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The Veil of Womanhood: Female Judges in Afghanistan

The Veil of Womanhood: Female Judges in Afghanistan

Female ambition is found globally, across all career paths, cultivated from generations of historically strong women. Regardless of adversity, women are making strides in every field-- notably, in the judicial branch of Afghanistan.

Since 2003, when women returned to their judicial posts following Taliban rule, women's rights activists have championed the foundation of the first female judges’ association in Kabul, solidifying the important space female judges occupy. These positions, while notable anywhere, are of particular significance in Afghanistan; a religious country with many practices inspired by Islamic law. This traditional Islamic law poses the greatest obstacle to female judges, as “some laws and decrees- as well as traditional practices, which frankly discriminated against women had restricted their ability to move upwards.” However, this did not stop ambitious women, such as Anisa Rasooli, from becoming one of the most respected judges in the nation.

Anisa Rasooli has embodied female ambition throughout her life, redefining womanhood in Afghanistan. After graduating from Kabul University with a degree in law, Rasooli knew she did not want to compromise for a job deemed “better suited for a woman.” Instead, she was determined to be a judge. At a time when only 20 women were judges, Rasooli was entering a male dominated field, in a traditional country soon to be taken over by the Taliban. With the Taliban’s takeover in 1996, Rasooli, sure enough, had to leave her post as a judge to escape persecution, living as a refugee in Pakistan where she regrouped with fellow women and began teaching at an all girls school. As the Taliban was expelled from Afghanistan, Rasooli returned, enlivened by her teaching career and determined to make it as a judge.

In spite of many obstacles, Rasooli rose through the judicial ranks over the next 14 years, inspired by female judges globally, specifically Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, to keep persevering to accomplish greatness. Known nationally as one of the cleanest judges in a seemingly corrupt institution, Rasooli established a foundation for human rights in the court system and encouraged other women to pursue law through the Afghan Women Judges Association. Her pristine image stood the test of time, with her dedication rewarded in 2015 in a historic nomination from President Ashfrik Ghani to place Rasooli on the Afghan Supreme Court. Even after overcoming these immense obstacles, Rasooli was far from free of them. Her nomination fell short of placement on the court by nine votes. While this feels like a significant setback for women, Rasooli remains proud of this accomplishment and continues to inspire girls to pursue their education goals.

With the number of female judges now over 300 before the Taliban takeover of 2021, Rasooli has accomplished her goal of encouraging women to be ambitious in their careers, demonstrating to the world that women can succeed in Afghanistan despite adversity. “Not all women in Afghanistan are women in blue burqas begging… we can be the best engineers, doctors, judges, teachers” she said, replying to a question of how Afghan women are perceived. Rasooli’s passion has evolved not only to pursue a career in law, but also to educate women en masse, ensuring equal access to their rights and freedoms to cultivate future generations of ambitious women.

Anisa Rasooli has unequivocally changed the lives of thousands of Afghani women, inspiring them to aspire to greatness, regardless of obstacles in their way. After achieving a position awarded with agency to help other women, Rasooli effectively created a community for women to foster ambition in, and cultivate support and success for the next generation of groundbreaking Afghan women. Even with the new Taliban government threatening the stability of female judges, with a leader like Rasooli, women will once again overcome and inspire a new generation of young women and girls.