S2 E2. Woman and Change: Politics with Zarifa Ghafari, Former Mayor in Afghanistan

[00:00:00] Section: Podcast introduction

[00:00:00] Overdub: Hello and welcome to season two of The Story of Woman. In today’s world, it can feel like change is happening, but only in the wrong direction. While we agree there’s still a lot of work to do, we’re reframing that story.

[00:00:17] Overdub: I’m your host, Anna Stoecklein and each episode of this season I’ll be exploring how women make change happen from those at the top helping to drive it. We’ll look at where we are on this long march to equality, what lies ahead, and how important you are in the fight.

[00:00:38] Overdub: This isn’t a story of a world that’s doomed to oppress women forever. This is a story of an opportunity to grow stronger than ever before. Exactly as womankind has always done.

[00:00:50] Section: Episode level introduction

[00:00:52] Anna Stoecklein: Hello, hello and welcome to episode two of the Changemaker Series. As always, I am very glad that [00:01:00] you're here. We've got a great conversation today.

[00:01:04] Anna Stoecklein: So in August of 2021, we all watched with horror as the US pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban took over the country in a matter of days. And the question on everyone's mind was, what's gonna happen to the women and girls there? Because when the Taliban were in power in the nineties until 2001, they forbid girls from getting education and women from leaving the house unchaperoned. They flogged and beat women for showing an inch of skin under their mandatory burkas, or for attempting to study. They stoned women to death and more. Afghan women were brutalized in the law and in nearly every aspect of their daily life. And now the Taliban are back in power.

[00:01:53] Anna Stoecklein: Today I speak with a woman who is personally going up against this brutally oppressive group [00:02:00] in order to make life better for the girls and women inside of Afghanistan and who has answers to these questions about what life is like for them now.

[00:02:09] Anna Stoecklein: At the age of only 24, Zarifa Ghafari was the youngest ever female mayor in Afghanistan. And her province was in the heart of Taliban territory in the years leading up to August of 2021. She survived three assassination attempts and had to witness the murder of her own father at the hands of the Taliban. I mean, courage is not nearly a strong enough word to describe this incredible woman.

[00:02:36] Anna Stoecklein: Zarifa received the 2022 International Women's Rights Award at the United Nations Geneva Summit. She's been included by BBC in the list of a hundred inspiring and influential women from around the world. She was honored by the US Department of State as an International Woman of Courage, and she was included in the BADASS 50 List. She also received the award Women Who Can [00:03:00] Change the World by In Style, as well as many other awards and lists from around the world from various organizations.

[00:03:08] Anna Stoecklein: She has a new book out that's called Zarifa: A Woman's Battle and a Man's World that tells her full story. And there's also a new Netflix documentary out about her that I highly recommend that's called In Her Hands. And wow, the footage is absolutely chilling. It follows her during her years as mayor all the way up to when she and her family have to flee in 2021. Definitely, definitely recommend.

[00:03:36] Anna Stoecklein: So in this episode today we speak about why Zafa wanted to be a mayor, and she tells the story of the nine long months it took from the time that she was chosen as mayor until she could actually start working because of the extremist mob that was made up of Taliban members, mafia groups, and other men that blocked her from her own office. And because all of [00:04:00] her male colleagues walked out and refused to work for her.

[00:04:03] Anna Stoecklein: So Zarifa tells us all about this and what kept her going through it all. She also walks us through the typical life of a woman in Afghan society from birth, all the way through death. And we talk about what makes her most proud of the women and girls in Afghanistan and her optimism for the future. And Zarifa also speaks directly to those that are still in Afghanistan, including the men. And she speaks directly to the foreign powers that have been creating and perpetuating the terrorism and the wars. And she also speaks to all of us outside of the country and how we can help. This is an absolutely extraordinary woman who is going to make serious waves in the world and already has at such a young age.

[00:04:52] Anna Stoecklein: And just a reminder, if anyone wants to read along to make sure that you catch every word, there's a transcript available on the website, the [00:05:00] story of woman podcast.com. There's also a link for that in the show notes.

[00:05:04] Anna Stoecklein: I'm gonna end with this excerpt from her book that beautifully puts to words how Afghan women have always been the ones driving change for . Themselves and for their country.

[00:05:25] Anna Stoecklein: Zarifa wrote: " Women around the world and throughout the ages have forced change from their spaces out through education, trade unions, charitable organizations, and through often heroic lobbying, squeezing every bit of advantage from their positions, however small, in total and together, and however, slowly and carefully they created change. The Taliban say they're now more enlightened than they were in the 1990s. This is because they have been forced to be. For 20 years. My Afghan sisters and I have been devouring the [00:06:00] opportunities presented to us to become doctors, Supreme Court judges, journalists, and mayors. Millions of us have learned to read and write the first step to taking control over our lives. A young Kabul generation with no memory of the mujahideen's civil war, we mingled in coffee shops and accepted each other, Pashtun, Hazara, and others alike. We helped to change our society in those two decades, and as a result, the Taliban was compelled to reform. I know we will win eventually because women can no longer be ignored in Afghanistan."

[00:06:36] Anna Stoecklein: Wow. Cue all of the goosebumps and get ready for more of that now. Please enjoy my conversation with Zarifa Ghafari.

[00:06:47] Section: Episode

[00:06:48] Anna Stoecklein: Hi Zarifa. Thank you so much for being here today.

[00:06:51] Zarifa Ghafari: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me here.

[00:06:54] Anna Stoecklein: Absolutely. I'm really looking forward to this conversation with you, and I wanna [00:07:00] start by reading out a sentence from your new book, Zarifa, and then I'll follow that up with a question. So you wrote in your book "the simple act of surviving as a woman in a place like Afghanistan, of learning how to read and write and earning your own money is a victory more significant than Olympic gold."

[00:07:20] Anna Stoecklein: That's quite a powerful sentence, and I wanna start this conversation by having you help us understand what day-to-day life is like for the 14 million women that live there. Can you help paint that picture for us and share what you have come to understand about the position of women in Afghanistan society?

