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Women’s Rights: A Brave Voice Against Discrimination

by Geoff Poulton

Despite the threats to her safety, 21-year-old Nargis Taraki is determined to fight for women’s rights in Afghanistan and beyond

Nargis Taraki has fought discrimination her whole life. When the 21-year-old from Afghanistan was born, her parents were encouraged to swap her for a boy as they already had four girls. In Afghan society, males are traditionally seen as the family breadwinners.

But Nargis’ parents refused, despite the pressure from those in their village. As an infant, Nargis had to flee with her family to Pakistan after Taliban militants took control of their region. They returned in 2001 to live with her uncles in the Afghan capital Kabul, where Nargis and her sisters were encouraged to study. After finishing school, she went on to study public policy and administration at Kabul University – the only girl from her village to ever complete higher education.

Now, Nargis is a passionate campaigner for women’s rights and she was named in the BBC 100 Women list for 2018.

In this interview, she tells F10 about the positive and negative reactions she has received, why her work is important, and what her future plans are.

Now that you’ve finished studying, what are you currently focusing on?

I am a legal advisor to a non-profit organization, working with female detainees to help them practice their rights for a fair trial. As a volunteer, I am also running campaigns to raise funds for female war victims. And I am trying to help marginalized girls and women access education. I’ve recently been working on a policy paper with the Minister of Education in Afghanistan.

Why is the topic of women’s rights so important to you?

I was raised in a community that discriminated strongly against women. At 10, I began to question whether women are created differently than men and, if not, why are they subjected to such unfair treatment? This question led to many others, which drove me to study discrimination against women. After graduating from school, I believed the only way to do more in my life is to campaign for women’s rights.

How do your family feel about your work?

My father was always tremendously supportive, and he has had the most positive impact on me. Sadly, he died of cancer last year. In Afghan society, a mother has little role outside the family, but my mother has been always kind to me and positive regarding my education and activism. My siblings understand the importance of my work and they are supportive, but they worry about my personal safety. They encourage me to be careful and avoid risks that could cost me my life.

What about the people who tried to persuade your parents to swap you for a boy when you were born?

They are still looking to prevent me from promoting women’s rights. Some claim my actions are against Islamic beliefs. After the death of my father, there were more and more threats against me and my family. We had to leave our home and rent a house in a more secure area in Kabul.

What changes would you like to see introduced?

I would like to see a world with equal rights and freedom for women and men. This requires changes to customs and beliefs as well as law and government policy. More importantly, I would like to see more people prepared to speak out against the violation of women’s rights.

You’ve given talks on the subject at various events in Afghanistan. What reactions have you had?

Positive and negative ones. People around the country have sent messages of support, while others condemn my opinions and call it non-Islamic. Some have threatened me.

What are your goals for the future?

My long-term goal is to play a prominent role in protecting and promoting women’s rights, especially the right to education. I would like to study an MA in human rights at Oxford University, broaden my network, and be part of a team that promotes women’s rights on a global level.

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