In a male-dominated society that has for years been controlled by the ultra-conservative Taliban, the emergence of the first female village chief took everyone by surprise.
After being ridiculed by male villagers for wanting to occupy political office, Zarifa Qazizadah, the mother of 15 children, managed to become the mayor of Naw Abad, a village in the northern Balkh province.
Qazizadah’s political ambition started in 2004 when she told her mocking fellow villagers that she wanted to represent them and promised to supply Naw Abad with electricity.
“I am telling the men in my village that if they have any problems, I will talk to the government on their behalf and in case of any trouble at night, I will carry my gun and come to your houses to solve the problem,” she said.
Qazizadah added that she is willing to be disguised as a man and drive a motorcycle in the middle of the night if this will enable her to help her people.
She lost the 2004 elections but kept her promise as far as connecting the village to electricity is concerned. Two years later, the same men who ridiculed Qazizadah asked her to run for head of the village and she finally succeeded.
Currently, Qazizadah’s priority is guarding the electricity supply in Naw Abad and making sure there are no power thefts in the neighborhood.
“I cannot allow this to happen,” she said. “It is against the law.”
Qazizadah also kept her promise about handling problems that occur at night – she dons men’s clothes, gets on her motorcycle, and heads to where the trouble is. According to her, disguise is better in a conservative society that would be shocked to see a woman on a motorcycle late at night.
Qazizadah also uses her own field tractor to tow cars that break down in the middle of the road or get stuck in the mud.
“She does things men are incapable of,” said Mulawi Sayed Mohamed, one of the villagers.