Afghanistan’s First Woman Mayor Proves Critics Wrong

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After facing suspicion from local men, Azra Jafari is now referred to as ‘Mr Mayor’ – a title that conveys respect in Afghanistan. When Azra Jafari became mayor of Nili, she knew that the impoverished and remote Afghan town desperately needed roads and investment. She was aware she would be living in very basic conditions, on a meagre salary of $76 (£50) a month, and that taking care of a four-year-old daughter at the same time would be challenging. What she was less prepared for was the appearance of a powerful cleric in her makeshift office, wagging his finger at her, warning that Nili was not about to accept a female mayor who thought she could “exploit her femininity in order to complete a few projects and influence our women”. “After three months, the same man came up to me and thanked me,” Jafari recalled, four years later. “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.” She is now referred to as “Mr Mayor” by her community, a title that conveys respect in a country not known for women’s rights. Until 2009, Nili, a small town of about 40,000 people at the centre of Daykundi province had never seen a woman official, said Jafari. She had to prove to the community that she was serious about improving their lives. Jafari, who is married to an Afghan film-maker, is currently the subject of a documentary series called Kabul: “A City at Work”, a sequel to Kabul at Work, which seeks to show ordinary working Afghans doing extraordinary things at a time of war. Like thousands of Afghans, Jafari fled the civil war in the early 1990s, taking refuge in Iran, where she ran a school for Afghan refugee children. She moved back to Afghanistan in September 2001 to take part in a peace jirga (a tribal assembly of elders) as the fall of the Taliban became imminent.
(Reported by Golnar Motevalli for Guardian) Photo Credit: guardian.co.uk

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