Hajani Hakima: Some women hide their faces from me

Habibullah Sana
Hakmina, a female provincial council member, attends a women's
shura held in Jaji Maidan in Khowst Province, Afghanistan

A pistol hangs under her waistcoat, a turban on her head and she is completely dressed like an Afghan man - Hajani Hakmina is an unusual Afghan woman who actively took part in the Jihad against the former Soviet army in 1980s and has refused to marry a man.
"Some women hide their faces from me (thinking she's a man due to her dressing) and men behave with me respect," said the 55-year-old Afghan woman.
Hakmina was raised in a rural and farming family in Zadran District in the southeastern Khost Province. She is just the kind of women whom the late Pashtun poet Malang Jan lauded as such:
"Come all young girls to put zealous turbans on our heads today
"And give the zeal-less head-cover to the other inept men"
"I can plough fields and tender livestock," Hakmina said adding that
farming and animals' husbandry had become easier due to the spread of technology. Local people also admire Hakmina for her leadership skills, courage and straightforwardness and often ask her to arbitrate tribal disputes. This has acquired her popularity among the local people who regard her as a strong woman unlike other women who are largely considered as weak. Ironically in Khost Province and in the nearby Pashtun areas, tribal feuds often rise over weddings, land, pastureland and local resources and women hardly participate in the local decision-making processes.  

A holy fighter
Hakmina was a young girl when the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 which prompted a religious war, Jihad. The war against the Soviets and its protected regime was mostly considered as a men's business and women were not directly involved in the Jihad. This was not the case with Hakmina.
"I practically and actively took part in the Jihad. I was carrying food and other supplies to the Mujahideen on camels. I had a communication radio which I was using to alert the Mujahideen about Russian aircrafts and other military activities." Russian airstrikes were particularly destructive for the Mujahideen who until mid 1980s had no military means to counter air attacks or defend themselves from air bombings.  Most Mujahideen fighters were based in the neighboring Pakistan from where they were launching hit-and-ran attacks on Soviet and Afghan Government military posts in Afghanistan. Jihad against the Soviet invasion lasted for a decade and the war took a heavy toll on the Afghans. Over a million people reportedly lost their lives, more than six million were forced to migrate to Pakistan and Iran, and Afghanistan suffered enormous infrastructural destructions.
"I am fond of marksmanship and have learned to shoot guns far better than many men. I first learned shooting during the Jihad but even now I can shoot very well."
When the Jihad ended in 1989 with the withdrawal of all Soviet forces, Hakmina preferred to work at her village and devoted her time and energy on peacemaking and solving local disputes.

A spinster representative
A close look at her face would convince any visitor that Hakmina has grown old - wrinkles under her eyes and grey hair falling under her turban.  Even when she was quite young, her father told her to marry but Hakmina did not.
"I don't like women's clothes and that's why I have not married," she responded when asked why she did not take her father's advice on marriage. Despite her dislike of female dress, she once dressed up in a female Hijab.
"I wish I could wear my own dress even in the Hajj but due to Islamic obligations I had to dress up like a woman in the Hajj."
Hakmina lives with two brothers and a sister in Khost city where she works as a member of the provincial council. Being a peoples' representative has put more responsibilities over her shoulders as she has to personally share the joys and sorrows of her extensive constituents.
Neymat Bibi, a female member of the provincial council, says Hakmina is a source of pride and inspiration for many women in the province. "She is undoubtedly stronger than men and we are really proud of her," said Bibi adding that men also had profound respect for Hakmina.
Contrary to common perception that Hakmina is unusual and not like other Afghan women, Bibi said there were many women in the rural areas who are as brave and strong as Hakmina. This was also confirmed by Hakmina.
"There are many women who work harder and are stronger than men but they are only known in their villages," she said.
As I ended the interview with Hakmina and Neymat Bibi, I was convinced that Afghan women are stronger than many men. The only area where Afghan women are way behind men is access to opportunities through which they can demonstrate their enormous potential.

This article has apread here before. 

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