International Women’s Day 2022: In conversation with Zuhal N

We were privileged to interview Zuhal N, a former judge in Afghanistan. As a result of the occupation in August 2021 Zuhal was forced to flee and since has found a new home in the United Kingdom. Amongst our questions we asked her thoughts on International Women’s Day and the women who have inspired her throughout her life and career.

Can you give us a bit of background- tell us about your life and work in Afghanistan before you had to leave?

I am Zuhal N, I was born in Kabul Afghanistan into an educated family. After graduating from Maryam high school, I completed my bachelor’s degree in law at Kabul University, then completed a six-month advocacy course. With the decree from the president, I was assigned as a judge and started practicing as an associate in different divisions of the Supreme Court.

Following this, I worked for more than eight years in different courts, including the family court, commercial court and civil court.

What made you decide to pursue a career in law?

I was born into a traditional society in a country where every individual has to struggle for their basic needs and rights. Access to rights is fraught with numerous challenges, especially for women. In some provinces of Afghanistan, women are treated as goods rather than autonomous humans. I wanted to educate myself on the law of Afghanistan so that I could protect my own rights and help other women to fight for their rights. This is why I chose to become a judge.

Have there been any women who have inspired you throughout your life/ career?

Afghan women have always made headlines with news of sexual violence, domestic violence and a hard life. But in this country, there is another side to the life of Afghan women that brings many honours to Afghanistan. Afghan history is full of role models such as Queen Soraya and Gawhar Shad Begom. Their dreams for women and their defiance to inhuman customs and social inequality are still a source of hope for Afghan women. They were staunch defenders of girls and women rights and access to education. These women, and other Afghan women groups who made their country proud in various fields, are my role models and they have inspired me throughout my life. Despite all of that, my biggest inspiration is and will be forever my mother who has sacrificed her life for us.

It must have been very hard to leave your life in Afghanistan – what hope do you have for life in the UK? What work would you like to do in the UK?

The most difficult decision I have made in my life was to leave my country, my loved ones, my home and my work. After the fall of the government in Kabul and the imposition of the rule of Taliban, all judges lost their jobs and were threatened by the Taliban, terrorists and criminals. The threats came from ISIS, murderers and traffickers who were previously imprisoned by judges. The Taliban freed them from prisons. The Taliban blocked the judges’ bank accounts, so we had no money to support our families. I had no other choice but to leave Afghanistan.

In the UK I hope to have access to professional opportunities, scholarships and work placements so that I can use my skills to rebuild my career in the legal system and contribute to the UK.

Why do you think it is important to have more women in leadership roles?

Promoting women to positions of leadership can bring new skills, and different perspectives on structural and cultural differences, which ultimately lead to effective solutions for male-dominated companies and organisations. Female leaders can be good coaches and, have the ability to negotiate in high-risk situations. A good example of a successful woman in leadership in the 21st century is Angela Merkel, former German chancellor.

Why do you think celebrating International Women’s Day is Important?

We celebrate this day because there is still an urgent need for the day. The original aim- to achieve full gender equality for women of the world – has not been realised. There is still a gender pay gap, female leaders are still lacking in numbers, violence against women and girls persists, and women still fall behind men in terms of education and health care.