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Dr. Daud Shah Saba: 'The Afghan Economy Is a Man's Economy'

Feb 27, 2014 | Updated Apr 29, 2014

Dr Daud Shah Saba was the Governor of Herat from 2010 to 2013. He resigned in July 2013, citing rampant corruption and the failure of the central government to bring about promised reforms. He holds a PhD in Earth Science from the University of Mumbai and has been a professor at Kabul Polytechnic.

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Photo : Jawad Darwaziyan / Matthieu Hackière

Can you tell us about a time when your human rights were violated, something which has influenced your life?

One of my most bitter memories concerns the time when I was a student at Kabul Polytechnic. On three separate occasions, I was awarded scholarships, and each time, I lost them because of corruption in the system. I was winning these scholarships on my own merit: I didn't have any 'important people' supporting me and I wasn't a 'party' person during the time of the Communist regime. And so, each time other people would end up taking the scholarship which I had rightly won.

On one ocassion, I had been selected as a distinguished student to take part in the International Youth Festival in Moscow. They prepared my passport and my suit - everything was ready. And then, just four days before the flight, the brother of the then Parwan governor, who was the secretary of the Afghanistan Youth Association, a government run institution, took my place and went instead.

What are some of the most important achievements in Afghanistan since the time of the Taliban?

The greatest achievement to date is that Afghanistan has come out of isolation for the first time in history. Today, Afghanistan can establish its place beside other countries. I applaud the emergence of a new generation in Afghanistan: our young people have clear ideas, are forward-thinking and aware, and connected with the rest of the world. And this has been made possible by education, another major achievement.

What gives you hope for the future? What do you see as a positive development

I find hope in this new and aware generation, and the access they have to education.

What is your worst fear today?

I worry that we might fail to keep up the positive progress that has been made in Afghanistan.

What are the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan?

The most fundamental structural problem in Afghanistan today is the lack of a dynamic economy. Around 40% of young people are unemployed.

Will the present-day Afghanistan allow a recurrence of the closing of schools to girls and the blocking of women's social participation?

No! The new generation has demands that are very different to those of their predecessors. Most of our young people today are educated. Education is a prerequisite for maintaining the positive conditions that we have achieved so far, and continuing to improve into the future. Women in Afghan civil society are stronger than ever.

Can you share with us a memory of a time that the human rights of a woman in your family or circle of associates were violated?

My wife was a doctor and worked in the hospital. When the Taliban took power, they expelled her from her work. She was educated and wanted to serve her people, but was forced to migrate to Pakistan instead.

What are some key factors which deter women's participation in social, economic, political and cultural spheres?

The Afghan society is a male-dominated society, and, to be more precise, an old male-dominated society. The old people decide; they have the final say. Furthermore, women do not have fair or adequate access to education.

The problem is also an economic one. Women's access to economic resources is very limited; the Afghan economy is a man's economy. So long as the women in Afghanistan are not economically independent and able to produce and manage their own income, the society will face serious problems. In the rural areas, women work but it is the men who manage the resources. No matter how hard the women work, only the men decide how the rewards are spent. Women, although supposedly equal as human beings, are subordinate to men's decisions.

What do women want?

Women want more and better access to education, the elimination of discrimination, and access to medical and health services.

What do you wish for your daughter?

I wish that girls, like boys, will achieve their wishes. Those wishes are higher education, respect for women, and their recognition as the equals of men. A good life and freedom is what everybody desires.

What have you done in your personal and professional life to fight against obstacles to women's participation in Afghanistan?

The time when I was the Governor of Herat was the best period for civil society there, in particular for women. I supported the establishment of the Union of Working Women and participated in their decisions. It is now the biggest women's union in Afghanistan.

In the private sector, I run a consultancy office and try to promote a new business mentality based on modern ways of thinking. In particular, I give support to a group of young boys and girls who are starting out in business. These young adults started from nothing, and now they are running six companies between them!

"Unveiling Afghanistan, the Unheard Voices of Progress" is a campaign by Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA and FIDH, which explores views held by Afghan civil society actors. Over 50 days, 50 influential social, political, and cultural actors hope to spark conversation and debate about building a society that is inclusive of women's and human rights in Afghanistan.

You can read original interviews in Dari on Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA