Sohaila Siddiq: A Feminist Icon, Public Servant, and Lieutenant General

Afghanistan’s first female lieutenant general, Suhalia Siddiq, died on December 4 at the same hospital where she served as one of the top surgeons in the country for 36 years. This long-time feminist icon was one of only two women appointed to the cabinet after the removal of the Taliban from power in 2002. She led the Public Health Ministry until 2004 during the transitional government led by President Karzai. General Siddiq was in her early 80s and died of Covid-19 complications.

Growing up in a Pashtun family, Gen. Siddiq’s mother was a teacher and her father was a regional governor in Kandahar. Both encouraged their six daughters to go to school and pursue careers. She studied at Kabul Medical University, followed by years of medical training in Moscow in the 1960s. She returned to her country, persevering during the difficult years of wars, and committed to serving her people, something she took pride in for all her life.

When the Taliban took control and banned all women from working outside the home, the group specifically asked General Sohaila to return to her job at the hospital. She returned to her duty only on the condition that she and her sister not be made to wear burkas or any face covering in public. In an interview with the Guardian in 2002, she is quoted as saying, “The Taliban agreed. It was not exactly a victory for me, but they certainly needed me to be there. Even when I went to Kandahar (the birthplace of the Taliban) I never wore a burka.”

During the Soviet-Afghan war in the mid-1980s, Gen. Siddiq was promoted to surgeon general of the Afghan Army hospital by the Communist-backed government in Kabul. As the surgeon general of one of the most prominent hospitals in the country, she saved the lives of hundreds of wounded soldiers and civilians during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and then during the civil war. One close friend remembers her as generous and kind, both with her time and self to serving the people. “After one especially deadly attack, she performed surgery for 24 hours straight. When a patient desperately needed a pint of blood one day, she donated it herself.”

Before stepping down in 2004 to return to her job as a surgeon, she led a program to vaccinate millions of children against polio, rehired female health workers who lost their jobs under the Taliban and promoted reproductive health and programs to combat HIV/AIDS. Afghan media reported that Gen. Siddiq had no immediate survivors. She never married and is famous for saying she did so because she “didn’t want to take any orders from a man.”

President Ashraf Ghani, First Lady Rula Ghani, along with several feminist leaders attended her funeral, while former president, Karzai called her “one of the most experienced and popular doctors in the country,” someone who “dedicated herself to serving the country and its people.”

Herat’s Women’s Soccer Team Won Afghanistan’s National League Finale

Afghanistan’s National League Finale for both women and men started its ninth season on September 24, 2020. Women’s soccer teams from Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Jawzjan, Ghor, and Bamiyan played in this year’s season in Kabul. Team Herat won the title for Women’s Football (American soccer) League after defeating Kabul 3-2 in a thrilling match on Sunday. Herat’s team also earned six league points by defeating Jawzjan. Ghor’s team qualified for the semifinals after defeating Balkh. “It was a good match… We will make greater efforts in the upcoming matches. I have scored eight goals in the league so far,” said Fatima Haidari, a member of Herat’s team.

Despite the Taliban’s threats and their historical exclusion from the national sport Buzkashi, Afghan women’s participation in sports has been on the rise. Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Afghan women have been participating in numerous sports such as cycling, bowling, tracking, hiking, cricket, soccer, taekwondo, and boxing. Women in big cities like Kabul, Herat, and Mazar-e-Sharif run their own sports clubs. There are also a few swimming pools just for women.

Afghan women athletes have also participated in international games. In 2016’s Summer Olympics, Kimia Yusufi competed against the best of the best in the 100-meter track heat. She was one of three athletes, and the only woman, representing Afghanistan in Rio. Although the Afghan government built playgrounds in girls’ schools to encourage their participation in sports, women athletes continue to call attention to the lack of facilities and resources. Some teams are garnering support from western donors; the United States has been one of the leading supporters of women’s engagement in sports in Afghanistan.

The right to be physically active and engage in outdoor activities is still not a reality for most Afghan women. One major barrier is a stigma that views women’s presence outside the house as a shameful taboo, believing outdoor activities to be only for men. Gyms and parks are often male-only spaces where women still face harassment. The match among Afghanistan’s women’s soccer teams was live on TOLO TV, which helped normalize women’s participation in sports and encourage more girls and women to join.

Source: Tolo News 10/16/2020

Afghan Women are Paving the Way for Future Athletes

This week, Afghanistan’s Kimia Yusufi competed against the best of the best in the 100-meter track heat at the 2016 Summer Olympics. She was one of three athletes, and the only woman, representing Afghanistan in Rio.

Despite their underrepresentation at the Games and their historical exclusion from the national sport Buzkashi, Afghan women participated in athletics prior to the country’s immersion into decades of war. In fact, Afghanistan had their first women’s cycling team in 1986 and girls engaged in sports as a part of their school curriculum. Female athletes even traveled to other countries to compete.

When the Taliban came to power in 1996, they banned women from sports and outdoor activities, in addition to placing a number of restrictions and regulations on men’s sports. There were very few spaces for men to exercise and they were required to wear long pants and sleeves.

After the fall of the Taliban, there were noticeable improvements in women’s participation in sports and outdoor activities. With the support of the international community, the Afghan government built new playgrounds for school girls and many sports teams for women were created. The new unity government encourages women and girls to play both nationally and internationally. The women’s soccer team has brought home many medals and paved the way for increased opportunities for female athletes. In 2004, two Afghan women competed in the Olympics for the first time in the history of the country. Women and girls are now engaging in many sporting activities from skiing on the hills of Bamyan to climbing the country’s tallest mountains.