[00:07:41] Zarifa Ghafari: Let me start it from the first time my family gets that the newborn child could be a daughter, from that spot to the end of the life of a girl, When a father gets that, the child is going to be a girl, then they start [00:08:00] treating the wife so differently, and the wife entire period of her pregnancy praise to God, to have a boy instead of girl. From there to giving birth to a girl, doesn't matter how capable you are to give a birth to second child or third or fourth, or fourth, uh, in some cases it's like more than 10 as well, but they will make you to give births every and each year once to have a boy just one boy.

[00:08:36] Zarifa Ghafari: From that spot, when the girl is a little bit younger, when she is maybe six, seven years old, the hardship of life starts toward her. Not only her father, her community, her mother, and her entire family, but all those brothers also who are younger than her, who are so small, so younger [00:09:00] her, they feel like they have, this power of control over the girl, and they have this ability to do this to the girls of their family.

[00:09:12] Zarifa Ghafari: And from there, when it comes to the education of girls in Afghanistan, it was always, always a problem because the all long decades of war in Afghanistan have paved a very dark way to the lives of everyone, in particular woman. Millions of women are still uneducated in Afghanistan, and we have the population more than 75% of women population uneducated still in Afghanistan.

[00:09:40] Zarifa Ghafari: So that's also a case. It's not only because of the rules of family and the regulations of family, but it's more because of the sources and the opportunities that is more or less than what we need in society. And from there, when a girl gets married, mostly in [00:10:00] Afghanistan, girls don't know who are they're married to, at least the first night or first day of the marriage with whom they will spend. They don't know. And in some cases, boys are also don't know, they just get a call from family- your married, "tomorrow is your event, just come and then attend it."

[00:10:20] Zarifa Ghafari: And then when the girl marries and then starts a new life, then she is going through the same period of life as her mother went for having her as a girl child. So this is that small family thing of a girl or a woman in Afghanistan.

[00:10:39] Zarifa Ghafari: When someone comes out of home, they start working, they have to fight their own family to the community, to society. And then for a woman like me, we have to fight terrorist groups as well and not only lose things with our personal topics. but more [00:11:00] importantly, like as I lost my dad, that's how that's society works for woman.

[00:11:06] Zarifa Ghafari: Still women are sentenced from home to the grave. Like if you talk to an Afghan, boy an Afghan man about a woman in majority, the first thing they will start thinking or talking about will be like being a wife, giving birth, cooking, cleaning, and then obeying the men of the family.

[00:11:29] Zarifa Ghafari: And then when at the end of chapter, when the woman dies, you know, there is a announcement of the debt to families. They will send this cards and announcement and they will publish it publicly as well, but they will not use the name of the dead body. The notice, will be like "the wife of this guy died." No, man. That wife has her own identity. She [00:12:00] has her own name, but that's the society.

[00:12:03] Zarifa Ghafari: So that's how the picture have been shaped for a woman, but happily for last 20 years and previous years and decades, like in the time of King, in the time of King, these are the periods where at least women were having that value in society and they were having the sources as well. But definitely after the ongoing decades of war and conflict, at least the value of women in society have been going so down and broken, which is still a very bad. And now it is also when Taliban are talking about the society is not really, the culture is not allowing women to work or to study on blah, blah, blah. These are also the small excuses that comes out of this stupid ideologies of [00:13:00] pupil, which is their ideology, not part of my culture, not part of my religion.

[00:13:05] Zarifa Ghafari: But it's their problem and they are going to connect it with culture and religion, which, uh, if you go to Afghan woman's history, we have a great, great amount of women who serve this country in lots of eras of life in an every field from being a mother to the King to a fighter with British Empire, a victorious fighter.

[00:13:34] Zarifa Ghafari: So that's how these are the things are happening right now for women in Afghanistan. So this is entirely the picture of woman there right now.

[00:13:44] Anna Stoecklein: That's a very comprehensive image that you've given us from birth all the way through death and giving us a little taste of all the different forces at play from family and culture to institutions and politics, government.

[00:13:58] Anna Stoecklein: That's very helpful, [00:14:00] thank you. And I wanna talk about progress because you know, you've just painted the picture for us of where things are now, the position of women in Afghan society, but zooming out a little bit, so no country makes progress that's just linear and gets better and better every year. There's always that pendulum of progress that happens- advancement and then pushback, progress then regression. But the girls and women in Afghanistan in particular, as you've eluded to have experienced stark progress and regression over the years.

[00:14:32] Anna Stoecklein: I mean, in your lifetime alone, you've seen drastic change, of course, with the most recent example being in August of 2021 with the Taliban takeover. But even before that, when you were a young girl in the nineties, you were schooled underground because girls' education was forbidden by the Taliban back then as well. So here we are 20 years later and it's all happening all over again. So I'm curious how you see [00:15:00] the progress of women and girls in Afghanistan unfolding when taking this longer term view of progress. You know, do you think that progress has been made in recent decades and which kind of direction are things moving?

[00:15:14] Zarifa Ghafari: Yeah, exactly. There have been progress made in particular in last 20 years. There have been lots of efforts, uh, happening around. And then more importantly, when it comes to the sources and the reasons of this whole progress, I feel it was woman of Afghanistan themselves. I don't give any credit to anyone else around the world.When it comes to progresses and developments of 20 years, last 20 years in Afghanistan, then people says like, it was international community coming in, so there was a change and then this all happened. They taking out of our hands our achievements and efforts and everything and putting it into the hands of all these political [00:16:00] dealers and the project dealers of conflicts in Afghanistan, which is not true.

[00:16:06] Zarifa Ghafari: Afghan woman fought their fight always their own selves. Last 20 years is a great example of that. While women have been mostly, in lots of areas, women was like still just symbolic and they had like rules like symbolic, but still we were able to at least be there and prove ourself and make the society to trust us and give us another platform and help us to open another big door of another achievement and another way. That was what we have been through all 20 years, and that was what the progress was for.

[00:16:47] Zarifa Ghafari: The most important thing which I'm really proud of, it was the effort of entire woman generation of Afghanistan for making peace, for building the country, for bringing prosperity, [00:17:00] and then being the beautiful part of developments of the country, but not the part of corruption, hatred, war, and killings and terror and all that.

