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Fighting for Empowerment: Under Taliban Rule & Beyond

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by Manizha Baraki, Mina’s List Program Intern

Hello Mina’s List’s blog followers! My name is Manizha Baraki. I am a current MA/Sustainable International Development student at the Heller School of Brandeis University. I am from Afghanistan and I just joined Mina’s List as an intern. The reason I want to do my second year graduate program practicum with Mina’s List is because I truly believe in Mina’s List’s approach to women’s political empowerment.

The recent incidents in Kunduz province made me think about what girls and women went through when the Taliban was ruling Afghanistan 14 years ago. When I was going to school secretly during the Taliban regime, I never imagined that I would even graduate from high school. Look where I am now! Women as decision makers and leaders have played an important role in what I have achieved in my life today. I think my story is the story of every other girl and woman who has managed to continue her education during the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and afterwards.

I was in the second grade of school when the Taliban occupied Afghanistan. They banned girls from going to school right away. As a result, I could have remained illiterate for the rest of my life. What helped me stay connected to education was my mom’s continuous encouragement to study with my brothers at home. After two years of the Taliban regime, the hope of going to school started to seem too unrealistic for me and other girls around me. Our light of hope was women who started schools in their homes, secretly. It was not an easy job for them as I recall now. They could have been caught by the Taliban anytime, and recorded cruelty of the Taliban is enough to predict what would have been punishment for these women.

My teachers never showed any fear while they were teaching us. What I clearly remember is one of my teachers saying “if the Taliban finds out about the school and you find the school closed one day, don’t give up.” Fortunately, the Taliban never found out about my secret home-based school. The words of my teacher are still with me and give me courage to fight and not give up when I find barriers in my way.

My story not only illustrates women’s willingness but also their courage to help other women when they need help. As women, my teachers knew what life would look like for an illiterate woman in the society that we lived in. They were concerned and they were doing something about it. illiteracy is the root of many other women’s issues. An illiterate woman is dependent on her male family members and others in Afghanistan. Another consequence of girl’s illiteracy is child marriage, which leads to many other women’s problems. The chances of early marriage are higher among illiterate women.

Since then, I have realized that when women are given higher positions that allow them more authority like political leadership positions, there is higher possibility that these women will advocate for women’s rights. It is easier for women to understand the needs of other women because they have seen and felt what women experience. Parliament is the place where problems are discussed and more importantly laws and policies approved. We need more women to be a part of this process. Currently, 27% of the lower house of parliament in Afghanistan is made up of women, which is not enough to represent the different groups of women all over the country. Women are 51% of the population in Afghanistan. More women are needed in political positions to substantively represent the needs of half the population in the country. 

I am excited to be part of Mina’s List’s efforts to help increase women’s equal and substantive participation in national governments around the world.

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