Zarifa Qazizadah was married at 10, had her first child at 15, and lived for many years in a remote village of Afghanistan, as little more than a servant to her husband's family. Today, when danger strikes, the mother of 15 will yank on some men's clothing and a fake moustache and ride on her motorbike through her village, reports the BBC.
Because she is a mayor -- or what they call "village head."
Battling Tribal TraditionFirst Qazizadah had to remortgage her house, however, and borrow money all over the place to pay for the power poles and cables. But within five months, Naw Abad was hooked up to the grid. The revenue from the electricity was used to build a bridge that now connects the village to a major road. In 2006, the men asked Qazizadah to apply to be mayor again. She did, and she's now the second woman to become a village head in Afghanistan.
It's an impressive feat for a woman in rural Afghanistan, where tribal mores still hold strong. Social Watch ranked Afghanistan the lowest out of 157 countries in its 2012 Gender Equity Index. According to the United Nations, only a quarter of Afghan women over the age of 15 can read and write.
And very few Afghan women drag Jeeps out of ditches with a tractor, or dare to grab a gun and hop on a motorbike when there's word of a disturbance in the middle of the night.
"She does the type of work that even men are not capable of doing," Molavi Seyyed Mohammad, a local man, told the BBC.
Since the Taliban's fall in 2001, an independent-minded generation of women has emerged in Afghanistan, including Meena Rahmani, who opened the country's first bowling alley in Kabul in 2011. Seventy-two percent of Afghan women said their lives were better now than a decade ago, according to a recent survey by the charity, Action Aid. And women hold 68 seats in the Afghan parliament.
But this number is so high because there's a constitutionally mandated quota. These women are often beholden to local warlords, and their power is typically limited.
Afghan women have also seen recent setbacks, and worse. In March, the country's leading religious body, the Ulema Council, announced an edict, which President Hamid Karzai promptly endorsed, that certified women as "secondary" to men, and demanded that they must respect polygamy and never travel without a male escort. In the northern part of the country, 160 schoolgirls were poisoned last week in what's believed to be a campaign to intimidate young girls from getting educated.
Eighty-six percent of Afghan women fear a return to Taliban-style rule, and talented young women are fleeing the country en masse.
But this makes the small successes of a woman like Qazizadah all the more significant. She's currently bankrolling her village's first mosque, which will be laid out, unlike most mosques across the country, so that men and women can pray together.
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