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How Afghanistan’s First Female Mayor Has Changed Her Community & Attitudes Toward Women
February 25, 2013
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In a country with an ugly record on women's rights, Azra Jafari has made a remarkable impact in a relatively short period of time.

She's 34, has a four-year-old daughter, and is the first female mayor that Afghanistan has ever had.

Jafari is the mayor of Nili, a small remote town of about 40,000 people in the centre of the country.

She makes $76 a month and was appointed four years ago by President Hamid Karzai.

At the time, she told Reuters "Unfortunately, Afghan society has not yet become a society which can accept that women are able to do this job, like any other person."

In fact, shortly after she became mayor, Jafari said a powerful mullah showed up at her office to put her in her place, if you will.

Basically, he told her not to think she can just show up, fix a few roads and influence the local women.

But Jafari didn't let that bother her. She just got on with the job - and it was a big job, as the town pretty much had nothing.

"Anything that needed to be built in Nili, had to be built from scratch," she told The Guardian. "And I had no budget."

"When I arrived, my office had been damaged by snowfall. It was a small room, with a few pillows. There was no table, no chairs. Just a couple of people there to help me."

"Wherever it was necessary I picked up a shovel, kicked dirt, and gathered coal with my hands. Nili is not the sort of town where you can easily drive a car. I often had to walk from place to place through deep snow, getting my feet soaking wet," Jafari said.

Regularly, she takes her daughter to Kabul to push government officials to come up with money for her community.

The trip takes two days, travelling on terrible roads through isolated areas, often in the dead of winter.

Recently, the bus she was in overturned and nearly went off a 1,600 foot cliff.

"The windows were shattered. Thank God we were OK," Jafari said. She suffered a sprained neck and her daughter cut her finger on some glass. "But she couldn't stop shaking for half an hour afterwards."

Then, of course, there's the war.

Last year, during another trip to Kabul, she said "we were caught in a gunfight between Afghan forces and insurgents for three hours. We couldn't move."

But Jafari is resilient and determined to make life better for her community - regardless of the challenges.


"If our friends in the international community really made me mayor because I am a woman then they would have paid for the roads I built. Unfortunately they have contributed very little to the changes," she said.

And she's not afraid to speak out on the double standard between men and women.

"There are plenty of men here with no ambition to work, who are bad at their jobs and over whom a lot of money has been wasted. Because they are men, no one really questions them and asks 'as a man, how successful have you managed to be?', she said.

"But as the only female mayor among 180 others, the first question I'm always asked, wherever I am, is 'show us what you've done for your people.'"

Blunt talk, but Jafari backs it up.

As this story from says, she has "improved things beyond anyone's expectations. Her work and commitment towards social development of the area has become legendary."

Now, she's being featured in a documentary series called Afghanistan at Work, about regular Afghans doing amazing things.

And she's referred to as "Mr Mayor" by her community, which is meant as a show of respect.

Jafari believes she has influenced the way younger women think. And she seems to be changing the way men think.

Remember at the start of this story - the mullah who showed up at her office?

Jafari told The Guardian: "After three months, the same man came up to me and thanked me."

"He said, 'If a man could do just half of what you've done here, our province will surely flourish.' He now supports me and we work very well together - I have a great deal of respect for him."

You can read more about her story on The Guardian's website here.

Related stories

Attacks On Women & Children Are On The Rise In Afghanistan: UN Report

As Afghanistan's Special Forces Train Female Recruits, UN Report Says New Law Fails To Protect Afghan Women From Violence


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