On Tuesday, the Afghanistan’s cabinet approved the proposal of including mothers' names on national identification cards. This is a small, but very significant win for women in the country, after campaign activists have spent three years fighting for this issue.
With the slogan Where Is My Name?, Afghan women have been campaigning for the right to use their names freely. Everything started when a group of young women, lead by Laleh Osmany, stood up against these long-standing taboos denying basic rights.
Activist Bahar Sohaili, a prominent member of the campaign #WhereIsMyName, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: “Our society is full of injustice for women, basically everything is taboo for women. This is just a spark — the posing of a question mostly to the Afghan women about why their identity is denied. With this campaign we aim to change many things for women and social media has opened a new window to Afghanistan’s young generation.”
In Afghanistan patriarchal society, women are often publicly identified by the names of their male relatives. They are someone’s daughter, sister, or wife. They don’t have an identity of their own. Women are often called Mother of Children, My Household, My Weak One, Milk-sharer, Black-headed or, sometimes, even My Goat or My Chicken. The problem begins when a girl is born - as it takes a long time for her to be given a name - and continues throughout the rest of her life; when she gets married, when she has kids of her own and even when she dies, as her name does not appear on her death certificate or even her headstone.
At the moment, the amendment still requires parliamentary approval and signing into law by the president, however Mohamed Hedayat, spokesman for the vice president, expected those steps to be smooth: “The amendment changes the definition of identity — the new identity would comprise of the person’s name, last name, father’s name, mother’s name, and date of birth”.
The cabinet’s announcement has been met with positive responses from women's rights activists and male supporters, who began to add their mother’s name on social media. Even if this is merely symbolic, it is still an important victory for women’s rights at a time when women’s role in Afghan society is still very uncertain. In the past years, the country has made some improvements in expanding women’s role in public, for example millions of girls can now attend schools and universities, but a sense of misogyny - justified by religion - still runs deep in the country’s culture.
Written by Miriam Tagini