Empowerment is what today’s young women want. In the 4Girls Global Leadership research ‘Women’s Empowerment Global Survey,’ a recent survey that polled Afghans and people from dozens of other nations, millennial women said their greatest wish is empowerment – individual agency. Afghan women seek skills and training to become agents of change in their own lives and their society. Afghan millennial women are reluctant to blame, finger point, or even ask for help from others. Instead, these fierce ladies are accountable for taking action for the change they wish to see in their world.
Over the last ten years in Afghanistan, I’ve met girls and women from the age of four to ninety-four. I want to tell you about four of them. These young Afghan millennials are confident, connected and dynamic forces of change, but endearingly unaware of their talents. They are all, in their own way, bringing social change and justice in Afghanistan.
In 2010, I sat in the back seat of a pickup truck with my friend Munaza Shaheed and her family to attempt my first-ever picnic in the outskirts of Kabul. I noticed Munaza’s 13-year-old sister Malika sitting in the corner observing everything that passed by. At short intervals, Malika would comment on the expressions of people in the street and speculate about their emotions. Her brother would tell her to stay quiet and she would respond in a sharp tone with, “We are living in a democracy and I will not accept any form of oppression.” Now at age 22, Malika holds a Master’s degree in Business and works as a Deputy Program Director for a USAID project. Recently she opened a Twitter account and her first tweet was: “I will tweet about #Afghanwomen #education #peace & #rebuilding Afghanistan … please retweet and give an Afghan girl more power.” She is embarking on a path to mentor young high school girls to help them select fields of study that will benefit them and their communities.
The power of these women is not always obvious when you pass them on the street. When the media outlet Khabarnama decided to profile me, the editors sent a 4-foot 10-inch millennial named Freshta Farhang. She spoke with a soft voice requesting details about my life. As I rambled about my experiences, I noticed her focus and was in marvel of her patience and focus. Several hours later, as the interview concluded, she placed her hands on my forearm with confidence and said, “Give me two days.” Her writing talent melted the hearts of those who read my profile. I decided to look into her work and found a young women with a gift for storytelling through her writing chronicling the lives of women. You could hear a kind of scream in her writing, a call to change her nation by exploring literary representations of women in every corner of the country. She did this with passion. “It’s not Afghanistan I want to change,” she says, “It’s the society that will change with my narratives.”
That kind of change was visible in late September of 2016, as a beautiful breeze and live music drifted through the garden celebration for my mother’s 50th birthday. In walked a vibrant millennial eager to meet everyone, but still shy. I quickly understood how kind, gentle and loving Mina Zahine is. Later, I learned she is a voracious reader of feminist and anticolonial literature, an avid listener of loud rap and hip hop during car rides, and always reading up on the latest political and social justice issues that she loves to discuss with her father. I noticed a strong discipline in her to learn. As years passed, her talent have become visible like the polishing of a precious stone. In the two and half years since she returned home after studying Cultural Anthropology at Smith College, Mina has worked on regional cooperation, business development at a prestigious law firm, and is currently working at a renowned research think tank. When I occasionally ask why she doesn’t want to leave this country she responds, “This is my home and I will build it to my liking.” Leaving people with a smile and ending conversations on a positive note, Mina wholeheartedly wants a better world for everyone. Eager to gain the technical skills and qualifications to help contribute to Afghanistan’s budding private sector, she will soon be on her way to the United States for graduate studies but she will return to build her dynasty. Mina was born to leave her mark and she will.
On social media, I try to shed light on all the women who are making an effort to improve Afghanistan. That’s how I noticed the work of another millennial, Khojasta Sameyee. Khojasta studied engineering, but patches wounds and heals hearts through her work. She was awarded the N Peace Award in 2018 for her efforts as a Project Manager in a women-related show on Radio Azad in Balkh province. Chatting online about work, life and travel, I was awed by her dedication to learn from her overseas experiences and adapt lessons to her daily production at work. She expressed her desire to inform women of their rights and build their confidence, ensuring women’s strong role in society. I asked her about her future goals. She said after mastering how to best represent Afghan women in Afghanistan, she will someday represent Afghanistan to the world as an ambassador. She hopes to build the nation.
After these four remarkable millennials take Afghanistan by a storm, they will leave the country with their warm light of wisdom and guidance for those who come after them.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Reporterly’s editorial stance.
Mariam Wardak began her career in international affairs at a young age, when she traveled from the United States to Afghanistan to assist her father with humanitarian projects focused on women's empowerment, youth, community, sports, initiating peace dialogues in provinces and an orphanage and children's center. She completed her formal education in the United States and subsequently returned to Afghanistan in 2010 to work in social justice and communications, with a focus on security. She served in multiple capacities in the government and recently left the Office of the National Security Council as Strategic Communication and International Relations Adviser. In the education sector, since becoming an active member of the think tank community in Afghanistan, Mariam has been volunteering 10 hours a week to train senior level female high school students basic research. In the cultural affairs domain, Mariam continues her efforts to reintroduce the heritage of Afghanistan's ancestors through events and gatherings, mainly with women. Mariam is among the few female researchers and policy advocates in Afghanistan. She has extensively contributed analyses to a number of publications. Additionally, Mariam is also served as the Deputy Chairman of Afghanistan Forward, a leading political group for young Afghan professionals.