Fatima Sabri is a young Afghan leader for women’s equality now developing her studies and career in the United States. Her family fled the Taliban when she was a child, and as she writes below she has ever since been on a journey seeking belonging and freedom.
I was born in Afghanistan, but could not grow up in my own country due to the three decades of war. When I was three, my family had to leave our own homeland, becoming refugees in Islamabad, Pakistan. I still remember the day we left our home. My parents had to leave behind whole life that they had built together for years, as well as loved ones. Every journey can be beautiful and full of new experiences as long as you know that there is way to go back to where you belong and where your heart is. But our journey was not beautiful. After moving to Pakistan, we had to start our life from scratch.
We stayed in Pakistan for nine years. I studied up to grade six in a school dedicaed for Afghan refugees. But after that the schools closed and my father told us we had to move back to Afghanistan to continue our schooling and also, because at last, the Taliban were gone. As I hadgrown up in Pakistan, I did not have the sense of connection with where we were going, Once again we were starting over.
I graduated from school in Afghanistan and was fortunate to receive a five year scholarship to study at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Asian Studies and Development Studies. I was selected to receive the Allan Rosenfield fellowship which his wife, Clare, had sponsored after his death. This scholarship changed my life.
Alongside my studies, I was always involved in some activities that are related to human rights and mainly women’s rights. I strongly believe that nobody’s right can be violated by any means and everybody should speak up and raise their voices. In some societies and in the places I lived, women hardly have a voice in or outside the home. I am a woman who strongly supports women to raise their voices against violence, and I believe women should be given all the rights that any human needs to have.
In my third year of university I along with some other students formed the “Speak Up” club to encourage women from different backgrounds and status to raise their voices against violence. In my last year of undergrad I wrote my senior thesis on “Sexual Harassment in Public Places of Afghanistan.”
In addition, I did a one year long fellowship as Policy Analysis and Formulation Coordinator at the Ministry of counter Narcotics, which is one of the places where women are hardly visible. I accepted to work there, as women make up only 5% of the total employees. When my colleague, Mursal Hamraz and I saw that we needed to speak up, we organized an Anti-Sexual Harassment rally at the Ministry of Counter Narcotics. This campaign was one of the activities that was not even something that employees imagined that they could have. It was a total shock for some men and women at the ministry, yet we ignored any negative responses. I did some TV interviews and radio interviews regarding harassment.
Being involved in such activities is not easy as there are lots of barriers and constraints on the way; however, being passionate helped me to never stop working in that field and I will never stop. It always makes me feel good to be engaged in activities where I can be helpful to others as much as I can. I always look for small steps to coming one step further to achieving our goals which is all about bringing others out of oppression. And I could never have started on this journey if not for the many people who believed in me: my family, the leaders and teachers at the Asian University for Women, and of course Claire Rosenfield, who sponsored my studies.
I recently came to the US to speak out about women’s equality. Shortly after I arrived, I spoke at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on overcoming vulnerability through education. The next day, I spoke at the Apollo Theater in New York at an event organized by First Lady Michelle Obama on the power of the educated girl.
I am now looking to do my Master’s degree in development studies or public policy to be able to be more prepared for the advocacy work that I am doing. I am passionate to help women find themselves and find their lost souls in the strong noise of war and societal barriers. I believe in humanity, equality, and togetherness, and I strongly believe that being united is key to securing our rights and safety.