Left to die in the sun after her birth because her mother didn't want another daughter, Fawzia Koofi survived to become the Afghan parliament's first female deputy speaker as well as head of its women's affairs commission. Despite being hounded by death threats, she intends to run for presidency in 2014.
In her book “The Favored Daughter”, Koofi recounts how her mother grew close to her, life in Afghanistan under the Russians and the Taliban, the loss of murdered family members, and her journey into politics.
Here she writes about challenges facing women and about poverty in Afghanistan:
I am a member of the Afghan parliament, representing the people of Badakshan province. Badakshan is one of the poorest, most wildly remote and conservative provinces in all of Afghanistan. The province also has the world’s highest rate of maternal and child mortality.
It is a place where people eke out a basic survival, growing what they can, bartering what they can with other villages and trying not to freeze to death when the winter snows fall on the mountains cutting off access to the outside world for months on end. Life expectancy is low, at around the age of 45 for men and even lower for women. In many families a woman’s life is valued less highly than a goat. A wife can be replaced, a goat which will provide an entire family food for a month cannot be.
In the villages women marry young, often at age 14, and by the time they are 30 they may have endured multiple pregnancies. In the eight years I have worked as a member of parliament, and before that when I worked as a child protection officer for UNICEF, I have dealt with countless cases of abuse, violence and forced marriage. The discrimination and poor treatment of women ... begins at birth. For many Afghan women a life of violence, drudgery and ill-health is the best they can expect.
Within the past decade billions of dollars of international aid money has flowed into Afghanistan. The people I represent have seen little of it. They (and millions of Afghans in other provinces) still do not have access to clean water, electricity, education or basic healthcare. Even the capital city Kabul is plunged into darkness nightly due to lack of power. Often, only those who can pay a bribe are given city power to heat and light their homes. Corruption is rife.
In the past few weeks of cold winter tens of children have frozen to death in the internally displaced persons camps that ring the edge of the city. One family lost eight of their nine children. This family had been forced to flee their home no less than three times due to the fighting and insecurity which still grips the nation.
The situation in my country today is shameful. Shameful for Afghans, who tolerate the kind of willful ignorance that perpetuates such a situation, and shameful for the international community which, since the fall of the Taliban government, has worked hard to rebuild and restore my crumbling nation.
Despite the ongoing need it is fair to say that huge amounts have been achieved in Afghanistan in the past decade since the fall of the Taliban. But there is still so much to do.
The international community has announced plans to withdraw all military forces from Afghanistan in the next few years. President Obama has declared all U.S. forces will leave by 2014. Many people in my country support this move but I do not. In the past decade a fragile but relatively stable democracy has taken root. A democracy in which a woman like me, a woman from the same poor villages she represents, can become an MP. Free elections have been held and people had the right to vote for their own leaders. By pulling out of Afghanistan so soon I believe the international community risks undoing all of the gains of recent years. I fear Afghanistan will be plunged back into darkness. Taliban rule or the threat of civil war once again looms large.
The current strategy is to enter into ‘peace’ talks with the Taliban. But can anyone really believe the Taliban will share power and be willing to sit in a democratic parliament alongside a woman like me? I do not believe it.
In 30 long years, which have seen a Russian invasion, brutal civil war and Taliban rule, Afghanistan has lost its way. But we can and are slowly finding ourselves as a nation again. We still need international support and help to ensure the democratic and social gains of recent years are not lost.
It is too early to withdraw.
The Favored Daughter, written by Fawzia Koofi and journalist Nadene Ghouri, is published by Palgrave Macmillan