Najla Ayoubi on “Women As Agents of Change”

Ayoubi's seminars will be held every Wednesday in April at 3pm. All seminars will be held in the IOP Living Room unless otherwise noted. All seminars are students only and closed to press/off the record.


The dominant narrative of women in conflict zones is that of “vulnerable populations,” women who are victims and passive beneficiaries of aid. Judge Najla Ayoubi’s life and work, as well as that of many others, contradicts this narrative. Using examples from her own experience on the ground in her home country of Afghanistan and her extensive work in South Asia as part of numerous regional networks and initiatives, these seminars will explore the role of women as active change agents both in times of war and in countries post-conflict, working to rebuild civil society and civic institutions. In addition, she will look at the larger global research on women in the MENA, East African and Latin American conflict zones to examine how, despite a threatening environment, women are often active agents of change.

Session 1 (April 5): My Life in Afghanistan | RSVP

Afghan women are generally portrayed as victims hiding under their blue burqas. And yet there was a time when many women like Judge Ayoubi were educated abroad and came home to work as active participants in their civil society. Ayoubi’s life story will take us through the recent history of Afghanistan and the role of women prior and during jihadist, and then Taliban rule, as well as today. Educated in Tajikistan (then a part of the Soviet Union) Ayoubi worked in Afghanistan as a Criminal judge, and was stripped of her job when the mujahedeen drove the Russians out. She will talk about surviving first under jihadist, and then Taliban rule, as well as her role in rebuilding a civil society when the Taliban were defeated. This seminar will highlight the many ways she and other women resisted under the suppression of the Taliban and her own life before and after the fall of the Taliban. Judge Ayoubi lived under death threats from extremists groups for several years, which became become very serious late 2014. In early 2015 she left Afghanistan for the United States.

Session 2 (April 12): Women of the Muslim World - Myths and Realities | RSVP

The Muslim world is vast and complex – and the relationship between religion and society, and the ways in which Islam has affected women’s roles is equally vast and complex. The voices of Muslim women often appear to be drowned out by what others say about them, and yet there is an array of compelling voices to be heard.  Drawing on her experience working within Afghanistan advocating for women’s rights, and further afield, Ayoubi will examine the roles and opportunities for women in the Muslim world, progressive vs. repressive societies, as well as debunking some or the myths surrounding women’s experience in Islamic society, as well as living under sharia law.

Added Session! (April 19, 10-11:15 AM): Live from Kabul, A Conversation with Manizha Wafeq | RSVP

Join IOP Fellow Judge Najla Ayoubi for a special conversation with Afghan entrepreneur and campaigner for women's equality Ms. Manizha Wafeq who will be skyping in direct from Kabul, Afghanistan. Manizha Wafeq is Chairperson of LEADING ENTREPRENEURS FOR AFGHANISTAN DEVELOPMENT which is dedicated to the empowerment of women through economic development. Coffee will be served.

Session 3 (April 19): Women's Leadership in Times of War | RSVP

This session will explore women leaders within communities across different conflict zones and the innovative and courageous ways they tackle extremely difficult situations. We will look at the strategies women develop to survive the instability and dangers of living in a war zone. 

We’ll also tackle women’s leadership post-conflict, taking as an example women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan, who have visibly integrated into their local economies, often at great risk to themselves and their families. These women, in one of the most conservative areas of the planet, gained skills, became breadwinners and expanded their civil rights. We’ll explore how women entering the workforce not only change family dynamics but the dynamics of society.

Session 4 (April 26): The Role of Women in Building the State | RSVP

What roles have women played  in the establishment of democracy in post-conflict nations? How have they taken part in defining and rebuilding civil institutions?

This session will explore the role of women in peace-making processes, constitution-making processes, policy-developing processes, and in building civil society post conflict. There is now hard evidence to show that including women in the rebuilding of civil society is not simply a ‘good’ idea because it ensures the needs of half the population are taken into account but because when these processes are more gender inclusive, the outcomes are more sustainable and more likely to be democratic