Leadership pathways for Afghan women in the civil service

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Until recently, a civil service job, let alone a senior position, was almost out of reach for women in Afghanistan.   

But things look different now.

Wajiha Rasuli, who now heads the Directorate of Women's Affairs in the southern Helmand province, an area heavily affected by war and conflict, has become a symbol for Afghan women.

Recruited in 2018, Rasuli has worked her way up to senior management, charting a path for other women who, like her, are dedicated to fighting violence against women. 

Nabila Habibi is employed in one of the government's departments in Afghanistan's Sari Pul province. As the head of the Directorate of Women's Affairs, she engages with stakeholders and civil society activists to fight violence against women. Habibi started as a women's rights activist and helped other Afghan women access higher education.

Afghanistan's Civil Service Reform Commission provides access to the internet and computers and guides female candidates through the civil service online recruitment process.

Wajiha and Nabila joined the Afghanistan civil service thanks to the country's Civil Service Reform Commission (IARCSC), which provides access to the internet and computers, and guides female candidates through the civil service online recruitment process.

"The online application and exams facility of the Commission are the only reason I got into this position which I had not expected," says Wajiha, who had no connections with high-ranking officials or adequate resources to pitch her way into Helmand's government institutions.

For Afghan women, who like Wajiha, are interested in a career in the Afghan civil service, 2018 marked a turning point. That year, the total percentage of women in the Afghan civil service jumped to 22 percent. 

The TAGHIR (Change) project, supported by the World Bank, was instrumental in facilitating women's entrance into the civil service through training and resources. 

Civil Service Reform Commission

The Commission biometric registration indicates that nearly a third of public institutions employees are women.  

In 2020, the Commission completed the biometric registration of all civil servants, which indicates that nearly a third of public institutions employees are women.   

Despite all these achievements, Afghan women still face systemic and social challenges to enter the civil service and make their way to leadership positions.  One major hurdle is access to higher education, which offers a clear pathway to careers in civil service.

While civil service reforms have helped improve gender diversity in Helmand's government institutions, Wajiha acknowledges that women's lower education levels put them at a disadvantage compared to male candidates.

Years of conflict and insecurity have limited education opportunities for Afghan girls and women, severely restricting their ability to learn the skills necessary to join the workforce.  


Data shows that Afghanistan's public universities currently host about 200,000 students, of whom less than a third are women. In the Urozgan province in the south, no woman has yet graduated from public university. 

Efforts to increase women's presence in the civil service have brought up the urgency to boost female enrollment in higher education, especially in fields such as technology, monitoring, and evaluation, as well as budget and program management. Projects supported by the World Bank and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund I (ARTF) have helped the Afghan government address one of the root causes of women's underrepresentation in the civil service.

World Bank supported projects have helped hundreds of young Afghan women to attend higher education and acquire the skills for a professional career.

For example, the Higher Education Development Project (HEDP) and Afghanistan's Second Skills Development Project (ASDP II) have supported hundreds of young Afghan women to attend higher education and acquire the skills for a professional career. 

Farzana Yousofi  is one of them. She was awarded a scholarship through ASDP II and earned a bachelor's degree from Donya University that paved the way for a position at the Ministry of Finance, where she now serves as a control management employee. The scholarship was a tremendous opportunity, says Farzana, and helped her overcome economic hardship and pursue her college education. She's now studying for a master's degree with support from ASDP II. To date, the project has provided over 4169 scholarships of which 1372 of them are women. 

Wajiha, Nabila, and Farzana's stories of determination and grit inspire us to redouble our efforts to create more opportunities for women to join—and reach senior levels—in the Afghan civil service and the rest of the workforce. More such examples of female leaders in public life hold the keys for a more inclusive and prosperous future in Afghanistan. 


Gaisu Yari

Commissioner in The Independent Administrative Reform And Civil Service Commission (IARCSC), Afghanistan

Hartwig Schafer

Former Vice President, South Asia Region, World Bank

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