Afghan mayor honored at State Department vows to keep fighting for women and girls

Award recipient Zarifa Ghafari of Afghanistan poses with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and first lady Melania Trump at the State Department on March 4. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
March 5, 2020

Zarifa Ghafari is a fearless woman in a country where there is much to fear.

Since taking office as mayor in the Afghan town of Maidan Shahr last year, the 27-year-old has been attacked by mobs of men armed with sticks and rocks, angry at a woman in a leadership role. In meetings, she has been at turns ignored, insulted and laughed at. She has received death threats from the Taliban and criminal gangs.

Despite the target on her back, she persists, commuting to work on the dangerous roads between Maidan Shahr and the capital, Kabul, where she has moved several times in the past year for security reasons.

“I want to live as a champion,” she said in an interview Wednesday after being honored at the State Department with an International Women of Courage Award presented by first lady Melania Trumpand Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “I want to die as a champion.”

Their stories “humble and inspire us all,” said Pompeo, who recently returned from Qatar, where he witnessed the signing of an agreement between the Taliban and the United States.

The agreement calls for a drawdown of U.S. troops and a prisoner release in exchange for the Taliban agreeing to sever ties with terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and enter into peace talks with the Afghan government.

“What is the worst thing in the world for women and girls? War,” said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe the calculation more frankly. “War is what steals rights and the future. So ending the war is the best gift we could give women and children. Everyone is concerned about the Taliban approach to these issues. So we need to see all Afghans and friends of Afghans remain engaged.”

“Women of my generation have not forgotten the reign of the Taliban, and we are, as always, worried for the future,” she said after turning to face Pompeo and the first lady. “Therefore, let me ask for your continued support to ensure that Afghan peace process does not erase the gains that have been made since the dark days of the Taliban regime.”

In an interview, Ghafari said Afghans are worried that the Taliban will return and reassert its authority, trying to “make us go back and sit in the darkness.” She said the agreement was primarily for the benefit of the United States and the Taliban and lacks guarantees that Afghans will be safe when potentially thousands of Taliban prisoners are released.

U.S. officials have said they expect groups representing all segments of Afghan society, including women, to have a role in peace talks they hope will start this month. Ghafari said Afghan women who have survived decades of war must be among the parties.

“The women of Afghanistan who have already suffered the war, those who lost their sons, those who lost their husbands, those who lost their rights to education, those who suffered all their life on airstrikes, on war, on shootings, on bomb attacks. We want them to represent us, not someone who knows nothing about it,” she said.

Ghafari said she was grateful that she has supportive parents — a father who is a colonel in the Afghan special forces and a mother who is a physician — and an equally supportive fiance.

“It’s not only Zarifa,” she said, adding, “It’s a red line for Afghan women. We will stand our ground. And we will fight always for our rights.”

She recognizes the danger she will face on returning to Afghanistan but considers it her responsibility to speak up.

“At least if I die, no one will say, ‘She was not someone who did great,’ ” she said. “I want the next generation to remember me as a good person, at least as someone who could make at least a change, at least could talk of the truth. That’s why I’m talking.”

Award recipient Zarifa Ghafari of Afghanistan poses with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and first lady Melania Trump at the State Department on March 4. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Categories: Afghanistan

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.