BY: JESSICA BEUKER
On November 16, 2014 Shukria Barakzai was headed to parliament when her car was rammed and explosives were detonated, creating a blast that could be heard all across Kabul. The explosion killed three people, including a young girl, and injured dozens of others. With twisted metal scattered all around her and bloody bodies laying helplessly in the dirt, Barakzai emerged from her mangled car – parts of her body and clothing still burning – and began to help the others.
On November 16, 2014 Shukria Barakzai was headed to parliament when her car was rammed and explosives were detonated. Barakzai emerged from her mangled car – parts of her body and clothing still burning – and began to help the others.
This isn’t the first time that Barakzai has been the victim of a ruthless and violent attack. She has endured street beatings from extremists, a Taliban attack that resulted in a miscarriage, and multiple assassination attempts – none of which have been able to keep the feminist MP down. In fact, she’s fighting harder than ever now to reshape the political and social landscape of Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is one of the most challenging places in the world to be a woman. Eighty-five per cent of women have no formal education and are illiterate. More than 50 per cent of Afghan girls are married or engaged by the time they reach age 12.
Many families have forced their daughters into arranged marriages to protect them against kidnapping and rape, as well as to provide financial security. Divorce is rare, as women’s legal standing is limited and their testimonies worth only half of a man’s – meaning that in a custody case children almost always go to the father.
Few economic opportunities and strict laws have left most women isolated and alone, their voices silenced by the heavy hand of oppression – but not Barakzai.
Barakzai has always been a fighter. This meant battling her male colleagues on the Constitutional Drafting Committee for equal treatment of women under the law. It meant starting an underground school for girls – where the students would hide their learning materials under their burqas – so that the next generation of young women would be equipped and zealous in their fight against systemic sexism. It meant campaigning in the 2005 parliamentary elections – when women were allowed to participate – and beating out her own husband for the seat.
During the election, Barakzai’s husband, a multi-millionaire, spent half a million U.S. dollars on his campaign. Barakzai stood next to the flash of her husband – just one woman and her microphone. Instead of running on slogans and gimmicks, she built her campaign on two simple ideas: rights and justice. Which in the end, proved to be effective, as she got almost four times as many votes as her husband did.
One of the first promises of her campaign was to fight to outlaw misogynistic practices like polygamy. This issue hits close to home with Barakzai, whose husband – and best friend – took a second wife while she was lobbying for women’s rights and kept it hidden from her.
After the explosive attack, Barakzai made a national address directly from her hospital bed. She wanted to show the world – her country and attackers especially – that she wasn’t defeated and she would not let her voice fall silent. Less than 48 hours after the attack, she was back to work.
This past June, Barakzai met with a Taliban Delegation in Oslo, Norway to negotiate a power-sharing deal that includes equal rights for all Afghans. According to World.Mic, she describes meeting them as a difficult decision because of the oppression, public beatings and assassination attempts they subjected her to. “I was then asking myself whether I am prepared or not, whether I am ready or not. Too much anger was inside [of me],” Barakzai said in the article. “It was because of them I lost my two kids. Because of them the country was being divided.” She pushed herself to go, making history with her decision, as the Taliban rarely negotiates with women.
Barakzai is changing the social and political norms of her country – a country that so desperately needs to fill the cracks in the system that let in hate, discrimination and violence – and she’s doing it from the inside out. For change to really last, it has to come from inside Afghan culture – and not solely from outsiders looking in. Because of this Barakzai is an inspirational and fiery force to be reckoned with – silence is not a word in her vocabulary.