[00:17:12] Zarifa Ghafari: If you look to the history of Afghanistan from the time of King, up to now the entire distractors of the country, the entire problem makers and headache makers for the people and the country, it was always men from outside and inside Afghanistan. It was men from all ethnicity groups of Afghanistan.

[00:17:35] Zarifa Ghafari: It was sa, Hazara was, everyone together, but it was men, it were men. It were always men of entire groups and every corner of the country, but never and never women were not part of this. Women were not part of distractions, killing, [00:18:00] abuses to the people and the welfare of the country. And that's the beautiful part I feel more proud of.

[00:18:07] Zarifa Ghafari: And I feel this is the greatest thing which, which makes us as woman of Afghanistan, as woman of at least 2022 or 2023. Especially for me, it's like we never had part of into bad things to the country. So now, at least for once, let's give us a chance, not give us a chance. Let us to take this chance and to have it and then work for it because I don't believe anyone else than woman of that country could serve the country more better

[00:18:44] Zarifa Ghafari: So these are, the progresses have been made, especially in term of education. Millions of girls were going to schools in nineties. I'm sure there was no more than five to 6% educated woman in Afghanistan left because [00:19:00] mostly educated and well progressed families left the country during Taliban.

[00:19:06] Zarifa Ghafari: But now when in 2022 and 2021 and 20, we have these reports that while it was not so good news as well, while it's not that enough, but still we had more than 20% of women still educated, uh, with higher education. So there were dozens of women working 30% of the economy of the country, the national budget of Afghanistan was being supported by women's activities and women's participation into the economic field of the country.

[00:19:44] Zarifa Ghafari: From there, anywhere else, uh, the progresses have been made, but what really breaks my heart, and I'm sure everyone who knows it, it's the same for them as well, is that our achievements, our [00:20:00] gains, and our tries everything gone for when, just because two or three men sitting in a room decided to sign a deal and then now we are paying the price uh, because there was a group of men in power and they wanted to kill another group of men, and now the another group is on power and they are killing the first one. So it's us paying the price it's women of the country being an option of bargaining of the rulers to the world and to anyone else. So this is painful and but still, I'm so proud of whatever progresses have been made by women of the country.

[00:20:39] Anna Stoecklein: Absolutely. So it's women of the country afghanistan, but also driving the change and making the change happen. So on that note, where things currently stand with the Taliban having taken over, how do you see progress moving forward? What do you think is in store for the future of Afghanistan and [00:21:00] you know, what do you think is the solution for getting there?

[00:21:02] Zarifa Ghafari: The best solution is unity. The best solution is standing with each other. The best solution is speaking to each other. The best solution is listening to each other, and normally and so logically discussing the most important topic to each other. And that most important topic is the welfare of the country and the welfare of the people living in that country.

[00:21:26] Zarifa Ghafari: Last decades of war have been going, and now we have millions and millions and millions of people died in Afghanistan. And millions of women widows with millions of girls like me, maybe are still crying day and night for the loss of their fathers. I was lucky, at least I had the body of my dad, you know, completely. But there are like mostly families. They had nothing, maybe a piece of the loved one's [00:22:00] bodies, so, and a very big coffin and that's it.

[00:22:04] Zarifa Ghafari: So I think these all conflicts and everything, if we don't want it to start once again, we need to sit to each other. We need to talk from good to bad, from to to halk , to everyone, to communists, to republic, to Taliban, to everyone. They need to come together and set and find a solution for this.

[00:22:27] Zarifa Ghafari: I don't believe the solution of Afghanistan lays in the hands of all these foreigners and all these powers outside the country, outside of Afghanistan because we, as Afghan people, we know about the history of our country, which has been decades and decades, that the same game is going to be repeated on us and playing the same project by just, with that small change into flag and, and the title of the project. But it's that same project, that same [00:23:00] game happening to us.

[00:23:01] Zarifa Ghafari: Definitely Afghanistan's war is not Afghanistan's war. It's always a war coming to Afghanistan from outside of the country. From neighboring countries, especially Pakistan and the Pakistan's intelligence, ISI, and then including cia, then Russia. Nowadays, China is also having their own part in it.

[00:23:24] Zarifa Ghafari: So altogether this, I don't believe these people are the ones. Because they already destroyed everything. So I don't believe they are the ones who can help building everything back and solving everything back. So it's important that we as Afghan people, we come together, we sit together and we solve it. In Afghanistan, we have something by the name of jk.

[00:23:48] Zarifa Ghafari: The JK is like, big amount of people in a corner of the country coming together for reasons and talking together for days and night. They're [00:24:00] talking, they are finding solutions and they are helping the situation. And it was like from decades going on to that country. And it's a beautiful tradition to solve conflicts without another big one.

[00:24:13] Zarifa Ghafari: So that's what I feel, will help more Afghanistan than anything else coming from outside of Afghanistan. That's one part. And the most second important part is of your question, especially do I see any next step or any progress or not. I'm so amazingly optimistic. While I know there have been lots of reasons to lose your hope, at least for people like me, for a person like me who have lost so much, so much for the conflict.

[00:24:45] Zarifa Ghafari: So for me, my dad was not only one person being killed from my family. My maternal grandmother was the one who was killed by Mujahidin and in the eighties, and [00:25:00] my uncle was killed by the war of this communist and all those people, he was killed. And then my dad was killed here in 20. So I lost three member of family for the same conflict and the same time, I have been myself a victim of terror and attacks around my life.

[00:25:21] Zarifa Ghafari: So, I'm so optimistic because I believe my generation, I believe the voice of my generation. I believe the power of my and everyone else voice because I believe our voice has more power than a bullet into a gun. I believe it because when I know the word of nuclear, the word of war, conflict, weapons, dozens of weapons being produced somewhere, dozens of weapon being sent to somewhere else, and this trade off weapon, trade off conflict is happening, and then it's more political conflicts happening around the [00:26:00] world.

