No Lingering! UNDP and Religious Leaders Promote Women in Sport and Education

Masooma and her friend after skiing in Bamyan. UNDP’s work with preachers has helped change community attitudes to women and girls doing sport. Photo: Habiba Paikan / 2015

Bamyan, 9 October 2016 – Bamyan, in central Afghanistan, is a province of snow-capped mountains and difficult travel. But it’s not just the rugged terrain that keeps girls from going to school and taking part in sports. The mind also has mountains that girls need to climb if they want to get equal treatment.

“At first, the villagers were really annoying, telling me that a girl in sports clothes is against Islam and our culture,” says 18-year-old Masooma, who just wanted to go skiing. “They said, ‘Girls don’t have the right to ski – only boys can do sport. Girls are born to learn household chores, like cooking and cleaning.’”

This village gossip made it hard for Masooma to carry on. Sometimes she cried when she heard people say she should be at home. And she wasn’t the only young woman suffering in the village.

Rahela, 24, also from Bamyan, wanted to study beyond grade 12, but her husband thought basic education was quite enough for a woman and demand she stay at home.

Attitudes like these, hardened by centuries of tradition, are hard to change. So it helps if you can enlist the support of voices trusted by the community – like those of local religious leaders. With this in mind, UNDP trained more than 400 mullahs across the country to preach about women’s rights in Friday prayers.


  • Village gossip made it difficult for Masooma to continue skiing. Sometimes she cried when she heard people say she should stay at home.
  • Mullahs trained by UNDP preached about women’s rights and held workshops on girls’ education, child marriage and violence against women.
  • As attitudes changed, Masooma was allowed to ski and other women and girls were allowed to go to school.


PanjshirMullah Redwani, Executive Director of Hajj and Religious Matters in Bamyan, preaches on women’s rights during a Friday sermon. Photo: UNDP Afghanistan / Singh / 2016

Abdul Rahman Redwani is one of the mullahs who started incorporating these issues into his sermons after the training. He’s also the Executive Director of Hajj and Religious Matters in Bamyan, and a member of the National Council of Religious Leaders; in short, a voice to be reckoned with.

“Previously, local people didn’t let their girls learn how to read or write,” he recalls. “When girls went skiing the for first time, people gossiped that they were too westernized. But our Friday sermons helped change their minds.”

“Now a lot of girls and women come to watch us ski,” smiles Masooma, “which was not possible a few years back. This motivates me and encourages other girls to start skiing.”

Would-be student, Rahela, has also benefitted from changing attitudes. “My husband told me that a child’s first teacher is her or his mother, so I have to continue my education,” she says. “This made me really happy.”

Mullahs trained by UNDP continue to preach about women’s rights. They have also conducted workshops on girls’ education, child marriage and violence against women that have reached thousands of people.

This is all part of a wider picture that has made girls education one of the successes of the last 15 years. According to the World Bank, net enrollment at the end of the Taliban regime in 2001 was 43% for boys but a miserable 3% for girls. Since 2002, school enrollment has skyrocketed, boosting the number of girls in education more than tenfold, to 36%.

Minds may have mountains, but we can climb them together.

This initiative, part of UNDP’s Gender Equality II Project, was supported by the Republic of Korea, Canada and Denmark.

Our new gender project, EGEMA, is also funded by Korea. It works to improve data and mainstream gender in national policies, empower women economically, and change behavior by working with mullahs and youth. This work with religious leaders receives additional support from UNV.

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