From Refugee to Politician: Afghanistan’s First Female Provincial Council Chair Fights for Rights

Afghanistan’s first female Provincial Council Chair in Bamyan province, Tayeba Khawary, in her office. Photo: UNDP Afghanistan / 2015

Bamyan, August 2015 — Tayeba Khawary is an Afghan, but she was born as a refugee in Iran after her family fled Afghanistan’s violent conflict in the 1980s. Hoping for better times one day, her father worked as a laborer to support her university studies until the family could return to their home in Afghanistan’s central province of Bamyan.

Now, that hope has come true. Following democratic elections supported by UNDP, Khawary has become Afghanistan’s first female Chair of a Provincial Council.

Provincial Councils are the voice of the people. They promote democratic and accountable governance, monitor and oversee public services, such as health and education, and resolve disputes. Khawary’s experience as a refugee now drives her to use her position on the council to support others who are experiencing hardship.

“When I was working with civil society and human rights groups, we were advocating for the rights of the most poor and vulnerable people and especially for the rights of women,” Khawary says. “The only way to achieve this objective was to become engaged in politics.”

UNDP supports Khawary and Afghanistan’s 34 Provincial Councils to gain the skills and resources they need to improve people’s lives, and to work in some of the most remote districts in Afghanistan.

On one official trip to an isolated village bounded by winding mountain passes and precipitous gullies, Khawary met with village elders who appealed for her help to fix a dilapidated school, improve maternal health, and address a growing problem of opium addiction.

After lengthy discussions with the community, Khawary followed up on their concerns. As a result, the Education Department and other parties provided funds for school reconstruction, and the main hospital and Public Health Department in Bamyan city provided medicine and other treatment for pregnant women and men struggling with addiction.

In other areas, Khawary has successfully supported women in cases ranging from inheritance disputes to access to schools and hospitals. In this way, she makes sure that her Council fulfills its mandate of bringing political solutions to those who need them the most.

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