Among the many Afghan women that inspire me is Malali Nazeeri. She was 29 years old when the Taliban occupied Kabul in 1996. She studied Medical Science at Kabul Medical University and received her master’s in public health from the University of Peshawar. Malali currently works with UNICEF in Afghanistan. I recently had the chance to write her story in her own words.
I was a young spirited medical graduate when Taliban militants stormed Kabul overnight. As their cruel regime started to implement a strict interpretation of Sharia law, Afghan women were lashed and humiliated on daily basis.
The Taliban barred Afghan women of going to school, universities, and work. Despite their laws, I continued to work to provide for myself and my child. At the time, I was a health worker employed by a non-governmental heath organization. I walked through the streets of Kabul to deliver medicine and give medical advice to pregnant women.
Trying to not be identified as an NGO worker, I used to carefully place medication inside my clothes. Several times, the Taliban sharia police stopped me and interrogated me. They wanted to know why I was outside the home. To save my life, I repeatedly lied to them.
As women, we were not allowed to be outside the house without a male “chaperon”. If captured, we would be violently whipped in public. To make matters worse, my husband left me. He was disappointed because I could no longer bear children. I was a single mother under the Taliban. Few things in life are more difficult. I still recall those difficult days, lonely nights, and boring sunsets.
I still remember the time when an angry Talib slapped me across the face for being outside. I bowed down to get my glasses that had fallen onto the pavement and broken due to his attack and he delivered the second and third blow.Shattered and terrified, I finally managed to escape and take a bus home. I was beaten so hard that I had to stay in bed for a whole month.
Fortunately, I randomly found a kind cab driver who agreed to drive me to different parts of the city where I could meet with women. While taking me to the field, he pretended to be my brother to protect me from the suspicious eyes of passersby and the whips of the Taliban. But there were times when even having a male “chaperon” was not enough.
Another time, I took a foreign female journalist to Malalai health facility to see our work. I briefed her on the poor condition of hospital, told her about power shortages, and lack of health facilities. The Taliban found out and launched a probe into my background and why the journalist was there. I escaped against and couldn’t return to the hospital for six months due to fears of retaliation from the Taliban.
Living under the Taliban was a nightmare. I still remember days and nights when I didn’t have a piece of bread at home, no place to go, and on one to share my pain with.
My 50-yearlong and difficult journey of life taught me one important lesson: the idea that women are feeble is nothing more than a fabricated stereotype and tired cliché. No one believed in me when for the very first time I decided to take charge of my own life, but as time passed I grew more confident, more independent, and more resilient in the face of hardship. I alone carried the burdens of my life, brought up my son and carried him days and nights. At no point did I wait for someone to come and save me. Women are anything but frail.
By: Mina Rezaee, Free Women Writers