After campaigning for years, Afghan activists are already celebrating the government's move to table a bill in parliament that will allow Afghan citizens to print their mothers' names for identification purposes.
In 2018, Khujesta Tamana, an Afghan academic, was travelling to Europe along with her son when she was stopped at Delhi Airport by the local authorities.
“The officials checked my documents and then my son’s and questioned if I was indeed his mother because I was listed nowhere on his documents,” she told TRT World, explaining her ordeal.
“They were rightfully concerned because as an adult I had no documents to prove that my son was indeed mine. Names of his father and grandfather were mentioned, but not mine, the woman carried him, birthed him and was nurturing him,” she shared, the memories bringing up frustration and humiliations of the past.
Tamana is among the many Afghan mothers who has consistently faced discrimination over the rights of her child due to lack of visibility in official documentations. Afghan bureaucratic and governmental processes, guided by a deeply conservative and patriarchal society, do not include the names of women in many official documents.
For many, naming the women of their family is considered dishonourable and unislamic. “When a mother carries the foetus for nine months, nurturing it with her own blood and then with her milk for many years after, the least she can expect is some legal rights over her child,” Tamana said, her voice rising as she recalled. “But in Afghanistan, the father, or the grandfather or even brother of the father has more authority than the mother who birth the child. This is shameful,” she said.
However, that is set to change, as the Afghan government, on Tuesday, announced that the new ID cards will carry the name of the citizen's mother alongside the father’s name—a move that comes in response to years of campaigning from Afghan women’s rights activists. “We brought forth this amendment after this issue was raised in a campaign called ‘Where is my name?’ by Afghan women activists. Our leadership acknowledged the issue and decided to respond with this new law that we hope will break taboos,” said Mohammad Hidayat, a director from the office of Sarwar Danesh, Afghanistan’s second vice president who chaired the meeting for the amended of Population Registration Act and approved the draft of the law.
Even though the draft has yet to be approved by the Afghan Parliament, Afghan activists who have campaigned for years are already celebrating this as a victory. “This is a very good effort that was started by Afghan women who campaigned relentlessly for over four years demanding their identities to be recognised,” said Mariam Atahi, an Afghan activist who was part of the ‘Where Is My Name?’ campaign. “This is a constructive result of our hard work and will empower Afghan women especially those who are guardians of their children,” she pointed out.
However, not everyone is pleased at this decision. “Our culture does not allow our mother's name to be mentioned. We can not let anyone see our mother’s name. It is not meant for the public but something for only our knowledge,” said Abdul Mobin Safi, objecting to the new amendment, echoing the sentiments of many Afghans who have opposed this move. “We live in a traditional society and this is not acceptable for us. It is pure kufir,” he said. “Besides there is no such law anywhere in the world, everywhere people are recognised by their fathers,” he reasoned.
Tamana retorted strongly to this criticism. "Rejecting the name of the mother of the ID card is in fact not recognising the role of women in the family. If from the Islamic point of view this act was inappropriate, then we would not know the name of the mother of Muhammad and his wives today,” she reasoned.
Hidayat also told TRT World that the Afghan government had consulted with religious scholars and were assured there is no objection from an Islamic point of view. “Those who are against this law have no logical argument,” he dismissed the criticism, assuring that “there is nothing going to stop this”.
In fact, so strong is the stigma, that many families willingly chose not to reveal the name of the women in their household who often get referred to their relation with the male members i.e “wife of…” or “daughter of…”.
But for a country dealing with an ongoing conflict that claims thousands of lives, which leaves behind a trail of widows and single mothers, such traditions can be deeply damaging.
“This move helps thousands of Afghan widows and single mothers who are raising their children alone because of losing their husbands and other members of the family to war. Many have struggled with having to prove their children as their own,” Atahi said.
“My mum faced this issue when she was trying to get Tazkira (national ID card) for my brothers. The clerk asked my mum to bring my dad so he could prove that her children were indeed there. She was so disappointed having to argue with a clerk who refused to believe my mother or issue the Tazkira,” she shared.
“The essential thing is that women's identity should be recognised as the mother of a child. We have an independent identity as citizens, so why shouldn't that be acknowledged publicly?” Atahi added.