[00:26:00] Zarifa Ghafari: But in that also still, I, I have this feeling of maybe we can talk, at least we can talk. We have once we are having the same language, same values, same traditions. Doesn't matter which ethnicity. I don't believe. There is a very big deference between traditional values of a pure passion family who values the welfare of the country and people, and who values the pure, traditional, beautiful values of their lives.

[00:26:31] Zarifa Ghafari: Be and Hazara family who does the same. So I, I believe this is the solution. And, uh, more importantly, yeah, our voices, no one can silence us. So we will talk until it solves.

[00:26:46] Anna Stoecklein: "If Taliban have guns, we have our voices." That was a line I really liked from your book, and I wanted to read one other kind of excerpt from your book on this note of optimism, which is [00:27:00] just very beautiful. And also what you were saying earlier about how it's been women who have been driving this change. I really like this excerpt. And then I wanna ask some questions about you and talk about your life.

[00:27:13] Anna Stoecklein: So you said, "I know we will win eventually because women can no longer be ignored in Afghanistan. Girls like me found a window of opportunity and we clung onto it. Schools, university, jobs, outside the home. We were able to do that because of our mother's determination that we, their daughters, would not have our intelligence go to waste as theirs had. It is our responsibility now to keep that window open, push it wider, and invite more women and men to do the same."

[00:27:43] Anna Stoecklein: That sums it up very, very beautifully.

[00:27:46] Zarifa Ghafari: Thank you so much. Yeah. This is the fact. For me now, I feel like more, yeah, definitely what happened and what I gone through or maybe whatever was from my mom to me, that's one part. [00:28:00] But for me now, I feel kind of responsible for my future generation, for my daughter in future, if I am having a daughter. So I'm feeling responsible for her and I feel that's how we can break these high ceilings and barriers.

[00:28:15] Anna Stoecklein: Yes, absolutely. And you are certainly playing a big role in doing that. So your story is incredible. We won't have time to get into it all today, but I highly recommend to everyone listening that they read Zarifa's book called Zarifa: A Woman's Battle in a Man's World, and also watch her new Netflix documentary called In Her Hands.

[00:28:36] Anna Stoecklein: But to give a brief summary of your role as a mayor: at the age of 24, you became Afghanistan's youngest, ever female mayor in Maiden Wardak. Hopefully I'm saying that right, which was, and presumably still is a Taliban heartland in West Kabul. Their territory started within one mile of your house. After becoming mayor, it took another nine months to [00:29:00] actually take up your office because of an extremist mob that barred you from your own office and because of your male colleagues walking out and refusing to work for you.

[00:29:09] Anna Stoecklein: As you mentioned, the Taliban tried to assassinate you three times, and when they failed to do that, they killed your father at the end of 2020. During your time in office despite all of this, despite very often being the only woman in the room, you ended corruption in the province, promoted peace, and did everything you could to lift up women.

[00:29:30] Anna Stoecklein: And now after the Taliban takeover in August of 2021, you had to flee with your family to Germany, though you've already returned to Afghanistan once and planned to return again, carrying on this work, empowering women through your global advocacy and through your humanitarian organization.

[00:29:48] Anna Stoecklein: So it's all just incredibly powerful. And these words don't even do the whole story justice. Like I said, people are gonna need to read or watch or both to learn the [00:30:00] full story. But I really wanna know to start with your story in this male dominated world where almost no female politicians exist, and the culture is telling you very overtly that as a woman you aren't smart enough to participate in anything important and you simply aren't capable of leading, why did you want to become mayor and how on earth did you find the willpower, confidence and ambition to actually do it?

[00:30:29] Zarifa Ghafari: Actually for the first, when I started, I was in India, I got a message from my business partner who now has the pleasure of having me as his life partner. Yeah. So he just sent me a link and like asking me, see there's a position of mayor for where Wardak province you, you just go for it, you know?

[00:30:52] Zarifa Ghafari: And then I, because I knew the province, I knew the people, so I was like, I refuse. And then he started fighting me and he was like [00:31:00] arguing me and he was like, You don't believe yourself, and I don't know why you studied this long and what you are doing and blah, blah so much. And then I was like, okay, let's go for it.

[00:31:11] Zarifa Ghafari: I submitted my CVN proposal and all my documents After sometime I got a call, I went for writing exam being shortlisted among 138 candidates with 11 candidates being shortlisted. I was shortlisted.

[00:31:28] Zarifa Ghafari: then after the writing exam, suddenly I've got dozens of people talking so bad about me to dozens of others. There was these people demonstrating, some young boys coming together and demonstrating against my candidacy for this position.

[00:31:48] Zarifa Ghafari: and I was like really shocked. And then I came to understand and know that one of the guys who were a shortlisted candidate with me, he was working [00:32:00] in the same office of the one who were responsible for the examining process.

[00:32:06] Zarifa Ghafari: So this guy starts telling about me so stupid thing to people around this office. And one guy just told me that he was telling him that she is a bitch. She have been in India and she had dozens of boyfriends, she had dozens of sexual relations. She is the puppet of foreign sources and people. And she is, uh, one of these western ideology woman. And if she becomes a mayor, then she starts destroying our own culture and city. So we need to be careful and don't give her a platform, and more importantly, she's not Muslim.

[00:32:49] Zarifa Ghafari: I feel like it's it's entire world, in every corner of the world, this is the same policy to break down a woman by just adding some stupid [00:33:00] words with her name and her personality and her title to disarm her, to distract her. And then there are dozens of women when this is happening to them, maybe in America, Afghanistan, US, Europe, doesn't matter UK, but there are women when they feel like this is happening with them, they are giving up and because they're like, it's not worth of this, you know,

[00:33:25] Zarifa Ghafari: But I'm like, I was like, man, you know, I know the game, so why not to play it. Then it got like a fight. I was like, there are dozens of men, like old men, young men, young boys, all together coming and then fighting just one me. And the reason is also just because I'm a girl and they can attack me from any corner, from any way, you know, using any platform and sources because [00:34:00] this is Afghanistan and if a man comes and says, this woman is a bitch, Doesn't matter she is or not, but the people will start, oh, seriously, she is the one who, that guy was talking about her that she's a bitch. So this is like how it is.

