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

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.

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 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. 

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

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.

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 

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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