hashtag #justiceforfarkhunda and reenactments of her death to keep the pressure on the government to charge her assailants. Since then, 49 men including 19 police officers have been charged in her murder, and her death has outraged women and men alike, and only time will tell what changes will come as a result.

As pointedly noted in the New York Times article the “plight of women under the Taliban” captured Western attention, resulting in a flood of money and programs into Afghanistan to elevate women’s status. As the flow of money and support leaves Afghanistan, there is legitimate concern about the long term effectiveness of the programs and the progress of restoring basic rights to Afghan women.

While the future of Afghanistan and it’s women is unknown, ARZU will continue our efforts to create steady income for women weavers and provide access to education, community centers and health care.

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