Female Mayor in Herat says she has won over male skeptics

Monitoring Desk

HERAT: Susan Behbodzada has been working as the mayor of Herat’s Injil district for the past five months and is satisfied with her work, so far.

She says she has fought very hard in the past to convince traditional scholars and “misogynist” influencers that women can handle positions of leadership and responsibility.

Behbodzada said that she has struggled with gender-based prejudice, but she stays focused on her mission to beautify the district of Injil, and eliminate corruption.

“During the first days, a number of influential district elders opposed my work as mayor. Maybe their mentality was not ready for working with a woman in the district for the first time, and they didn’t want a woman to work, and they were saying: ‘We don’t want a woman to come and work in the district.’ But when I faced them and we sat and talked face-to-face then I convinced them that, yes, a woman can also work and has the ability to work,” said the mayor.

Behbodzada is the mayor for one of the biggest districts in Herat province–it has more than 500 villages–and at the moment public works projects are underway in most of the villages, and the mayor spends time monitoring the projects herself.

Revenue has increased in Injil district recently, and funding has allowed many of these projects to be carried out.

Behbodzada pledges that no restrictions can prevent her from doing her job.

“Those who want to take what God has given to their servants, and want to stop them, we will fight them,” Behbodzada said.

She is one of two women mayors in the country–the other is ZarifaGhafari, in MaidanShar, the center of MaidanWardak province.

Women’s rights activists call for a strong presence of women in government institutions. They say that women have gained the necessary skills in the past two decades and are capable of managing key government institutions.

“Women can work in key offices as a boss and a manager,” said Mariam Jami Ahmadi, a woman rights activist in Herat.

Local authorities in Herat say they support women working in high government seats.

“Herat has empowered women and it is our effort to increase both the number of women in positions of authority where they can make decisions,” said Herat governor Abdul QayyumRahimi.

Recently, the commitment of Herat’s leaders to women’s rights was put to the test when a cleric in Herat city, MawlawiMujiburRahman Ansari, head of Herat’s Gazargah mosque, placed billboards around the city insisting that women wear the hijab, and in his teachings he admonished men to “control their women.” At a press conference broadcast around the nation, Ansari defended the legitimacy of his version of Islamic law, and prevented women journalists from attending the event.

In response, Sayed Mohammad Shirzadi, the head of the pilgrimage department in Herat province, ordered Ansari’s billboards to be torn down, and to be replaced with other billboards. “Our banners have been installed in different parts of the city–in consultation with scholars–and we have installed banners where other banners had been installed earlier,” said Shirzadi.

The deputy governor of Herat, GhulamDaudHashimi, said that on the one hand they will prevent extremism, and on the other hand they will implement Islamic law based on the nation’s law.

“Every center or organization that wants to start such activity, it should be registered with the Ministry of Justice and have a license approved by the ministry.”

Herat residents praised the work of the directorate.

Women’s affairs activists praised the tearing- down of the provocative banners.

“The government’s answer against extremism made us very joyful and optimistic and shows that we should be optimistic about the future,” said RezayaRasooli, Herat resident.

“It is pleasing that the government and pilgrimage directorate of the Islamic republic showed a positive reaction and supported women,” said Ghazal Noorzai.(TOLOnews)