[00:34:18] Zarifa Ghafari: and then I was like, I'm okay with it. Let's fight it. So I fought all my exam process and everything, and when I got the decree, the demonstrations were there and one of these guys who were leading the demonstration, he became the first mayor after the fall of government in August now of Taliban to the same municipality.

[00:34:42] Zarifa Ghafari: So it was like all these Taliban and all these land mafia guys, the ones who had direct ties to very high level mafia systems. So that was how they started like demonstrating against me.

[00:34:59] Zarifa Ghafari: And then [00:35:00] after some time, the central government was proposing me exchanging the position, but I was like,if I, I'm not worth of it, I didn't pass the exam, I don't have any marks or if there's any other problem, you can tell me, but you, you don't tell me to give up, you know. Because I feel like it's not my fault, it's the fault of the system and the process because I have the decree of the president and you guys are not implementing the decree of the president. So that's your fault and your problem, not mine.

[00:35:34] Zarifa Ghafari: For six months, I was silent. I wanted to just keep it okay and fine, but then after six months I was freaking out. So I started the entire three and a half months of big, big war, kind of the World War for me in my life with a post on my Facebook by saying, Take my identity back, I [00:36:00] don't want to be an Afghan anymore because I feel there is no value for me and my right as a human being. So I will search another country around the world where my right as a human and then as a woman are being respected more, and people care about it.

[00:36:18] Zarifa Ghafari: So then it goes all viral and we started having three months of international and national medias interviews and engagements, all the way until the last day someone came to me from a high position of central government asking me that

[00:36:38] Zarifa Ghafari: if you're still in this for the mayor position, we will help you on that. But trust me, it'll be so hard for you. You will go through a lot of difficulties. You'll be attacked. Taliban are there all around. You will have so hard time. And then I just looked at him and I was like, you know what, I don't leave. [00:37:00] I have any idea of stepping back. I just want it. and then after a few times there was a conflict, another conflict. And after that I finally was able to enter my office.

[00:37:15] Zarifa Ghafari: And when I came to my office, all colleagues went out of office. And after three, four days, I came back to my office and I collected all of them in into my room and I was like, you know guys, now I am responsible of the office. You do your work or resign. And then I started working.

[00:37:35] Zarifa Ghafari: So that was this entire story. It just started from just a disappointment of not going for it until being just a passion. Because for me it was not just my thing, I believe that it's a fight for entire woman of Afghanistan. It was a fight for my duration. It was a fight to make people believe us.

[00:37:58] Zarifa Ghafari: And then I [00:38:00] worked three years as a mayor. Trust me, it was the beautiful period of my life. I learned a lot. I served a lot. When I started working as a mayor, trust me, there was entire city was cooperating, entire people. Everyone, everyone. I'm still in touch with my people, with my colleagues, with people around the city.

[00:38:25] Zarifa Ghafari: They are messaging me, they're talking me. And just day before yesterday, I was looking to Facebook and I got this screenshot of that post as well, that there was this one guy saying, the main road of Kabul, it was snowing badly and the road was blocked. So this guy have been posting something that at least Zarifa Ghafari was enough good and like at least cleaning these roads, you know, while it was winter and snowing. She herself in the middle of night were coming out and then we're helping to [00:39:00] clean the streets so passengers could pass. And now look at this where we are. So this was like, you know, just two days ago. It was two days ago.

[00:39:10] Zarifa Ghafari: And I, I feel like that fight what I went through like near about one year, it was worth of it.

[00:39:18] Anna Stoecklein: That's amazing, the fight that you went through just to get to office, but then every day it same, you know, it was just one thing after another and your life, the lives of your family member. These are no small obstacles that you were up against.

[00:39:35] Anna Stoecklein: So you mentioned a motivation being for the good of, of the women of Afghanistan and future generations. Is that what pulled you through it all? You know what kind of allowed you to get past any fear that you may have had? Did you have fear? What kept you going even beyond that initial long trek to get into the office.

[00:39:57] Zarifa Ghafari: Actually with this, there are like two, three [00:40:00] things. First of it, it's about definitely it's that out of emotion, something real, which in Afghanistan there was like always when a woman wanted to go to a first line to do work in places like Wardak in positions like mayor, you know, this was always a taboo, it was always like an old. And people were like, oh, seriously, you are a woman you won't be able to handle. But man, why not? You know what I'm having less than you. You are a man, that's it. If you get arrested having sexual relation to a girl as well, there won't be any big thing for you because it's, you are a man. That's how the Afghan society is.

[00:40:47] Zarifa Ghafari: But that's only difference with me. But for me, if someone talks bad about me also that makes like entire story and topic for entire family or maybe, oh, [00:41:00] entire village and province will talk about it. So that's the only deference between me as a woman and him as a man working in, in such a technical offices and such a frontline positions.

[00:41:13] Zarifa Ghafari: So I knew that that's, that's the only thing. And I wanted to prove that thing, that man, we are also able to handle whatever the office is and whatever the position is, we just need the platform and the sources. And we don't beg for that. We earn it, and you have to give it to us.

[00:41:31] Zarifa Ghafari: That's one point. The second point was, as a child, when I was born, until I have, uh, already noted this story on my book as well, that when I was six years old, my mom stopped me from entering a room full of men.

[00:41:46] Zarifa Ghafari: And the reason was just because I'm a, a girl. Being a girl have been mostly a crime, not only for me, but for everyone of my generation of, of Afghan people, [00:42:00] Afghan woman in my country, uh, mostly. So I was like, why? I was always dreaming for myself and I was always planning that I need to change this. So in six years old, my mom stopped me from entering a room full of men. But in 24 years old, I was leading an office full of men, sitting on the top of them. Leading this office with pure honesty, honor, dignity, and loyality for my position, for my pupil and country.

[00:42:35] Zarifa Ghafari: This was the second thing and the last thing it was for me, I was always feeling of doing something good to my country, to my people, something big. By entering my office I feel like this doesn't matter, it's, it's not the entire country, but at least I can do something for this one province, which will remain for a long time in the memory of people at least.

