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"We will not go back to the time before 2001": NPR



"What makes me hopeful about women's rights in Afghanistan is that women themselves, they have their own voice," says Roya Rahmani, Afghanistan's Ambassador to the United States, NPR.

Amr Alfiky / NPR


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"What makes me hopeful about women's rights in Afghanistan is that women themselves have their own voice," says Roya Rahmani, Afghanistan's Ambassador to the United States,

Amr Alfiky / NPR

When Roya Rahmani became Afghanistan's first female ambassador to the United States on December 14, 2018, the United States was at the beginning of its 18th year of war in its country. Afghan army soldiers die at "unsustainable" interest rates. Meanwhile, the Taliban continue to launch mortal attacks and take territory.

The Trump administration announced plans in December to begin withdrawing about 7,000 troops from Afghanistan. In his EU address, the president said he had "faster" US talks aimed at reducing US troops. Peace talks have taken place between the Taliban and the Afghan opposition leaders and a law led by the US special representative for Afghan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad – but so far, the government that Rahmani represents has been foreclosed. The Taliban refuses to negotiate directly with it. Until today, it is not a party to talk about the future of the country as a leader.

Rahmani, 40, who previously served as Afghanistan's Ambassador to Indonesia and the Confederation of Southeast Asian Countries, prefers to talk about positive when it comes to that future. "We have such a high resilience … and each time we have come out stronger and better," she tells the NPR in an interview at Afghanistan's embassy. "Of course, great victims have been on the road. And unfortunately, we have lost so many of our dear countrymen and women and children." But she says, "I am positive that things will go against better. And I want to tell all my people that they can play a role in shaping their destiny. With our unity and resilience we will [get] through."

Afghanistan has come too far in the last 17 years to regress, she emphasizes. From 2002, women's opportunities to flourish began after years of repression under the Taliban rule, when they were excluded from most education and employment opportunities. Now about 3.5 million Afghan girls are enrolled in schools and one-third of Afghan university students are women.

"What makes me hopeful about women's rights in Afghanistan is that women themselves have their own voice," says Rahmani. "They have their ability to be part of the public. There is a big shift in this regard … and that's what gives me hope and I think we won't go back to the time before 2001."

Rahmani was born in Kabul in 1978, a year before Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan. "I thought as a little girl [Kabul] was the most beautiful city in the world, Afghanistan was the best country in the world," she tells the NPR. She remembers the scent of tulips and daisies that trickle into the city, every flower that signals a change: the beginning of the school year, exams, summer holidays.

Kabul was saved from much of the Soviet war, but after the Soviet Union troops pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, the country entered into civil war and attacks by mujahideen factions shook the city. Her school was closed for several months at a time. Rahmani recalls that the sound of missiles is growing higher and hearing constant questions: "How many injured? How many dead?" Her family fled in 1993.

As millions of other Afghans, they lived as refugees in neighboring Pakistan. Rahmani attended a Saudi-funded school of refugees in Peshawar. When the classroom overflowed with students, she reminds you to study on the roof for an entire school year.

"As an Afghan woman, very early, like the rest of my cohort, we learned that you must try to make the most of what you have," she says. "So uncertainty was what dominated most of our lives."

Afghanistan to American Roya Rahmani dares with other officials during the global coalition to defeat the ISIS meeting, at the State Department on February 6.

Alex Brandon / AP


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Afghan Ambassador to American Roya Rahmani Waves with Other Officials During the Global Coalition to Defeat the ISIS Meeting, at the State Department on 6 February.

Alex Brandon / AP

She decided early on "to be independent," she says. "I always felt I didn't want to be an addict when I grow up, and it has been a very big and driving factor in my life."

In 1998, after her grandmother died, Rahmani returned to visit Kabul with her family. She found a gloomy, abandoned and stationary city under the Taliban regime. For the first time, she saw her mother in a burqa, which the Taliban demanded that women wear. Rahmani has said that she refused to leave the house instead of laying one.

The following year, on a scholarship from the Canadian World University Service, she enrolled at McGill University and received a bachelor's degree in software development. She returned to Afghanistan in 2004 and worked for a Canadian non-profit engagement for Afghan women's education. At that time, violence against civilian and American troops increased.

Roya Rahmani, who previously served as Afghanistan's Ambassador to Indonesia and the Southeast Asian Confederation, is the first woman named her country's ambassador to the United States.

Amr Alfiky / NPR


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Amr Alfiky / NPR

Roya Rahmani, who previously served as Afghanistan's Ambassador to Indonesia and the Federation of Southeast Asian Nations, is the first woman named her country's ambassador to the United States.

Amr Alfiky / NPR

"And for me it has always been, a human life is a world of its own," she says. "And these worlds were reduced to a number." She was determined to make a difference. "It became like a mission in my life that if I could do anything to stop a bomb from walking and killing people, or even a person, if I could, my mission in life is finished." [19659010] Rahmani continued to work for international non-profit organizations, which often focused on human rights and then left for New York to attend the Colleges of Columbia University where she received a master in public administration and international law in 2009.

Two years later, she joined the Afghan government, the first in her family to do so. She worked in the Ministry of Education and then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She is now one of four Afghan women's ambassadors, she says; About 20 percent of Afghanistan's foreign service is female.

The efforts of the next generation of Afghan women are personal to her. She has a 4-year-old daughter.

"So yes," she says, "I want my daughter to grow in a country where she can live as a girl, child, happy and peaceful, again without fear, filled with hope and not feeling nervous to be a girl [and] feel that her presence in the public sphere is as welcome and accepted as it is elsewhere. That she has opportunities to explore her interest and talent and live happily. "[19659010] One of her great desires, Rahmani, "is that my daughter could read and understand and connect with poetry. Because in our culture, poetry is a very important aspect of it."

Rahmani remembers being beaten by "Free Tulip", a poem she read in elementary school by Ebrahim Safa, an Afghan poet, journalist, translator, and activist born over a hundred years ago in Kabul. "It's the best reflection of my own existence and life," she says.

The tulips in Kabul would grow wild, Rahmani says. "So they grow and then they disappear, so the poem is about this whole cycle. And so it says:" I am free to live. "… So basically [the poem] says that the garden space in the garden is too hard for me, so I have such a free spirit that I grow in deserts."


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