In Afghanistan, according to social tradition, I have not been a good girl. I was supposed to wear a headscarf when I was nine, but I did not wear it until I was thirteen. I wanted to change the way people think about girls in my society.

In Afghanistan, a girl is a good girl when she wears a big, long dress and a huge scarf, sits at home, doesn’t talk much, and accepts what her family says. They tell her when something is good or bad for her.

A good girl is one who doesn’t ask for her rights, doesn’t ask for her inheritance, serves her brothers as her bosses, cooks well, and doesn’t have her own name but is called by her brother’s or father’s name. She always prays five times a day and reads the Quran instead of going to school. She doesn’t choose her husband or her future and keeps her father proud by doing all these things.

When she marries she sacrifices herself. Age does not matter. Even if she is twelve she is now a woman. She lives in her husband’s house with her mother-in-law and father-in-law and she doesn’t go to her father’s house too much. She gives birth to a boy, not a girl, and quietly tolerates whatever is being done to her.

People have a saying in Afghanistan about a good girl when she gets married. “The good girl is the one who goes to her husband’s house with a white dress and comes out with a white shroud.”

It means that whatever is done to her, she will tolerate it until she is dead and wears a white shroud to get out of that house. It seems impossible to bring change in my country, but I want to be part of the way we change issues regarding women. I cry when I think about the laws passed against women.

But then I think,”I am a leader and a leader needs to be strong.” I think of Malala, I think of my mother’s hero and my hero, Margaret Thatcher, and of Afghan human rights activist Sima Samar and so many other strong women. This is how I stay strong.

When I see the situation of women in my country, I do not want to marry or have children. But then I think, maybe I will be a mother so I can give my children the freedom to choose, to think, to be smart. I will treat them all equal. I will never let my boys be my girls’ bosses. I will make them think of all people as human—Hazara and Tajik, Pashtun and Uzbek, Jewish and German, Muslim and Christian, black and white.

I dream big and I hope my dreams come true. I always tell myself, “Keep on dreaming, even if it breaks your heart.” I hope every one dreams.

By Nahida, age 15