Mother’s name in electronic Afghan national identity card is about gender equality

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By: Freshta Karim in Afghanistan

After the union cabinet in September 2012 gave its nod to the
electronic national identity card (e-tazkira), the government of
Afghanistan expressed its readiness to replace the old paper identity
card with the new and technologically-advanced identity card.

In the new identity card, besides other details as the marks of
identity, individual and his/her father’s name, grandfather’s name and
nationality will be mentioned.

The project, however, was temporarily put on the backburner after
people belonging to different ethnicities raised concerns over marking
everyone’s ‘nationality’ as Afghan, which they claimed is used only
for majority-Pashtuns.

It triggered a national debate last year and the political atmosphere
became highly charged. While the issue of ‘nationality’ hogged
headlines; nobody, not even the civil society groups or the champions
of women rights, asked why there is no mention of mother’s name in the
new identity card.

The issue of mentioning mother’s name in the new identity card, I
feel, is as important, if not more, than the issue of ‘nationality’.

From the time tazkira (identity card) was first launched in
Afghanistan during the reign of reformist King Amanullah Khan
(1919-1929), it has included only the names of father and grandfather.

Mother’s name, in fact, has never been mentioned on any important
legal document in the history of this country.

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, millions of dollars have been
invested on education and the empowerment of women, both by the Afghan
government and its international partners.

A large number of ‘ambitious’ projects have been carried out to uplift
and empower the people of Afghanistan, who had been groping in dark
for years.

Since 2004, when the Constitution of Afghanistan was formally enacted,
both men and women are considered equal citizens of the country,
although it is a work in progress.

In fact, in the Population Registration Act of Afghanistan, identity
is defined as “full information about a person that include father’s
name. There is, bizarrely, no mention of mother’s name.

Mention of father’s name, and not the mother’s name, in the identity
card suggests that father has more rights over his child and he or she
should only be identified as father’s child.

It does great disservice to mothers, who render exemplary sacrifices
to bring up the children. It scandalously ignores the fact that it is
the mother who carries the baby for nine months in her womb and
nourishes and feeds the child.

Once, a man asked Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who among the people is
most deserving of companionship. He replied, not once, but thrice that
it is the mother. The fourth time the man asked, Prophet Muhammad
(PBUH) said father.

This tradition, which is mentioned in Sahih Bukhari, implies that the
mother deserves immense love and respect.

Unfortunately, in our deeply patriarchal society, it is a norm not to
mention the names of female members of family, including the mother.
Their names are mentioned only when it comes to abusive and derogatory
remarks.

The decision to not mention the name of mother in the new identity
card has to be seen in that particular context.

But, why and how the names of women became such a disgrace? It has
neither roots in the rich Islamic traditions nor has it anything to do
with our glorious heritage.

If we examine the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), it bears eloquent
testimony to how important the role of women was in that period. He
had many women in his life, which included Halima (foster-mother),
Amina (mother), Khadija and Aisha (wives) and Fatima (daughter).

Similarly, the 5000 year old history of Afghanistan has been enriched
by illustrious women like Rabia Balkhi, Zarghuna Anaa, Malalai of
Maiwand, Gawhar Shad Begum and many others. Their legacy continues to
be a beacon of inspiration for millions of women in this country.

In the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, women are known merely in
their role as mothers, wives or sisters. The other aspects of their
identity are largely and brutally suppressed. They are denied their
rights and often subjected to various forms of exploitation and
discrimination. Even their gravestones do not mention their name but
their identity is written as daughters or wives of someone.

This lacuna was highlighted by President Ghani while launching the
National Action Plan on Implementation of the United Nations Security
Council Resolution 1325 on Women and Peace and Security in June 2015.

“Woman is woman, she should not be identified as daughter, sister,
mother; her identity is woman,” President Ghani stressed.

Many countries – like India, Germany and United Kingdom – do not
mention the name of parents on the biometric card, although they
collect and store all the personal information. Some countries – like
Pakistan and Bulgaria – mention only father’s name. But there are some
countries like Hungary that mention only mother’s name.

Some people might argue that even the developed countries do not have
mother’s name in their national identity cards so it should not be
seen as an issue of women’s rights.

But, it is important to note that the struggle for equal rights and
empowerment of women continues in many western countries. We should
not blindly imitate them and see our ‘progress’ on the basis of
parameters set by them. Our fight should be for gender equality to
ensure that every citizen gets what he or she deserves.

Some people might argue that the time is not yet ripe to raise such
sensitive issues of women’s empowerment. That is not necessarily true.
We must use every opportunity that comes our way to contribute to the
discourse of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

It is indeed a highly sensitive issue, and some hyper-sensitive men
might even boycott the registration process if they are asked to
mention their mother’s name in the identity card.

But, nothing is impossible. If the warring groups of warlords can join
hands for peace and stability in Afghanistan, if we can negotiate
peace with the armed opposition groups, we can also discuss the
possibility of including mother’s name in the new identity card.

We have a reformist leader in President Ashraf Ghani, who does not shy
away from publicly expressing his love and admiration for the First
Lady. He must seize this opportunity to create history by doing what
his predecessor failed to do.

The electronic national identity card gives us a historic opportunity
to make every child realize that he or she belongs as much to the
mother as to the father.

Mentioning mother’s name in the new electronic identity card would
send a symbolic message to half of the population that they too are
part of the country’s legal system and have the same rights as their
male counterparts.

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