• Gali Weiss

Fawzia Koofi: Why should women always be the first to pay?

Fawzia Koofi, the first female Deputy Speaker of Parliament in Afghanistan, was interviewed by Dorsa Jabbari for Al Jazeera, 4 September, 2021

Fawzia Koofi began her political career after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Her focus: promoting girls’ rights to education and protecting children from violence, exploitation and abuse. She has survived assassination attempts, but not even that stopped her from advocating for the rights of women in her country.Now, with the Taliban back in control and in the wake of the United States withdrawal, Koofi left her country and is being hosted in Qatar. Is her fight for the rights of Afghan women over?

On women…

FK: What I have gone through as a woman gave me the reason to change things for others, because I know that it’s actually the women who always have to pay the highest price. It’s the women and the girls. If it’s war, they lose their loved ones. If it is peace, they lose their opportunities. It’s always the women that have to pay the first. And I have just, you know, been in contact, have met women who are desperate, hopeless. They don’t know what will happen to them. Most of them were dependent on salary, they were the breadwinners of their families. They lost that. A lot of them actually are in terrified situation, hiding. Why? Why should the women only pay all of this? Any circumstances and situation. It’s heartbreaking.

I think the world should wake up. Why should we always pay for everything that goes wrong in that country?

DJ: There are some who believe that Taliban’s rule this time around will be different. In fact, there are some who believe that the Taliban should be given a chance. What’s your take?

FK: Well, they need to prove that they are different. I have discussed with some of their leadership here, in Kabul. They say ‘Yes, give us time, we will be different’, but when it comes to their foot soldiers or commanders or the second layers of the Taliban, they do the same things they were doing 20 years back.

In the provinces, for instance, in the heat of the summer, when they captured some of the provinces, they asked women, young students, girls, to wear burqa and to wear socks. Can you imagine in that heat if a woman is wearing burqa … and plus burqa is not Islamic. It’s not just a hijab, it’s more than a hijab. Or for instance, in many places, they keep saying that girls cannot go to – or any woman – cannot go out without a male companion.

I think their leadership really has to do an important homework in making sure first of all, that whatever generic statements or press release they have, and policy papers, the foot soldiers from top to the ground respect that, so it doesn’t become just a media statement, but actually a practice in on the ground.

DJ: Do the Taliban that you’ve been in contact with, have any plans or ideas about how to include women in their government?

FK: Well, that’s what we hope. We hope that they should not… they cannot ignore the 55% of the population which are women. Economically, it’s not something they can take the risk or they should take the risk. But in the meantime, I think from what I’m hearing, they already kind of sorting, dividing the cabinet ministerial position because they think women are not for that. These are positions that women do not qualify, probably lower level women or civil servants. I think if women are not in the power structure if they’re not in decision-making and leadership, how can you make policies that are friendly for women? So I think it has to start from leadership.

I must say, in the past 20 years, women have – I’m so proud of them because they have really proven that they’re the most hardworking, talented population of the country. They have grabbed any opportunity that was there for them, education, despite the difficult circumstances. If you give them a little chance, they will use it and so therefore I think it’s not only for political reasons – for economic, social and for many other reasons that women should be part of a meaningful decision-making process….

DJ: You left Afghanistan voluntarily. Why did you not stay?

FK: I don’t think it was anymore a choice or voluntary. I think it was a matter of where one could be more efficient, to be able to serve others. Yes, I wanted to stay, and I stayed for almost more than two weeks in Kabul, but at some point I realized that it’s not going to be anymore efficient because if we disconnect with the world, how can I help other women? So the reason I wanted to get out was to be able to connect with the rest of the world and see how we can support other women, the ones that are staying in Afghanistan, 35 million population, and the ones that need to be transferred to a safer place until Afghanistan is safe again. So all of that I would not have been able to achieve if I was at the corner of my house.

I’m going back. That’s for sure. I’m not someone who will live abroad or stay abroad or enjoy a luxurious life abroad. My heart is torn into pieces, all of the pieces ar in different provinces of Afghanistan.

DJ: The Taliban of course are going to face many challenges, and one of them is the new generation of Afghans, you’ve already mentioned, who are not used to living under their rule. What do you think is going to happen moving forward?

FK: If the Taliban try to impose what they want, in terms of oppressing people, depriving them of their liberties, limiting their liberties, including on women, I think they will face opposition. I think they will face resilience. I think people will resist.

DJ: What’s your message to the Afghan people and those both who have fled the country and those who remain, especially women?

FK: For those who have fled the country, I’m sure they will come back. From, you know, the love and affection I have seen, including the time I am in Doha, everyone is even not able to believe that they are not any more in their country, and they’re homeless I would say. Thanks to the Qatar govt because they have given already the feeling of being home. To do as well in Afghanistan I think they will continue to be relevant. My message to them is, be relevant, you know, take the future in your hands. I will join you soon.

The images and transcript on this post are from the interview video on Al Jazeera, 4 Sep 2021

Accessed 5 Sep 2021