Zarifa Ghafari, the winner of the International Women’s Rights award and one of Afghanistan’s first woman Mayors of Maidan Shahr who defied the Taliban restrictions on Afghan women, continues to raise her voice for the people of her homeland with her radio channel and humanitarian foundation.
Now living in Germany, the International Women’s Rights awardee with her foundation, the Assistance and Promotion of Afghan Women organization, continues to advocate for women’s rights in Afghanistan.
Ghafari fled Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the country last August.
In an interview with CNN, Ghafari defiantly said, “The Taliban cannot erase us, they can’t. This is not like the 1990s or before — they have to accept (women). They have no other choice.”
The International Women’s Rights awardee said that her heart broke further when the Taliban went back on their much-anticipated promise to let girls above 6th-grade return to school in March. Her organisation is building a centre in Kabul to provide basic tailoring, handcraft and secondary education classes to women as well as maternity care and general healthcare services.
But Ghafari knows that her efforts alone are not enough. This week, as she accepted the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy’s 2022 International Women’s Rights Award, she urged the world to do something.
“I urge you to do everything you can to take our people out of this predicament, and to raise your voices in support of humanity. The solution is not for all just sitting and sending statements. We need action at least after seven months of darkness for men and women of my country,” the International Women’s Rights awardee said in her acceptance speech at the UN.
“My country has been at war for 40 years. Achieving peace in a country that has been at war for decades is never easy. It often involves making distasteful choices and speaking with people you find abhorrent. And yet there is no other way. That is how peace was achieved in Northern Ireland and in Yugoslavia, and I believe it is the only way it can be achieved in Afghanistan,” Ghafari said.
In addition to prioritising human rights and women’s rights in any international talks with the Taliban, she asked world leaders to not close their doors to Afghans seeking safe shelter. Referencing the welcome many European countries are offering those fleeing wars in Ukraine, Ghafari added, “Our blood is not different by colour from Ukrainians”.
Ghafari fought for months to be allowed to actually take up the position of Mayor of Maidan Shahr following protests from locals.
Melissa Mahtani, writing for CNN, said that the International Women’s Rights awardee finally succeeded in changing some people’s attitudes. Ghafari said that one of her fiercest critics told her years later that she had proved him wrong when he had told her she was nothing more than a little girl. “I was able to show the power and the ability of women and to prove that we can do anything. I showed people that it doesn’t matter how many more times I get attacked, I will be still here because I think what I am doing is right,” she said.
In the aftermath of the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan and her father being murdered in 2020 along with multiple assassinations attempt, the International Women’s Rights awardee fled in August 2021 making it out of the country by hiding in the footwell of a car.
The Taliban regime which took over Kabul in August last year has curtailed women’s rights and freedoms, with women largely excluded from the workforce due to the economic crisis and restrictions.