26 October 2020

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Allowing Mothers' Names on Birth Certificates a 'Significant' Milestone for Women's Rights

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Saturday, September 19, 2020
Kabul (BNA)  For over four years now, occasionally a campaign on Afghan social media would pop-up to recognize women’s identities as they ask, “Where is my name?” The nascent movement takes form but fades after a while.
This time again, the campaign has picked up steam and even been submitted to the House of Representatives.
President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has signed an amendment allowing mothers' names to be included on their children's birth certificates, after a three-year campaign by women's rights activists.
Using the hashtag #WhereIsMyName, campaigners pushed for the right of women to be named on official documents including children's birth certificates, which previously named only the father.
The President signed the amendment after Parliament had delayed passing the changes, which were scheduled for discussion last week.
"I feel like a bird in a cage whose door has just been opened, achieving the dream of flying in the sky," said activist Sonia Ahmadi, who joined the campaign when it began in 2017.
"My feeling of happiness may seem ridiculous for women in other countries, but when we live in a society where women are physically and spiritually excluded, achieving such basic rights is a big and difficult task."
#WhereIsMyName campaigners are fighting an ingrained Afghan tradition that states using a woman's name in public brings shame on the family. Instead, women are publicly referred to by the name of their closest male relatives.
Their own names are generally not present on documents, on their wedding invitations or even on their own gravestones.
"In a society where everything is against women and they work to keep women down, this is a big step forward," Ahmadi said.
The Afghan cabinet's legal affairs committee said the move was a significant achievement. "The decision to include the mother's name in the ID card is a big step towards gender equality and the realization of women's rights," the committee said in a statement.
The movement, which began in the city of Herat but has since expanded worldwide, has faced opposition in the conservative and patriarchal Muslim country.
During a joint press conference with local authorities and the founders of the movement, Herat Governor Wahid Qattali said he feared there would be resistance to the change.
But Qattali showed his full support for the move, even asking local journalists to include his own mother's name, Zahida, in their reports. "I did nothing for my mother in the past. But I want to grant my Mother this gift to not hide her identity anymore."
Heather Barr, co-director of Human Rights Watch's women's rights division, said while there was still a long way to go, this move forward was "super significant".
"It's one small piece of a much larger puzzle of ways in which women's rights are still systemically violated including by a discriminatory legal system," she said.
"But it's really significant because as long as women's names don't appear on identification cards, don't appear in public records, their identities really don't exist, and a lot of their legal rights don't exist."
Barr said until now, basic things — like school registration, obtaining health care or a passport for their children or travelling with them — have been impossible for Afghan mothers to do without the father present.
"It's a step toward changing a society in which throughout your life you're really seen, first, as the property of your father and then as the property of your husband and then actually as the property of your son," Ms Barr told the ABC. "It's really a testament to their determination that it's gotten as far as it has."
Rohina Shahabi, a spokeswoman for National Statistics and Information of Afghanistan (NSIA), said once implemented, the inclusion of a mother's name along with the father's will be mandatory.
But she said implementing the changes would take time. "We have to receive an official order to start working on the change," Shahabi told the ABC.
"It is too early to say how long it will take. Our team must look into our facilities and our practical capacity and then they will be able to say how long." But Shahabi said the changes would be made as soon as possible.
"One thing I can assure you is that NSIA is so serious about this issue."

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