Afghanistan’s Band-e Amir National Park Hires First Female Park Rangers

Afghanistan’s first-ever women park rangers at Band-e Amir National Park. Photograph by Naseem Sultani/Wildlife Conservation Society.

Did you know that women weren’t allowed to be park rangers in the United States until 1969? And it wasn’t until 1978 when women in the National Park Service were allowed to wear a service badge or the “male” uniform. Employment opportunities for women in America have come a long way since then, and now a national park in Afghanistan is taking steps to do the same. Band-e Amir National Park recently hired four women—Sediqa, Nikbakht, Fatima and Kubra, all of whom were formerly housewives—to become their first female park rangers. They joined a staff of 23 rangers at the park, which was established in 2009 and is known for its beautiful blue lakes and rare wildlife.

Only sixteen percent of Afghan women are employed in the formal economy, according to an estimate from The World Bank, but many are hoping this milestone will be a turning point for working women in the country. “The appointment of these women as rangers signifies an opportunity for gainful employment, which is not normally open to women from rural villages,” said Richard Paley, the Afghanistan Country Program Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The decision to hire female park rangers was supported by local governments and representatives of the 14 villages in the park before the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock took steps to recruit and hire them earlier this summer. What makes this event especially important is that the women will provide services that male rangers cannot, including helping female visitors at a private bathing area where men are not permitted. Before the hiring, female visitors—some whom are elderly or in poor health—were left to navigate the area without any assistance.

“The community appreciates the employment of the woman rangers,” said Mr Haji Akhlaqi, a village elder and head of the council that represents the villages in the park. “They greatly assist many woman tourists who come to visit the park and utilize the sensitive activities such as bathing in the spiritual waters.”

The new rangers received the same training as their male colleagues before starting the job at a time when the park receives over 4,000 tourists a month (the vast majority of tourists visit during the summer). And while they were hired to assist visitors and help safeguard the park’s wildlife and natural wonders, these four women are also an inspiration to other Afghan women who may want join the work force, and that part of their job is just as important.

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Sonia Harmon is the blog coordinator at National Geographic. She has also written for Ladies' Home Journal magazine and Washingtonian magazine.