[00:42:57] Zarifa Ghafari: And I, one thing, which is [00:43:00] overall like emotional thing for me it's, uh, we all believe we are alive to die one day, that's the fact. How much you ignore it, but that's the reality and you can't really just get off of it. So, but the majority of deaths are happening just at home in bed, in hospital. And then these people who dies and the only people who will remain and then memory of them, it'll be close families and friends, and then not more than maybe hundred or 200 families and people around.

[00:43:39] Zarifa Ghafari: And then after some time they will be just gone and no one will really talk about it for longer time. But the ones who have been fought a battle and who died in a battlefield, they are not only the part of memories of people, but they are a beautiful part of the history of the world.

[00:43:58] Zarifa Ghafari: So I feel [00:44:00] every day coming outta my office, trust me, every time I was just feeling maybe there is a blast and I will lose my feet. Maybe there is a gun shot, a bullet just crossing my head. These were the facts. So I was, every day I was carrying kinda this reality that maybe today I'm not returning back home alive.

[00:44:26] Zarifa Ghafari: That was the fact. But what was giving me something to not give up and still drive that way, it was, I don't want to die in a bed, you know, I want to die here. So if not part of history, if not part of memory, but at least my next and future generation, my younger generation, maybe my sibling could at least talk with proud about me saying that I was serving my country.

[00:44:55] Zarifa Ghafari: And on that way, I lost my life. So that's, that's all three or [00:45:00] four reasons of whatever I have been through. And uh, however, I never give up.

[00:45:05] Anna Stoecklein: All incredibly remarkable reasons. And I would say that you've made such a mark already at the age of you're 28?

[00:45:14] Zarifa Ghafari: Yeah.

[00:45:15] Anna Stoecklein: I'm really excited to see what you continue to do into the future. And on that note, I would like to ask you what your plans are in the future. I know you've mentioned that you're planning to go back to Afghanistan, I believe. So I'm curious if you can tell us a bit about those plans and any other plans you have, including do you think that you'll become president one day?

[00:45:39] Zarifa Ghafari: First of all, I will start from last part of it being a president. Whatever I have done, big or small, whatever the efforts I have made, mostly it was not something more personal it was mostly for my country and my people for the values I believed in. [00:46:00] So for me, definitely I'm not having that, okay, I, I should be a president, but I will be more than happy if a woman could be president, doesn't matter who. Because as I told you, I believe women could lead that country beautifully than anyone else, in particular, and especially men of Afghanistan.

[00:46:20] Zarifa Ghafari: This is one thing, and then my plan for what next is definitely, I'm working now on another book, which will be about woman of Afghanistan, but now it's too early to talk more than this about it. But I wish we could do it as soon as possible to bring more facts and realities about women of Afghanistan to the world.

[00:46:47] Zarifa Ghafari: Zarifa have been just a story of me personally, but I tried with that also to portray the lives of women of Afghanistan into to the story of three generation of [00:47:00] women like my grandmothers, my mom and myself. But this one will be different, this will be more about entire woman of the country.

[00:47:09] Zarifa Ghafari: So that's what I'm doing now and we are still having things around the documentary. we are having things about Zarifa: a woman's battle in a man's world. But, more importantly, I'm speaking, I'm traveling into different countries around the world. I am giving speeches and I am playing my role into awareness, uh, for the woman of Afghanistan and speaking on their behalf for the ones who are ready to listen and who dare to listen.

[00:47:43] Zarifa Ghafari: And at the same time, yeah, I have my NGO working in Afghanistan. Now this is too tough, but still, we are trying to operate and somehow.

[00:47:56] Zarifa Ghafari: Last thing is definitely my personal [00:48:00] life. I want totake care of my personal life as well when it comes to my personal life. Definitely going back to Afghanistan is the biggest part of it. So I don't know when, how, where, and I don't want to disclose anything on that right now.

[00:48:16] Zarifa Ghafari: But now I feel like this is the best time to be with my people, to be with the woman of my country. They need us with them more than being anywhere else.

[00:48:29] Anna Stoecklein: Well, I cannot wait to see everything that you've got in store and to read your next book that comes out.

[00:48:35] Anna Stoecklein: All right. So we've talked about the progress women in Afghanistan have made and how individual women such as yourself are driving that progress through the generations and a bit of what your journey has been like. Now, I wanna talk about some practical ways that people listening can join in and continue passing that torch.

[00:48:56] Anna Stoecklein: So starting with the women and girls in Afghanistan [00:49:00] and perhaps also in nations with similar restrictions on women's rights, what message do you have for them for joining the fight?

[00:49:07] Zarifa Ghafari: For the women of Afghanistan, I wish them very best of life because I feel like living a life in current situation is itself a big fight. If they're alive, if they are still breathing, if they are still daring to live it, I feel this is the greatest fight. I am amazingly proud of their courage and their determination and commitment. And the only thing I could say to them is, trust me, there is always a light at the end of a dark tunnel.

[00:49:41] Zarifa Ghafari: There will be things coming up, those will be more better than what we are going through right now. You are not alone. We sitting here abroad, we are feeling the same pain because, at least for me, I don't feel myself [00:50:00] more different and apart than the ones who are inside the country and suffering right now.

[00:50:06] Zarifa Ghafari: I feel you guys, and I understand you and I promise honesty with all the dignity, with all my beliefs and power and loyalty, that I will speak on your behalf as much as needed and as much as I could.

[00:50:25] Zarifa Ghafari: That's what I want to tell the woman of Afghanistan, the ones who are inside and the ones who are outside, I wish they could get more unit united more and more coming together and all in one. Having a strong voice standing together and fighting for the ones who are inside.

[00:50:46] Anna Stoecklein: And what about all of the, boys and men out there? Any kind of message for them in particular?

[00:50:53] Zarifa Ghafari: So for the men of Afghanistan, the, especially the one who are inside the country right now, we have this [00:51:00] men fighting for just small topics of women with another man and killing them. If a boy or a man gets that someone teases or use a small or big bad word for the female members of family, then if they start fighting with each other until they kill one of them, or maybe each other.

[00:51:23] Zarifa Ghafari: And then we have this another topic that woman in Afghan culture is the most respected part of society. We have this cultures of if a woman cross a street and there are men sitting in a corner and speaks and loves and makes jokes, you know, when they see a woman crossing, then they shuts up until the woman goes away so the woman don't feel disturbed. So this is how my culture is.

[00:51:52] Zarifa Ghafari: More importantly, When it comes to daughters, to the wives, young female members of family, the ones who are going [00:52:00] to school in universities and the ones who are getting married, it's on their family in particular, the mom and dad who decides about it. It's mom and dad who are the one responsible for it,

[00:52:14] Zarifa Ghafari: In such a society, with these all, which is so small, you know, examples with such a rule, with such a regulations, now there are dozens of men coming together, not dozens, maybe tens of men coming to a village or a province and asking you guys to not send your daughter to school, and if you send your daughter to school, then I will go to school and I will beat them like hell. If they come out to street and they persuade for their own rights, I will kidnap them. I will arrest them, and I will torture them and in prison, and you are not allowed to send you our daughters to universities. If you do it, then I will beat them in [00:53:00] public. I will whip them in public like whatever happened in so many universities that girls wanted to enter university then the Taliban started beating them up.

[00:53:11] Zarifa Ghafari: And then when it comes to the work opportunities, it's your decision that your daughter and your wife is allowed to work and now someone else in who has nothing to do with you and your family comes on to you and kicks your family members outta offices and you have nothing to say. You are just sitting there on silent. Man, like if you are able to kill people just by small, stupid arguments that you guys are having with yourselves, why not to at least stand for the rise of woman in an part of education?

[00:53:50] Zarifa Ghafari: If you are this much brave to kill people for just your own topics, then at least be more enough to at least defend your [00:54:00] ancestors right to education too. Why not? When? How much more? It's just like, you know, it's terrible when I see all these girls coming out on streets and demonstrating and all these men standing in the corner and just watching.

[00:54:15] Zarifa Ghafari: You guys destroyed everything. You guys were the part of the worst to that country. And now at least the only thing we need is just that active support, which we needed for our fight. We don't want you to be in the front line. We are going the front line. At least you join me for the cause. You are not doing that too. How shameful. I really, really feel so bad and shameful on that.

[00:54:43] Zarifa Ghafari: At least you fight for your sister. I don't want you to fight for me. You fight for your sister, you fight for your mother. These guys are like, I don't know why and what happened to them. I really feel so, so bad for them because they're standing in the [00:55:00] corner and you see Taliban are like beating women, cursing them, and then arresting them and no one says anything.

[00:55:07] Zarifa Ghafari: I don't know why they're not learning, at least from the men of Iran, from the men of all other neighboring countries. They are also Muslims, but they are supporting their sisters for all their welfares. So yeah, I have a lot to say for many of the country. But the only thing, once again, I will repeat it- please and please, and please, we know you guys are killing women for just small mistakes. To keep your honor. We know you guys are ready to kill each other for just small topics of stupid honor values that you made for yourselves. If you can do that here at least, stand with us. We will fight it ourselves, but when we need the support, be there.

[00:55:55] Zarifa Ghafari: Be a man. I don't feel seeing all videos of [00:56:00] women being beaten up by Taliban in public while demonstrations, while entering universities and then being harassed, being tortured, and then dozens of women are missing, dozens of women are killed. When I see this all, I feel like there is no men left in that country.

[00:56:18] Zarifa Ghafari: I will be badly trolled with this sentence. I will be badly harassed by this sentence, but I dare to say it, and that's the fact. There's no left. The one who is left is just the Taliban. If they're not, then at least they were not able to beat a woman of my country, the girls of that country with that superiority in public, at least that one.

[00:56:43] Zarifa Ghafari: There are videos that Taliban are whipping women in public and there are like dozens and millions of men just going around and watching that. I just saw some videos and photos, just that some of men they can't see the middle of the area so they [00:57:00] climb the trees in the top of trees and they're watching it.

[00:57:04] Zarifa Ghafari: Man, at least dare to support a woman too. So that's really, really harsh and terrible. It was, I feel like this was the longest answer for any of your question I made, but yeah, I have more than this too. But I will close this here with, I wish men of Afghanistan could for only one time be more unafraid to stand with their sisters.

[00:57:34] Anna Stoecklein: Well, you're welcome to go on if you'd like. It's a very, very important and powerful...

[00:57:39] Zarifa Ghafari: Well, I, I feel like it's enough because, uh, when you feel like you say something and you feel like it goes the right way and it affects, then you love to talking about it more and more. But right now I feel like whatever I told you here, and whatever I say right now, the only thing [00:58:00] will come outta it, it'll be a big amount of trolls on my way. Nothing more. No one will dare to see here on their own and then change and like, oh man, what I did. No one will do that. No one will count their own good and bad, but they will directly start attacking me, you know, by putting so many more into my life and into my name.

[00:58:25] Zarifa Ghafari: So with this, I don't think it will be good to say more on it. So I said whatever I needed, and I don't care about being trolled through it as well. I really don't care because I feel I am right.

[00:58:42] Anna Stoecklein: Me too. One more message I'd like to ask you about, and that's to people in the West or perhaps other foreign powers. As you mentioned, that it's not gonna be foreign powers that are coming in and solving this and been very much the ones [00:59:00] starting and perpetuating many of the wars and the problems that you're currently fighting against. So I'm curious, yeah, what you would say to all of us that don't live in Afghanistan?

[00:59:12] Zarifa Ghafari: There are so many topics to tell, And one of them is the superpower of the world, the ones who are source of power, the leaders, the stupid intelligence agencies. They need to stop blood shed. They need to stop killing of people around the world, human being around the world for their own welfares.

[00:59:35] Zarifa Ghafari: It includes Putin, ISI, CIA, China, Korea, everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. Every corner of the world. The ones who are there and with so small and big topic to bomb places to kill people just for their own goods.

[00:59:57] Zarifa Ghafari: all 20 years one group [01:00:00] fought Taliban and the other group was just feeding Taliban with weapons, with money, with sources, with everything. And then like, you know, after 20 years they give them the power and they cut entire sources on government of Afghanistan and they brought Taliban into power.

[01:00:16] Zarifa Ghafari: I remember still those segments of Mike Pompeo saying that Taliban are changed, Taliban are good, I believe them. And now when everything is a mess, they don't care because they say like, okay, we are done with it. But with this, they not only destroyed everything, but they sold us out to the ones who never been part of that country. these normal soldiers of Taliban and the fighters, they were from Afghanistan, but the project of Taliban is not from Afghanistan. This project is not Afghani project. Taliban's base was made when Mujahidin were in power by CIA in time. And then the Taliban were receiving support [01:01:00] of Russia and ISI of Pakistan

[01:01:02] Zarifa Ghafari: It's a power game between two or three other powers. And then the victim of it is us, Afghan people inside the country. And then, then you come to a part, like right now, you see that just one woman dies in Iran, then starting from Biden to any other president around the world. Macron, Tredoux, to actresses to TV stars, to comedians, to do news to everywhere, they are busy with just giving voice to that topic because now Iran is another new project for the world, big games. So they are doing that.

[01:01:49] Zarifa Ghafari: And then in Afghanistan, where millions of girls are not going to school where millions of women are just kept at home, not university, no work, no food, [01:02:00] dozens of people dies off of hunger, off winter cold. A very big amount of humanitarian disaster is happening in that country. No one speaks about it. No one speaks about it.

[01:02:14] Zarifa Ghafari: I feel like it's can be like two reason. One, this is the same people bringing the same situation on us so now why they should care.

[01:02:23] Zarifa Ghafari: And the second thing is I feel like, yeah, they keep their grandson in the same war, fire in the same war, in the same conflict until they get rid and free of these other conflicts around the world, especially Ukraine and Iran. When that's finished, they will definitely return back to Afghanistan because these people, these stupid agencies and powers, they need a source of investment for their weapons, for their political projects that they have.

[01:02:57] Zarifa Ghafari: Especially the [01:03:00] war itself is a trend, a business, business of weapons, business of narcotics, business of drugs, business of politics. Obama, Trump and Biden, three of them, the whole topic of their campaign was always Afghanistan. And they were receiving good votes outta it too, because one was promising bringing soldiers back, and the one was promising like fighting Afghanistan.

[01:03:29] Zarifa Ghafari: So that's how Afghanistan is nowadays and have been through. At the end what the message I want to pass, it's, please stop this because no one forgets 9/11 and there is no, no guarantee that that won't happen again. So if you give sources, if you give power to people like you did it in nineties, it'll happen once again to you.

[01:03:58] Zarifa Ghafari: Terrorists or not [01:04:00] anyone's friends. This fire could burn anyone else around the world, which is already in Afghanistan. Because that's not just something of Afghanistan. It has so many other intelligence activities around it. So yeah, that's what I understand from my country. That's what I believe of situation. That's what I learned of situation and that's what I think. It's just what I know personally. But somehow I feel I am not wrong too. So I, I will call on everyone to stop this game and don't play with us anymore.

[01:04:41] Anna Stoecklein: Stop this game. So I lied. There's one more that I wanna ask you about cuz that's the powers that be, the agencies, the nations, the people in power. What about regular everyday citizens, what can we do to help [01:05:00] stop the powers that be, to help support the women and girls in Afghanistan?

[01:05:05] Zarifa Ghafari: It's so easy. Uh, you guys are the ones who are voting these people. You are the ones who are the reason of these people being in position. So if you guys don't want, if this normal citizen of the world, those people, they don't want, whatever is happening in Afghanistan could happen to them or anywhere else. And if they have at least, the beliefs on human values, and humanity, they need to start speaking about it and talking to their leaders.

[01:05:39] Zarifa Ghafari: Because I, I feel like for us, we already talk to everyone so much. We already use every platform to speak about everything around. But unfortunately it was never working because we are not the decision makers into their position. But you guys have the power because you are [01:06:00] the ones who are voting them.

[01:06:01] Zarifa Ghafari: So speak on behalf of every Afghan citizen. Doesn't matter, man, woman, children. But it's important to speak, speak on behalf of all those women. Just imagine you have a 13 years old daughter,and now she is going to sixth grade of school and next year she won't be allowed to attend the seventh grade of school.

[01:06:25] Zarifa Ghafari: And then she starts questioning you. And she starts arguing with you and you have no answer for them from there to anywhere else. So if you feel this pain, then please talk about it.

[01:06:39] Anna Stoecklein: Use your voice for the voices that have been silenced, I've heard you say something along those lines before. Final question, if people take one thing away from this conversation with you today, what would you want it to be?

[01:06:53] Zarifa Ghafari: It needs to be humanity. The world needs more humans. I feel we need [01:07:00] peace and prosperity, love, dignity, solidarity. And that can only happen if humans are around in charge. So give the charge of your country, your society, and the position of leading it to those who are human, who can understand human values and respect it.

[01:07:23] Anna Stoecklein: Lovely, beautiful. Zarifa Ghafari, thank you so much for your time today. It was such a pleasure speaking with you and I can't wait to see what the future holds for you.

[01:07:34] Zarifa Ghafari: Thank you so much. Thank you for your time. Thank you for having me here and I'll definitely keep in touch and we'll let you know for the next.

[01:07:42] Anna Stoecklein: Lovely.

[01:07:45] Overdub: Thanks for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, and think we need more of women’s stories in the world, be sure to share with a friend! And subscribe, rate and review on Apple, Spotify or wherever you [01:08:00] listen to help us beat those pesky algorithms.

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[01:08:28] Overdub: And in exchange, you’ll receive my eternal gratitude and good nights sleep knowing you are helping to finally change the story of mankind to the story of humankind.

[01:08:39] Overdub: This episode was produced and hosted by me, Anna Stoecklein.

[01:08:43] Overdub: It was edited by Maddy Searle. With communications support by Jo Cummings.A special thanks to Amanda Brown, Kate York, and Dan Kendall for their ongoing production support and invaluable advising.

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