Despite these tremendous accomplishments, the fight for Afghan women’s full participation in all sports is far from over. The right to be physically active and engage in outdoor activities is still not a reality for most Afghan women. One major barrier is persisting mentalities that see women’s presence outside the house as a shameful taboo, believing outdoor activities to be only for men. Gyms and parks are often male-only spaces where women still face harassment.

Luckily this is changing. In urban centers, like Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, people are now more aware of the importance of exercising and they are adopting the culture of outing and picnicking, with many families bringing their weekend meals to the parks. There are some gyms, sport clubs, parks and even a few swimming pools just for women.

Kabul and Mazar have many parks for women and families. In Herat Province, women go to Takhti-e-Safar where they can exercise and enjoy the morning fresh air. In Takhar, women and girls go to picnics in a place called Chashma area in district of Taluqan. Since men are prohibited from entering this area on Wednesdays, women take the chance to swim in the river.

Regardless of gender and age, people need exercise, fun and fresh air. Women should have the chance to exercise in safe spaces. On this front, from Kimia Yusufi running in Rio, to Sadaf Rahimi boxing in Kabul, we are breaking barriers every day.

Republished with permission from: Free Women Writers 8/16/16.

Media Resources: Tolo News 8/12/16; Afghanistan Online 1/26/16; People 3/8/16; Afghan Ski Challenge; The World Post 3/2/16; CBS News.

Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Hope for Afghan Women

In this time of transition for Afghanistan, we need to remember the progress of Afghan women over the past decade and work together to sustain it. Shoulder-to-Shoulder is about Afghan women’s own experiences – as told in their own words. Share these stories, and your own, on Twitter using #ShoulderToShoulder; you can also take our pledge today to stand with Afghan women’s activists.

The six years of the Taliban regime were the darkest years of my life. I spent every moment in fear. During the Taliban regime, I felt like a bird in a cage, but I never lost hope. When I wrote about the bad times in my diary, I also wrote about my dreams for better days for all Afghan people, and for myself.

I saw the Taliban beating my mother for going outside of our home without a male family member – my mother’s neck still hurts. The Taliban beat my brother and put him at the jail for listening to music. And I still remember the night the Taliban kidnapped a young girl from our neighborhood. I heard the girl’s shrieks as they carried her away. For a very long time after that, I would sit in my bedroom at night and not go to sleep for fear the Taliban would climb the wall of our house and kidnap me. Every morning, I opened my eyes and wished only that the day would end without me losing any of my family members.

Because we are Shia, the Taliban didn’t consider us Muslims or Afghans. They wanted us to leave Afghanistan and go to Iran. But we were not welcomed in Iran; we were not even allowed to work there.

The best moment of my life came in 2001 when I heard on the radio that the Taliban were no longer in power. After that, schools opened for both girls and boys. I was very happy because I could go to school. I was allowed to listen to music, watch TV and go on picnics with my family without any fear. People got jobs. Women started to work outside of their homes.

via The UN
via The UN

People’s lives improved dramatically. During that Taliban regime, I was not sure that I would ever go to school, but now I am a college graduate and so are my sisters and my brother. I am helping other women in my country to become educated, have equal rights and equal opportunities. I am very happy to see that now people of Afghanistan want both their sons and daughters get an education. Many Afghan men and women are learning about their rights. Many Afghan men support Afghan women and respect their rights. Men even vote for women who want to become politicians. Today Afghan women drive cars and they participate in our society, economy, politics and army.

Although I am very happy about Afghan women’s achievements, I worry that the international community may leave us alone. Even with all of the progress in Afghanistan, I still have nightmares when I think about those dark days of the Taliban regime. I believe everything takes time; we have come a long way, but we still need United States help and support.

I would like to thank all of the people and organizations – including the Feminist Majority Foundation – who have supported Afghan women. Now, my hope is that the United States and the international community will stay with us.

New Campaign Encourages Women to Participate in Afghanistan’s Next Election

content translated and modified from a press release.

On Tuesday, September 17, the Afghan Women’s Political Participation Committee held a press conference on their “For Whom Am I Voting?” campaign in Herat, Afghanistan. The conference was meant to support and promote women’s participation and utilization of the women’s vote in the next election. Women’s rights advocates, intellectuals and journalists attended this conference; women advocates discussed their concerns and demands about the upcoming elections in April of 2014.

via Facebook
via Facebook

On September 10th, Dr. Alima, the head of the Afghan Women’s Political Participation Committee gave an interview to TOLO News. Dr. Alima talked about Afghan women’s voting rights and how they should evaluate candidates in the spring elections. According to Dr. Alima, female voters should only support candidates that believe in gender equality and women’s rights.

According to TOLO news, the campaign will remind Afghan women about their power to shape the political system of the country, as well as the importance of not supporting human rights violators and candidates who do not believe in the merits of women’s empowerment. The committee’s campaign was launched with posters, which they distributed all over Afghanistan.


The posters say:

– I am voting for a person who respects women’s rights and  respects Article 22 of the constitution which emphasizes equal rights of men and women.

– I am voting for a person who will stand for an accountable and transparent government, free of corruption and inequality.

–  I am voting for a person who guarantees to support women’s participation in decision-making institutions such as the Court and Cabinet.

–  I am voting for someone who will stand against the illegal and inhumane tribal decisions and punish those who make these decisions against women.

–  I am voting for a person who will stand against the harmful traditions,  improve women’s lives and will take action to create a safe environment to for girls to get their education.

–  I am voting for someone who will stop violence, especially violence against women, implement, and enforce the Violence Against Women Act.

–  I am voting for a person who will respect and follow the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international covenants of human rights.

–  I am voting for someone who guarantees the safety and security of women.


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