Mullahs and religious elders tapped to promote women’s rights

1 Mar 2010

Mullahs and religious elders tapped to promote women’s rights

1 March 2010 - The Government of Afghanistan has initiated a programme tapping Mullahs and religious elders in making people aware of women’s rights in accordance with Islamic laws, the Afghan institutional law and international human rights law.


The Afghan government programme titled ‘The Role of Spiritual Leaders for Promotion of Women Rights’ – which is implemented by the Ministry of Haj and Religious Affairs (MoHRA) and the Ministry of Women Affairs (MoWA) – is supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) through its Gender Equality Program (GEP).

Afghanistan’s population is almost entirely comprised of traditional communities which are strictly attached to their local cultures and customs.

Followed for generations, some of these traditions and local cultures deprived women of many of their rights. Islamic values of women are not very well understood and international laws, including the human rights law, are still unheard of in most rural areas in Afghanistan.

Religious scholars and Mullahs have always been the only ones people trust. They are respected, believed and highly welcomed as elders while the latter, on their part, do their best to keep their values as wise and honest leaders of the community.

The programme started in Balkh province in late 2009 when 250 Mullahs from five districts came together and went through a series of trainings, knowledge-building and participatory discussions on women’s rights according to Islam.

The programme aimed to disseminate awareness mainly to men in the communities through their Mullahs and religious leaders. The four key issues identified as priorities to be promoted were early marriage, forced marriage, gender-based violence, and inheritance.

“In Afghanistan, when people are given instructions based on their religious values, they will easily listen and accept them. It is highly believed that such programmes will reduce domestic violence through involving religious leaders. This has been identified as a key strategy,” said Mawalwi Abdul Hanan, a participant.

When Mullahs preach avoidance of violence against women during the Friday sermons in mosques, their listeners are the men who become the promoters of the advice of their religious leaders as extracted from the Holy Quran. The men, therefore, help shape their communities accordingly.

“The programme was really successful. It is a very wise approach to rural areas. Replication of this initiative in the other provinces has been proposed by the respective governmental authorities and we are hoping to be able to do the same in other provinces in the future,” said Ahmaduddin Sahibi, Provincial Coordinator of UNDP/Gender Equality Project in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Afghanistan’s rural population, who have been hit hard by the continuous Afghan war, do not always believe everything they hear except when it comes from elders whom they know and believe.

By Sayed Barez, UNAMA