Ratebzad, Anahita (1931—)

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Ratebzad, Anahita (1931—)

Afghan physician and political leader. Born in 1931 in Guldara, Kabul province, Afghanistan; received M.D., 1963.

Afghanistan was described by Elphinstone Mountstuart, British envoy to the court of Shah Shuja (1808–09), as "a poor, cold, strong, and remote country, [with] a turbulent people." Unfortunately for the populace of Afghanistan, particularly its women, this is still true. When the fundamentalist Taliban movement took over most of the country in the mid-1990s, it closed all schools for girls and women. The modest gains made by Afghan women in the 20th century were thus destroyed during its final decade. Anahita Ratebzad symbolizes this ill-fated attempt to secure human rights. Born in 1931, she was educated in Kabul, at the Chicago School of Nursing, and finally at Kabul University where she was awarded an M.D. degree in 1963, becoming the first woman physician in the history of Afghanistan. In 1965, Ratebzad was one of three successful female candidates for the Afghan Parliament, and in the same year she founded the Democratic Women's Organization, a branch of the Marxist-inspired People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA).

In the pro-Soviet government that ruled Afghanistan in the early 1980s, Ratebzad was the highest-ranking woman member within the PDPA. For a brief period, she was Minister of Social Affairs and Tourism, but was purged when another faction took power. Under the regime of Babrak Karmal, she served as Minister of Education in 1980–81 and was elected to the ruling PDPA Politburo. She also was caretaker of the Ministries of Information and Culture, Higher and Vocational Education, and Public Health. But in 1981 she relinquished these posts, which very likely were barely functioning in a nation embroiled in war, and became a member of the Revolutionary Council's Presidium, a position she held from 1981 through 1988. After 1990, Ratebzad withdrew from public life, and all traces of her have vanished from the public record. With the withdrawal of Soviet support in the late 1980s, the PDPA collapsed, even changing its name in June 1990 to Hizb-i Watan (Fatherland Party). Not only was Marxist doctrine abandoned by the PDPA, but earlier reforms, some proclaiming the legal equality of women, were dropped. The triumph of the extreme fundamentalist Taliban movement in the 1990s heralds the demise of all emancipatory processes for the women of Afghanistan.


Adamec, Ludwig W. Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan. 2nd ed. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1997.

Afghanistan: The Legacy of Human Suffering in a Forgotten War. NY: Amnesty International, 1999.

Ellis, Deborah. Women of the Afghan War. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000.

Iacopino, Vincent. The Taliban's War on Women: A Health and Human Rights Crisis in Afghanistan. Boston, MA: Physicians for Human Rights, 1998.

Rahimi, Fahima. Women in Afghanistan. Liestal: Stiftung Bibliotheca Afghanica, 1986.

Rahimi, Wali M. Status of Women: Afghanistan. Bangkok: UNESCO Principal Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, 1991.

Women in Afghanistan: Pawns in Men's Power Struggles. NY: Amnesty International, 1999.

related media:

Burstyn, Linda, and Marlo Thomas . "Shroud of Silence: Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan" (video), Los Angeles, CA: Feminist Majority Foundation, 1998.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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Ratebzad, Anahita (1931—)

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