Mahbuba Sadat, From Teaching to Leading an Operational Directorate in Khost

Khost is a province where working women has a lower presence. Based on official figures, only 232 women work in government offices and only three directorates are led by women in this province. Among the three women, Mahbuba Sadat leads one of the most important directorates in the province. She is the first woman to head an operational directorate in Khost province, the day to day activities of which deals with natural disasters and aims to save lives, protect people’s lives and property, provide aid for the victims, and prevent possible natural disaster incidents and reduce the risks involved.

Ms. Sadat is the director of Khost province’s Directorate of Disaster Management.  She has come a long way from working with the country’s education system as a teacher in Herat province to leading a key positions as the head of an operational directorate in Khost province.

Mahbuba Sadat was born in Khost province. Since his father was an officer in the air force at Herat airport, she lived for a long time in Herat province and finished school at the Jamhoriat High School there.

She holds two bachelor’s degrees in education and law and political science, she has many years of experience in government and non-government institutions. She started her career as a teacher in Herat’s Jamhoriat High School, and then worked as a master trainer with the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and The Killid Group. She has experience of working as Gender Manager at the IRRD. She has also served as Field Oversight Officer at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD).

In the summer of 20019, Ms. Sadat was appointed as acting director of Khost province’s Directorate of Disaster Management, based on her relevant work experience. In the summer of the following year, she passed the open and transparent competition for this position which was launched by the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission (IARCSC). After scoring 25.7 points, she was among the five best candidates from a total of 24 male applicants. After successfully passing the recruitment interview phase of the recruitment process, she was appointed to this position.

She has been in charge of Khost province’s Directorate of Disaster Management for about two years. She believes that establishment of computerized exams centers, encouraging women’s participation in senior civil service positions and foreseeing five extra marks for women in the recruitment exams as positive discrimination, as good opportunity for women, and says: “the IARCSC has really provided women with work and employment opportunities in the senior civil service positions. The computer-based exam helps women to apply for positions and participate in the exams. A score of five plays a very important role in the success of women in obtaining civil service packages. The five extra marks for women in the recruitment exams as positive discrimination, plays a significant role in women’s success in holding civil service positions.

Challenges and Problems

Ms. Sadat’s presence as director of an important and operational directorate, a responsibility which used to be seen as a completely masculine role, was a rare event in Khost’s traditional and closed society, and it posed serious problems and challenges. The challenges did not discourage her. When the Directorate of Disaster Management of Khost province was announced for open competition by the IARCSC, she bravely participated in the recruitment process and succeeded. Pointing to these challenges, she says: “in the beginning, some colleagues did not want to work under a woman’s leadership due to their patriarchal attitude. A lot of conspiracies flew around and negative activities were carried out to remove me.”

Death threats was another way of forcing her to resign, but she resisted and has been bravely managing and leading the operations of this directorate for the past three years. Besides this, employees’ illegal activities and lack of performing their tasks is another habit that Ms. Sadat has to fight. In this regard she says: “in the beginnings, my subordinates had issues with me because they were used to carrying out illegal activities and not doing the daily tasks but I put an end to it and demanded work in accordance with the principles.”

Another challenge Ms. Sadat faces is that strongmen and some officials expect her to distribute the aid and resources meant for times emergency in accordance to their wishes and preferences, however, she does not give in and carries her daily duties with utmost honesty and in accordance with the provisions of the law.

In addition, although the lack of resources and budget of her directorate have been somewhat alleviated since she started her work, she refers to lack of facilities, transportation, trained personnel and rescue team, and says: “to deal with natural disasters and emergencies in a better and more effective way, adequate facilities, trained personnel and a rescue team are needed.”

The circulation of on-time of information is one of the main challenges in dealing with natural disasters in Khost province. Ms. Sadat says that providing on time information is one of the fundamental requirements for success in dealing with natural disasters. There is no public awareness on the matter and people are not given instructions on what to do in the event of a natural disaster and how they can help each other to prevent an increase in casualties. She developed a comprehensive public awareness plan and submitted it the authorities for budget allocation for its implementation. Ms. Sadat says she will prioritize public awareness programs regarding natural disasters as soon as the plan gets its funding.

Work Achievements

It is not easy to work in the emergency and disaster management department, the directorate is tasked with protecting the lives and property of the people and, to better manage the risks of natural disasters, increase people’s resistance to these disasters and be fully prepared deal with them. Therefore, Ms. Sadat is in contact with all the districts and has set up emergency committees in the districts to get on-time and accurate information on natural disasters. When a natural disaster occurs, all department members and other relevant agencies are alerted through a WhatsApp group. The survey team is dispatched to the scene to assess the area, and if there is an urgent need, aid is immediately delivered to the victims.

After each incident, Ms. Sadat convenes an emergency meeting with the relevant government agencies, national and international organizations that provide humanitarian services, so that all institutions response and aid delivery to vulnerable population is unified and coordinated. Ms. Sadat leads the whole response efforts, from coordination’s to overseeing the aid delivery, to surveying of each incident, and to reporting to the headquarters, media and donor agencies.

Ms. Sadat has so far held 12 monthly meetings of the emergency committee and six extraordinary emergency meetings, and has had separate meetings with the UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR) to address public issues.

Based on pre-planned activities, ten vulnerable locations have been identified and surveyed so far, which covers 30,150 families, based on which, 25,458 families in need and another 16,442 families, including nomads, received aid which included wheat, foodstuffs and other materials.

Internally Displaced Persons is another vulnerable population that Ms. Sadat, in cooperation with the International Rescue Committee, has distributed cash handouts, a total of 684,000 afghanis, to 400 IDPs. In addition, the World Food Organization (WHO) has provided food aid and food packages to 13,307 families in the capital and a number of districts of this province.

With the spread of the coronavirus in the country, Ms. Sadat helped 9,500 families affected by the coronavirus with the help of partner organizations with cash handouts of 6,000 afghanis per family. Also, with the cooperation of these organizations, she helped 1,519 families with winter aid, which was cash handouts of 12,000 afghanis for each family.

Most of the residents of Khost province appreciate Ms. Sadat’s work in dealing with natural disasters and providing assistance to the victims, and are satisfied with the transparency and effectiveness of her work. Asif, a resident of this province, says: “presence of women in the departments is very useful, they work transparently and treat their clients well.”

Khan Mohammad, another resident of Khost province, says: “Directorate of Disaster management provided adequate aid to the victims of the recent flooding in Khost province. Our people are satisfied with the work and assistance of this directorate and pray for its director and staff.”

A farmer, who is a resident of Musa Khil district of Khost province and a victim of this spring’s flooding, also says: “in the recent floods, a number of our houses were destroyed and our fields were damaged. Mahbuba Sadat, director of Disaster Management Directorate, visited the local people and delivered on-time aid to the victims.”

Khost province is one of the southeastern provinces of Afghanistan and has 12 districts. It has a dry climate, and its population falls victim to rain along with storms, floods, hail storm, landslides, sometimes earthquakes, snowstorms and locust attacks on farm fields.