The Woman in Man’s Clothing

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USAID promotes the rule of law in some of Afghanistan’s most insecure areas

25 January 2012 | Khost, Afghanistan

For a country that has endured endless war and lawlessness, Afghanistan is bound to have a few remaining rebels. One such rebel still roams the rugged terrain of Khost Province in eastern Afghanistan. At first glance, Bibi Hakmeena’s towering stature and dominating demeanor seem perfectly in balance against the powerful cascades of the jagged mountain landscape she calls home. But, it does not take long to realize that Bibi is no ordinary rebel.

While other Afghan women wear sky-blue burqas that flow in the wind, she opts for a wrapped turban and solid colored knee-length tops with loose-fitting trousers, accessorized with an AK-47 slung nonchalantly on her shoulder.

During the Soviet war, her father dressed her as a boy so she could help protect her family. These days, however, instead of fighting occupying forces or the evils of civil war, Bibi is known more for being a different kind of fighter. With the help of USAID-supported town hall meetings, she has now become a champion of the rule of law in her community.

When USAID and its partner, the Welfare Association for the Development of Afghanistan, came to Khost, they faced a myriad of problems, including a general lack of legal awareness and a feeling of distrust among the locals toward the legal system. After consulting with villagers, USAID conducted town hall forums where community members gathered to be educated on means of resolving legal issues. Bibi participated in these forums and now credits them with changing her attitude about the state system and giving her the tools needed to resolve her community’s legal problems.

She also believes the forums improved her skills as a leader and problem solver, and elevated her overall credibility in the community. In fact, her village recently elected her to the provincial council to help her solve disputes. She is now helping secure the release of a prisoner who has served his full sentence, while demanding the rights of another prisoner to confront his witnesses at a trial. Now this rebel can ardently fight to protect not only herself and her family in the pursuit of just causes, but everyone in her community.