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A one-woman crusade to improve the lives of Afghan villagers

Zarifa Qazizadah is the only female village head in Afghanistan. She moves around on a motorbike and hopes to win a seat in the national parliament. The 50-year-old mother of 15 thinks education for women is paramount.

And she's off again. Zarifa Qazizadah is making her way from one house to the next, asking the villagers how they are - her villagers. As the only female village head in Afghanistan, she takes special care of the thousand or so families that fall under her care in the Narsoyi district of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Zarifa Qazizadah and two villagers

Zarifa Qazizadah is responsible for 700 homes in Narsoyi district

Zarifa Qazizadah was chosen by the villagers themselves to be their head. "They saw I had given them access to electricity, had had a mosque built and stood by their side even though I wasn't yet in office," the 50-year-old woman explains.

There are of course many men who do not like her being at the helm but she has convinced them at least not to question her authority. "When I started my work, some men laughed at me but I pushed them and used my body weight to calm them down," the mother of 15 says proudly.

Another time, she impressed a group of male villagers by pulling a car out of a ditch. "I got behind the steering wheel of a tractor after scaring the driver away. He shouted at me saying women couldn't drive so I told him to shut up and pulled the car out. All the drivers were stunned."


Since the fall of the Taliban, Zarifa Qazizadah has been doing her utmost to campaign for women's rights. Thanks to her, men and women pray together at the new mosque - this is rare in other parts of Afghanistan. "Before, women had to pull a curtain and then pray after the men were finished," she recalls.

Two female pupils in Afghanistan

The village head says education for women is crucial

Zarifa Qazizadah, who has received 18 awards from the Afghan government for her work, thinks it is important that men and women live side-by-side. She is particularly interested in education for girls and women. "I got married at the age of 12 and could no longer go to school. I had always been the best at school," she says, adding that she would have liked to study and become a judge.

Now her ambition has changed - she is aiming for the national parliament.

Author: Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi / act
Editor: Sarah Berning

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