Women’s access to identification cards can accelerate development in Afghanistan

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Continued international aid, including through the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), is vital to create better lives for millions of Afghans and sustain development gains. The #ProtectTheGains series highlights ARTF projects that have made a real difference toward achieving a more prosperous, inclusive, and peaceful Afghanistan.

Meet Ms. Bakhtavar from the Baghlan Province. Since her husband passed away 5 years ago, she has struggled to provide for her four children. Assistance from the community has been helpful but it has not been adequate to provide a basic living standard and education for her children. With the help of female community development council members in her locality, Ms. Bakhtavar was able to find a job as a cleaner in a local clinic.

However, when she went to the clinic to process her paperwork to start work, she was asked for her national identification (ID) card (known as Tazkira in Afghanistan) to verify her identity as part of the hiring process and as required by the law. She did not have this and could thus not be hired. Instead, the job went to a woman who had Tazkira.

Ms. Bakhtavar is not alone.

Around 1 billion people in the world – the “Invisible Billion” – don’t have official proof of identity and are excluded from many aspects of their countries’ economic, social, and political life . They face barriers accessing education and health services, receiving government assistance, registering land and property, opening bank accounts, obtaining mobile phones, and voting. While “providing legal identity for all” is critical for individual rights and agency, it’s just as important for governments as they deliver services and social assistance, support private sector development and raise public revenues.  

The gender gap in ID ownership is wide in Afghanistan: 89% of those lacking national IDs are women

Women’s low ownership of national identity documents is a critical gender gap in Afghanistan.  The World Bank, in collaboration with the Government of Afghanistan, aims to reduce this gap through a number of projects and with the engagement and support from the Bank’s Afghanistan Gender and Social Inclusion Platform. 

Afghanistan has the widest gender gap in ID ownership: 52% of women versus only 6% of men lack IDs.

Of 97 countries in the 2017 Identification for Development (ID4D)-Findex Survey, Afghanistan has the widest gender gap in ID ownership: 52% of women versus only 6% of men lack IDs.  This pattern is particularly stark in rural areas, among the less educated, and internally displaced persons (IDPs)-- around 80% of IDP women lack Tazkiras compared to only 10% of IDP men.  

Conservative social norms are a key obstacle - until recently, women had to be accompanied by a male relative to confirm their family ties in order to obtain ID cards at government offices. Hence, women without close male relatives or those with unsupportive male relatives not allowing women to go to the ID offices or take photos could not obtain IDs. While a 2010 legal amendment removed this requirement, women in some regions continue to be asked to bring male witnesses.


There are other factors at play – an ID4D study finds that 68% of Afghan women who lack an ID say they have “no need” for one, possibly because they have fewer opportunities to participate in activities outside the home. Moreover, 42% of women lacking IDs stress that it’s “too difficult to apply” and 22% cite “lack of necessary documents. ” Until recently when the digital ID system was rolled out, obtaining Tazkira was particularly difficult for IDP women because it required travelling to Kabul or to one’s province of origin. The costs and security concerns around such travel were discouraging for women. 

Women’s low ID ownership exacerbates other gender inequalities in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, Tazkira is required for accessing certain public services (education with some flexibility for IDPs and returnees), for employment with the public sector and much of the private sector, to register land and property, to register mobile SIM cards (and thus access mobile banking), obtain bank loans, and to vote. As many as 17% of women (compared to only 5% of men) did not vote in the last parliamentary elections because of the lack of Tazkira.

Tazkira is also required for driver’s licenses, obtaining birth and death certificates for one’s family, marriage certificates, and passports.  For women, Tazkira and marriage certificates are crucial for securing rights to inheritance, marital property, and mahr (dower). Having legal identity documents is also critical for reducing child marriage which is very high in Afghanistan: 28% of women ages 20-24 were married before the age of 18.

In Afghanistan, the Bank supports women’s access to identification through several projects.

The World Bank supports inclusive ID systems in many countries including Afghanistan  

The World Bank currently supports over 40 countries in strengthening their civil registration and ID systems - the Bank offers a range of tools (such as diagnostics methodologies to map country ID ecosystems and a Guide for Practitioners for designing and implementing inclusive ID systems) as well as guidance for improving access to IDs for vulnerable groups, including by addressing constraints for persons with disabilities and gender-based legal barriers.

In Afghanistan, the Bank supports women’s access to identification through several projects.  The Women’s Economic Empowerment- Rural Development Project (WEE-RDP) facilitates rural women’s application for ID cards, which can then be used to open bank accounts, obtain bank loans, and register businesses. Similarly, the Citizens' Charter Afghanistan Project (CCAP) supports women’s access by raising awareness among rural women about the importance of Tazkira for life events such as Nikah (marriage) and Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage). The Access to Finance Project, through the Targeting the Ultra-Poor program, helps female beneficiaries in several provinces to apply for ID cards.

Increasing access to IDs for women in Afghanistan: what next?

Public awareness programs are instrumental in enhancing women’s ID access. But these must be designed well. In Afghanistan, the awareness raising programs thus far have had limited impact.

Promising developments are taking place on the ground in Afghanistan.

The e-Tazkira was launched in 2018 to enable more reliable identity verification and gradually replace the paper Tazkira. The application process has been simplified to enable citizens without prior identity documents to register more easily. The registration forms no longer require a married woman to provide her husband’s name in the application and the enrollment process is largely family-based whereby all family members enroll together. A promising change is that women can become head of the family and enroll their family into the program.

The National Statistic and Information Authority (NSIA), which has the mandate for national identification, has increased the number of enrollment centers, and recruited more female staff to these centers, particularly in remote areas where sensitivities around the registration of women are likely to be strong. Recent enrollment data suggest that these interventions may be on the right track - women comprise 47% of new e-Tazkira registrants.  However, the digital system may also have disadvantages for women due to lower literacy and access to computers. While mobile service providers are available to assist families with filling out the online forms, the fees involved present a barrier for many poor families.

The bottom line is this: development progress is not possible when a large share of the population does not officially “exist”. Therefore, providing legal identity for all is critical for development and for advancing gender equality in Afghanistan.


This blog has been prepared by the World Bank Afghanistan Gender and Social Inclusion Platform team members.


Talajeh Livani

Social Development Specialist

Sarah Haddock

Social Development Specialist, South Asia

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