Thanks to this Afghan woman, 6,000 imams have taken gender-sensitivity training breaking barriers
Jamila Afghani, who has battled discrimination since childhood, uses Islam to empower women in Afghanistan. She is committed to continuing the work despite threats and other obstacles.
January 5, 2017 Kabul, Afghanistan—It is Friday noon in Kabul, Afghanistan, and men dressed in traditional clothes hurry to mosques to pray in congregation. Friday prayers are usually men’s business, and during the Taliban rule in the 1990s, women were not allowed in mosques. But in one neighborhood in the city, an imam has kept the doors of his mosque open to women for 12 years now. He often preaches about women’s rights in Islam – that women are equal to men and have the right to work and study.
This is all because of a woman named Jamila Afghani and the gender-sensitivity training program she has created.
Ms. Afghani has a friendly smile that hides all that she has had to endure in life. A women’s rights activist and Islamic scholar in Afghanistan, she has battled discrimination, as well as disability, since childhood. But it was access to education and being able to read the Quran herself that made her realize Islam could be used to empower women in Afghanistan.
Today, according to Afghani, about 20 percent of Kabul’s mosques have special prayer areas for women, whereas only 15 years ago there were none. The sermons delivered by imams about the importance of education have also helped many women persuade their families to let them study. In fact, some 6,000 imams in Afghanistan have participated in Afghani’s training program.
Afghani was born in Kabul in 1974, a few years before the Soviet invasion of the country. When she was only a few months old, she contracted polio, which left one of her legs disabled. But for Afghani the disability became a blessing in disguise. Her family was conservative and did not approve of education for girls. Her sisters played outside, but Afghani was not able to; she became easily bored and spent her days crying. Finally, at the suggestion of her doctor, her father enrolled her in first grade.