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Sole Afghan woman governor in a man’s world

Monday, Aug 1, 2016,12:20 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

Nili | Surrounded by male advisors and condescending mansplainers, Masooma Muradi holds her own against a deep underswell of sexism in a society unaccustomed to women exercising authority.

Breaking new ground as Afghanistan’s only female governor, Muradi’s ascent to the top post in remote Daikundi province is a remarkable feat in Afghanistan, where stubborn patriarchal traditions are at odds with progressive ideas about a woman’s place in the world. But barely a year after President Ashraf Ghani appointed Muradi, her job hangs by a thread, with growing calls for her ouster from religious conservatives and opponents. It highlights the travails of being the only woman in an overwhelmingly male preserve.

People claim to be open-minded but many cannot bear having a woman in this position, Muradi, 37, told AFP, sinking into an overstuffed sofa in her office in the capital Nili, decorated with faux sunflowers and a large portrait of a pouting child. I won’t allow men to hush me up — society is not used to that from a woman, she added. Barely five feet tall, Muradi’s diminutive frame and soft demeanour belies her steely instinct for survival.

The mother-of-two was handpicked by Ghani in Kabul to lead Daikundi, a mosaic of rolling hills and boulder-strewn ridges in central Afghanistan, hemmed in by insurgency-wracked provinces. But protests erupted even before she arrived in Daikundi, with political opponents — almost all men — pillorying her lack of governance experience.

Muradi has since managed to hold on to the job, but the resentment was palpable when she recently stepped out in Nili with AFP, trailed by Kalashnikov-toting guards. Useless, one man barked as she passed by. Maybe she should be a governor just for women, another growled.

Women have made giant strides since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001, but they are still so absent from public life that the social media hashtag #WhereAreTheWomen has gained traction in Afghanistan. The attitudes throughout Afghanistan still are such that not everyone is ready to be governed by a woman, said Douglas Keh, Afghanistan country director at the United Nations Development Programme.

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