A woman speaks at the youth parliament in Kabul, Afghanistan. © UNDP Afghanistan / S. Omer Sadaat


The equal participation of women in public affairs is essential, if we want to create inclusive and just societies. To enhance women’s equal access to services and economic opportunities, they need to be able to participate in democratic life at different levels. Raising awareness about the challenges to women’s participation, and discussing solutions to these challenges, are key steps towards a fairer democratic society.

In Afghanistan, however, women are seriously under-represented in local governance. There is not a single woman governor in any of the country’s 34 provinces and only four female deputy governors. Out of approximately 389 districts, there are three women district governors, and only two women mayors.

To address the issue of under representation of women in local governance, on September 4th 2019, a conference on improving women’s role in local governance was organised under the umbrella of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) and supported by the Local Governance (UNDP-LoGo) and Initiative to Strengthen Local Administrations (USAID-ISLA) projects. Over 140 participants from 34 provinces came to Kabul, to discuss the challenges and problems that women face, with a view to improve their participation in decision-making processes at the local level in Afghanistan.

Abdul Mateen Beg, the Director General of IDLG. Photo: USAID / ISLA / 2019

In his opening remarks for the conference, Mr. Abdul Mateen Beg, the Director General of IDLG, stated “Eight years ago, I did not believe that there would be women deputy governors, district governors, or women holding mayoral positions. Here in IDLG, we are trying very hard to increase the number of women in the top positions”.

However, effort is needed on all sides if progress is to be made. Ms. Zarifa Ghafari, the Mayor of Maidan Wardak, shared her experiences with the conference of when she was newly appointed as Mayor, stating that it took some time for people to allow her to do her job properly, as many people would not accept a woman in the role.

Zarifa Ghafari, Maidan Wardak Mayor, on a local governance conference. Photo: USAID / ISLA / 2019

Despite her difficulties, she vowed never to give up. Ms. Ghafari said that the conference was a unique space for women from the provinces to become aware of their power to voice their concerns and share their challenges.

The conference concluded with a resolution containing strong messages, among others, to include women in the budgeting and planning process at the district and provincial level; to increase the number of women in public office; to include women’s participation in the peace process; to promote women champions and leadership, as well as allocating specific budget lines for women and promote women political representation at the local level.

For UNDP, Gender Equality is a cross-cutting issue which informs all its programming. Women typically comprise at least half the population of a society, and it has been repeatedly shown that it is difficult, if not impossible, for a country to meet its development goals without the equal participation of women, and the recognition of their work and contribution to society, which often goes unmentioned.

UNDP’s LoGo project has worked closely with the Gender Department of IDLG for many years, jointly reviewing local governance policies from a gender perspective, promoting gender responsive budgeting and liaising with the provincial gender officers on ensuring women’s participation in LoGo activities.  

UNDP will continue to work jointly with its national counterparts and support the Government of Afghanistan’s efforts in promoting women’s participation and empowerment, from political engagement to creating economic opportunities and reaching out to the rural and remote areas of Afghanistan, to help achieve the SDGs goal 5: Gender Equality.


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