Diverse experiences, from being a survivor of child marriage and the Taliban era to having lived in the U.S. between 2007-2015, have shaped my bicultural awareness and broad understanding of the difficulties and possibilities of being an Afghan woman. Equally important is all I have learned about the complexities of war and democracy building from my many activities and all the people I met and worked with in the government, international community, at global summits, and on Afghan streets during my two year return in 2015-2017.
Ethnically I am Hazara, which comprise 9% of the country’s population. Most Afghan Hazara, like myself, are Shite Muslims. Hazaras have been persecuted for years. Over 60% were killed during the Pushtun dominated Afghan government (1980-1905). Some Hazaras collaborated with the Soviet occupation governments (1978-1988) but most were anti-government, including those who were members or supporters of the Maoist communist party. The Hazara was always seen as an enemy of the Sunni Taliban, and when the Taliban overthrew the Soviets in 1996, it engaged in large massacres of Hazara. Now the Taliban and Islamic State, both Sunni, slaughter Hazaras. Many have moved to the capital where they reside in a Hazara neighborhood to protect one another; others have fled the country.
I was very lucky that during the Taliban regime I was able to continue to study. This was made possible by progressive Muslim clerics in my Ghazni village who told the Taliban that girls were not studying, in accordance with Taliban orders, while girls pursued their education in secret in homes set up as schools. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to work as a radio reporter before leaving Afghanistan in 2007. Of course, the job was not easy since even less women were involved in the media in those days and my male coworkers struggled with the cultural taboo of working with me, a woman. These two rare experiences – continuing my studies during Taliban rule and working in media – came before and after my forced marriage to a warlord’s son. After my father helped me to escape he was disappeared, which in Afghanistan, is the same as being killed.
Even though they are part of my experience, I am not defined by my ethnicity or religion but rather by two other influences. First is being a woman from a country where traditionally women have almost no rights and have suffered as well because of unrelenting experiences of war. Secondly are life defining experiences of having survived and overcome the restrictions of the Taliban, the horror of child marriage, and among other things, the separation from my beloved family who continue to fear persecution and violence. These things feed my desire to work in human rights, gender justice, and along with the knowledge and experiences I have acquired in the U.S., they have shaped me into a secular person whose only desire is to contribute to justice and peace in her country, in the Middle East and elsewhere in the region.