In Afghanistan, mullahs use Islam to protect women and their rights

training on women's rights
Abdul Wasa Antazar, Deputy of Rodad District in Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, speaks during a training about women's right in April 2012. (Photo: Farzana Wahidy/UNDP Afghanistan)

The Government of Afghanistan is tapping mullahs and religious elders to make people aware of the rights women are entitled to in accordance with Islamic laws through a programme supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Highlights

  • The project is part of a US $3.1 million UNDP initiative focusing on gender and children’s rights in Afghanistan, done in partnership with the government.
  • The project educates religious and community leaders of women’s rights as set out by Islamic law.
  • Leaders receive training on the consequences of early marriage, forced marriage and gender-based violence and discuss inheritance issues, including a comparison between what Islamic law says about a woman’s right to inheritance and what happens in practice.

The national programme, which is being implemented by the Ministry of Haj and Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Women Affairs, is requiring mullahs and other Islamic and community leaders to raise awareness about the consequences of early marriage, forced marriage and gender-based violence. Participants also discuss inheritance issues, including a comparison between what Islamic law says about a woman’s right to inheritance and what happens in practice.

“In Afghanistan, when people are given instructions based on their religious values, they will easily listen and accept them,” said Mawalwi Abdul Hanan, a participant. “We believe that by involving religious leaders, such programmes will reduce domestic violence.”

Afghanistan’s population is almost entirely composed of traditional communities strictly adhering to their local cultures and customs. As a result, people often trust only their religious scholars and mullahs, who are respected as wise and honest community leaders who safeguard society’s values.

Mullahs, ulemas (Islamic scholars or clerics) and community leaders participating in the programme – which is supported by the Governments of Italy and the United Kingdom – have begun to speak out about violence against women during Friday sermons in mosques. Their listeners, all men, are told about the negative implications of such actions as laid out by Islamic texts. The hope is that by involving men from the outset as agents of change, society’s views toward the status of women will begin to shift.

"These kind of training are very essential for people like us who work in government positions and deal with people's cases,” said Abdul Wasa Antazar, deputy district head of Rodad district in Nangarhar province. “We have learned a lot of things about women's right and violence against women in this training which we will use in our daily work now.”

The programme started in Balkh province in late 2009. Two hundred fifty Mullahs from five districts took part of a series of trainings, knowledge-building and participatory discussions on women’s rights according to Islam. Today, the programme has reached over 3,900 community and religious leaders in six provinces.

UNDP is working with the Government of Afghanistan to address women’s needs, a crucial element for the country’s development. Over 500 women entrepreneurs from 4 provinces improved their business’ prospects and established market linkages after attending trainings and exhibits, both locally and in Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan.