Photo: UN Women/Allison Joyce

8M: "Without equality there are no inclusive or sustainable cities"

By Sunita Nasir Tareen, former UN official. Afghan civil engineer dedicated to promoting sustainable development and the empowerment of women.

This is Sunita Nasir Tareen, an Afghan woman who has experienced being an immigrant twice in her life. 

For the first time in 1995, while the Afghanistan Republic collapsed by the Taliban, we had to leave the country to save our lives. My family was threatened because my father was an advisor to the Prime Minister at that time, and the Taliban regime was looking for government officials to have them arrested. 

Moreover, I come from the province of Panjshir, the only province not under Taliban control, and where the national resistance team was formed by the National Hero Ahmad Shah Masood. At that time, the Taliban was seeking to arrest residents of that province in order to exchange them for their prisoners. We had no option but to flee, and the best way was going to Pakistan, a neighboring country to Afghanistan. 

In 2001, when the interim government was formed in Afghanistan, we came back to Kabul and continued our lives in our country. I completed a Bachelor in Civil Engineering (BCE) in 2013. My goal for life was to work for the development of my country, the main reason why I decided to be an engineer as a means to achieve my life mission. I have been working since 2010 with many organizations and companies, and I started working for the United Nations right after completing my degree in 2013.


Challenges, limitations and barriers 

In August 2021, after collapsing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan by the Taliban for the second time, I had to leave my country to survive and save my life again. Although I am in a safe place now, I am still concerned for my family (my parents and siblings) and my in-laws (my husband’s mother and siblings), because they are still in Afghanistan and their lives are threatened.

 Afghanistan has been in conflict for over thirty years. During these three decades Afghans have experienced and witnessed unspeakable violence and upheaval. Enforced disappearance, summary execution, torture, rape, indiscriminate bombardment, and wanton destruction have been part of daily life for decades. It has always been difficult for Afghan women, even during the Islamic republic time,  there were always limitations for girls and women’s basic human rights such as education, access to the labor market, freedom of speech and so on.


"My profession is Civil Engineering to make safe cities and communities, but my passion has always been working for women’s rights, to cope up with their needs, their wellbeing, and to ensure gender equality for sustainable development"
Sunita Nasir Tareen
Civil Engineer

As an Afghan woman, I faced many challenges, limitations, and barriers in all aspects of life although I had supportive parents.  My parents served their whole life for my sister’s and my own education. In spite of not being  normal for a woman to work outside, somehow I was able to break the taboo and after completing my bachelors I started working as an Engineer for the United Nations, pursuing the development of my country.

 As an individual and as a member of UN-Habitat I have worked towards realization of a world in which men and women are recognized as equal partners of development to have equal human rights and fundamental freedom, including freedom of discrimination from urban policy and practices. Only in this way can socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable cities be achieved more rapidly, completely, and sustainably. I therefore decided to support those who were in need, transforming obstacles into opportunities for others of my type to make positive changes in their lives.  


Projects and achievements


My profession is Civil Engineering to make safe cities and communities, but my passion has always been working for women’s rights, to cope up with their needs, their wellbeing, and to ensure gender equality for sustainable development. 

 The programs in which I was involved had the 20 to 30 percent of block grants (funds) allocated to female-identified projects which directly benefited women and girls. Their specific aim was to improve public space, mobility and employment opportunities, and to build up women and girls’ capacities. Hereby some of the achievements for gender equality and reducing inequalities in the programs where I have been a team member:

The Municipal Governance Support Program (MGSP) has supported the drafting of regulations and procedures that will improve women’s access to property rights. The occupancy certificates regulation provides for the registration of women as sole proprietors or joint proprietors. These procedures also provide incentives for households that register women as proprietors or joint proprietors.

In line with the United Nation’s 50-50 goal for equal representation of men and women at the workplace, UN-Habitat Afghanistan has instituted a strategy to increase the number of female staff among its programs. The Professional Practice Program (PPP) recruits female graduates to work with UN-Habitat for 6 months or one year with the possibility to apply for UN-Habitat project positions on completion of the internship. The PPP program helps young females to gain workplace experience and to improve their self-confidence to seek employment and work outside their homes. Through the job fair program in universities, we were able to hire more than hundred young girls.

Provision of safe public spaces for women through parks and centers.

Capacity building of women through funding opportunities for startups and Afghan entrepreneurs.

More than 2K women employed, specially IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) and returnees.

It is not easy for me to experience the same situation twice. I have left my family behind, my career, my country, my friends, and my identity just to survive.

Now I am living in Spain as a refuge, and I must start from the very beginning. It is not easy, but women are resilient. I did survive all those years to contribute to achieving the basic rights of women and I am not done yet.

I will continue my mission and will raise the voice of women, especially Afghan women all my life.

Sunita Nasir Tareen

International Projects Consultant

Sunita, a former UN official, is a Civil Engineer dedicated to promote sustainable development and the empowerment of women. She has directed large-scale projects in the field of sustainable urban development across Afghanistan. Among others she has worked on the registration of informal properties; access of women to housing property rights; provision of public spaces for women through parks and centers, capacity development of women’s through funding opportunities for startups and Afghan women entrepreneurs; and inclusive municipal governance systems. Sunita has been an active advocate in implementing the SDGs.

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