I believe in the equality of women. All women, all over the world, hold up half the sky. But in Afghanistan, women are not equal partners to men. Consider that 85 percent of Afghan women are illiterate because they are denied proper education.
I grew up as the youngest of five children. My life was filled with a passion for learning. My mother was the principal of a girl’s high school. She filled our house with books and made it beautiful by teaching my two brothers, two sisters, and me. She even advanced my father’s education. As a result, one of my brothers is a doctor, and the other is an engineer. Both my sisters have graduated from university.
My mother was totally dedicated to our education. When our family experienced financial difficulty, my mother sold her jewelery to buy books for my brother.
Too Dangerous to Study
In 1996, when I was nine years old, the Taliban took control of the government, and education for girls stopped. I didn’t know what was going on, but I could tell that my mother was worried about our education when she began teaching my sisters and me math and literature at home.
Because she didn’t know English, I studied English with a tutor. I remember one day the Taliban saw me when I was going to my English class with books under my burqa. They tried to follow me. That was when I realized how dangerous it was both for girls who wanted an education and for those who took the chance of teaching them.
I could not understand why men could be educated, but not women. I was discouraged and scared. But my mother did not give up; she continued with our lessons at home in spite of the risks.
After the Taliban rule ended in 2001, women began to advance, but still there was a big gap between the quality of education for women and men. I was the only one in my family whose education was incomplete. After I graduated from high school, I had a chance to attend a private university in Kabul.
This was the first time I would be away from home. As I left for Kabul, my mother said that when I was finished with my studies, all of her responsibilities will have been fulfilled. She said I was the only one of her children she was worried about. Little did I know that it was the last time I would see her alive. She was killed in a car accident in 2008. Suddenly, I was alone with the responsibility to build my education and a future.
The world stopped
It was a total shock. The world stopped. It was hard to accept the reality of losing the most valuable person in my life. I stopped doing everything. Life meant nothing without her. I was living without a reason for being and without hope. I didn’t study.
My father encouraged me to try to complete my mother’s wish and finish my education. When he took me back to Kabul to continue my studies, he reminded me how my mother had told me she wanted me to graduate and become a lawyer. He told me that he knew I would come back to Afghanistan one day to complete my mother’s wish. He said, “I’m so proud of you.”
With the memory of my mother and the support of my father, my determination to continue my education increased, and I studied for one year at the School of Leadership Afghanistan to improve my English. The founders of SOLA helped me to build my confidence when I had almost given up. They showed me how I could help my country’s people by learning to speak up, and that I could be a good example for other women.
And that is how, on September 3, 2010, I found myself at Salem State University. When I stepped through the gates at Boston’s Logan airport I was welcomed by my host parents and the leader of the Applied Ethics outreach program, which was giving me the opportunity to pursue my education.
This was to be my first time travelling alone and I would be the first person from my family to study outside Afghanistan. It took me two months to convince my family to let me go to America to study. This experience made me realize that if we want to do something in life, we have to work hard because our dreams do not come easily.
I spent the year in the United States not only studying political science, but telling Americans about my country. I gave speeches about Afghan women and how hard they work and how brave and strong they are. I told them about the things hidden behind the way in the culture and food and customs. It was interesting for them to learn about Afghan people.
After a year away from home, I was excited to return home, but at the same time I had learned my father was ill. My brother called to tell me to come home soon.
I spent two months at home with my father. Once again he told me, “Try to finish your studies. I am okay. I am so proud of you. You finished a year of study there. I am sure your mother would be proud of you. I know one day my daughter will be a very important person and help her country.”
It is hard for me to explain my feelings about losing my father and being alone again. I have promised myself that I will keep my parents’ dreams alive and somehow complete my studies. I have come a very long way and worked very hard to reach my goals. I don’t want to have wasted my year and a half studying in the United States.
I am back home in northern Afghanistan and now I study by myself. I want to go to America to finish two more years of study. I want to help my people, especially women, through education. I want to open a library for women and a school in my city of Mazar-e-Sharif. I have seen in my country only years of war, blood and dead bodies, and the hopelessness and discrimination against women. I have heard only the crying of women and seen them begging on the street.
I keep asking myself: When will Afghan women be treated as human beings? When will Afghan men stop killing and selling them? Afghan women have been through so much emotional and psychological stress. Nonetheless, they keep going. I want to help women but this is not my only goal. I want to see my country peaceful and educated, and see men and women work together to bring peace to Afghanistan.