Female Rangers, Female Role Models

Afghanistan’s first-ever female rangers head out to work in Band-e-Amir National Park. On a typical day, they collect data on endangered animals and protect the park from poachers, overgrazing and the excesses of tourism. Photo: UNDP Afghanistan / Rob Few / 2015

Bamyan, July 2015 — Jahanbin is not a man who is easily frightened or thwarted. As a ranger in one of Afghanistan’s two national parks, he’s been out alone in the vast empty spaces of the northern plateau, and he’s faced gangs of poachers and crowds of belligerent tourists who don’t want to follow the rules. Unarmed and with the nearest police station several miles away, he’s held his own and talked his way out of trouble until help can arrive.

Perhaps it’s surprising, then, that what finally convinced Jahanbin that he needed help was a group of women washing their hair in the lake.

“There are certain areas where, according to Afghan culture, men cannot go,” 57-year-old Jahanbin explains. “Male rangers can’t control the female tourists.”

What he means is that when thousands of female tourists show up to bathe in Band-e-Amir’s turquoise lakes and start polluting the water with chemical soaps and shampoos, there is nothing he can do to stop them.

So the community got together to find a solution. At a meeting of the Community Development Council, they decided to ask Jahanbin’s wife and three other women to become Afghanistan’s first-ever female rangers. Now, supported by UNDP, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme, the four new rangers patrol the park from 8am to 6pm every day.

“We admit that our work is hard,” says Jahabnin’s wife, 45-year-old Naikhbakht. “But there is no job that’s easy, and we think we make a great contribution.”

Most of the tourists agree. Part of Naikhbakht’s job is to welcome visitors and lay out the ground rules of the park – no fishing, no fires, no damaging the trees and no littering.

“Most tourists are amazed that this park has female rangers and they appreciate our work,” explains Naikhbakht.

But there are also some who object to being told what to do – especially by a woman. In those cases, Naikhbakht is as patient as she can be… before calling for backup, just as her husband would.

It’s a demanding job, but Naikhbakht is no stranger to hard work. She’s raised 11 children, often in difficult circumstances. She kept them safe while fleeing the war in Kabul and then while living as a refugee in Iran. Now she’s found a home in Band-e-Amir and she’s determined to keep that safe, too.

So are we. As well as supporting the rangers, UNDP and our partners have projects that supply environmentally friendly cooking and heating equipment to local residents, and that raise awareness among adults and children of how to conserve the park’s natural resources. And we are working with the government on the establishment of a national Park and Wildlife Authority that will manage Band-e-Amir and other national parks, ensuring they can be enjoyed sustainably for generations to come.

Naikhabakht is also thinking of the future. “We’re optimistic that the park will flourish,” she says. “And if my daughter becomes a ranger one day, I’ll be proud of her.”

UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Afghanistan 
Go to UNDP Global