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Leading Change: Featuring Naheed Farid

August 1, 2013 by Sara Van Wie

About the Leading Change Series

Women in Afghanistan have experienced incredible progress over the last ten years, and the hard-won gains of the last decade must not be reversed. Girls have returned to school to become educated, like their brothers, and women are serving as provincial governors and members of the National Assembly.  Their stories inspire us, and remind us of what is at stake for Afghan women.
As part of the Women’s Initiative Afghan Women’s Project, we have launched a blog series that spotlights the success stories of courageous Afghan women and girls.  

Naheed Farid

Naheed Farid is the youngest member of the Afghan Parliament, where she serves as a member of the International Relations committee.  Elected to Parliament in 2010 at the age of 27, Farid has worked tirelessly to engage Afghan youth and women in the nation’s political process.

Farid’s background in non-profit work influenced her decision to enter politics and advocate for Afghanistan’s women and children.  She served as Executive Director of the Mother and Child Organization of Afghanistan, and has worked for the World Food Program, Medica Mondiale and Dacaar.  Farid has advocated for the reduction of gender-based violence and human rights violations against women, and for expanded access to education and employment for women.

Farid holds a master’s degree in international relations from George Washington University.  She is one of the most-educated members of the Afghan Parliament, and she uses her political position to elevate the voice of women in Afghanistan within her own country and on the international stage.

Please describe your family and where you grew up in Afghanistan.

I [was] born in Herat-Afghanistan and am the oldest sibling, I grew up as a child of an immigrant family in Iran [after my family left the country during invasion of Soviet Union]. Taliban regime started right after my family return to Afghanistan and I would say most of my childhood memories are full of Taliban regime darkness.

Please describe your academic training? 

I have aBachelor of Law and Political Science from Herat University-Afghanistan and master’s degree from George Washington University. I had some trainings related to my field of study in Ruhr University of Bochum as well. 

What are your personal goals and/or career aspirations?

My goal is to focus my efforts to ‘break taboos’ and encourage youth to get more involved in the Afghan political process and other major issues about my country.

The journey of leadership that I have taken, all the accomplishments I have made so far, are not attributing to me personally but to young women and men of my country, who are supposed to follow my footprints. I want to persuade and influence my generation by reminding them the importance of their role in the future of Afghanistan. If I can’t connect with my constituency properly, I can’t represent them properly and I will fail. If I fail, a generation will fail.  If I win, a generation will win.

What would you consider your greatest achievement?

I would say, breaking taboos’ and convincing a conservative society to vote [for]me in the 2010 parliamentary election, was the greatest achievement in my life.

One of the most prominent challenges I had, while running for office, was that when I decided to run for office, I saw a huge wave of resistance from conservative society of my province. When I was hanging up my billboards in city, traditional people had negative reaction to them. They didn’t want me to run and they continued to ignore and fight until the last day of my campaign. They didn’t want me to show my face. They cut my face out of the pictures on the billboards and announced many negative statements against me. I can describe my 58 days campaign in 2010 as the most stressful and tough days in my whole life.

Before my decision to run for office, I did not expect such enormous pressure. I will never forget the day a religious ex-MP came to my house and asked my father-in-law to waive my campaign. His reasoning was that it would be dishonorable and indecent if I were to work in the National Assembly. He told my father-in-law that the family’s reputation would be ruined and that it would be a huge embarrassment if I won. You can imagine how hard it was to hang posters in the city, participate in TV debates, and ask people to vote for you.

I was determined to break taboos and represent my people in the Afghanistan Parliament, and I could do that, even if I was threatened by the Taliban or ridiculed by fundamentalists. It was my confidence that increased the motivation of my volunteers, hard-working and committed campaign team too.

How did you decide to run for public office in Afghanistan?  Who has been your biggest advocate as you pursued a political career?

No doubt, my husband!

After finishing my degree in the United States in 2010, I returned back to Afghanistan. My husband, popped a question up, ‘Why don’t you run for office? You studied in this field and you can open lots of new doors for your generation, including women.’ I was surprised. I [was] even surprised more when my father-in-law said, ‘Stay here (in Herat-Afghanistan) and help women, help your province. What are you going to do if you go back to the US?’ And I said, just for fun, ‘Okay!’

I really didn’t have any idea what it would mean to be in politics practically. I just thought, Why not? Why don’t I experience it? So I ran for office and at the middle of the campaign process, I found a willpower that I have to win. I used any opportunity to influence people while whispering the famous quote in my mind ‘Identify yourself to the people before your opponents do so.’

In comparison to United States’ congresspersons who –[have]an official crew, speechwriters, advisors and secretaries, I have nobody but my husband. Any time I have an interview, he watches and gives me feedback. Any time I have a speech, he is there. He helps me understand different points of views. He helps me to amplify my voice and enhance my skills.

Can you give an example of how you overcame opposition to reach this point in your career?

In a situation where I face tough, often illogical opposition, imagine how hard it is to post your posters in the city and to participate in TV debates or to ask people voting you. But my ambition was to break these taboos and to determine myself as a young female politician representing my people in Afghanistan Parliament.

My speeches spread a message to the people. Women have the right of being in the society. My words give power to the silent majority of the country to vote me. They found their hopes while watching my speeches and debates. Also, I had a committed team [that] worked for me honestly and could scan the mind of society very well.

I have to mention the important role of my campaign team, a volunteer and committed team contained mostly by men, is one of the secrets of my success.  After 58 days of hard operation, the big day (Election Day) arrived. In the morning, I was thinking even if I don't get enough votes, I am the winner because struggling in such a controversy battlefield needs extraordinary bravery.

At the end of the Election Day, I received the news that: ‘I WON!’ I got the highest votes among the women. That was not only the turning point of my career but my life.  I became amazed when I was counting my votes because people from religious community voted me in addition to youth, women, intellectuals and professionals.  I could not believe that I was able to overcome the conservative ideology of my society and could receive the religious votes- the vote of whom condemning women representation in politics.

Please describe your current job.

I am a Member of Parliament, representing Herat Province in Afghanistan Parliament, House of Representatives. I think practicing young democracy of Afghanistan eases up by empowering Afghanistan Parliament as legislative branch of Afghanistan structure.

Despite  countless achievements we have in the most important democratic institution of Afghanistan (Afghanistan Parliament), I would say the present parliament of Afghanistan is experiencing backwardness. After a decade of practicing democracy, we still receive negative reactions from conservatives and fundamentalist parliamentarians who collectively comprise a majority toward democratic values, such as women’s and minority rights and equality. In recent weeks, we had three bills rejected based on these issues. They rejected the Law of Elimination of Violence against Women, they disposed of seats reserved for women in many electoral institutions of the country, and they rejected the Higher Education Law because of tribal traditions.

AFGHAN WOMEN

 

What do you think are the most important gains that women have experienced in the past decade?  

This year (2013) we have the first generation of girls graduated from high school through the first uninterrupted education after decades of civil war in Afghanistan. I think this is the biggest achievement Afghan women have because, despite  burning girls’ schools up by Taliban or pouring acid to the faces of school girls and even poisoning them, girls are making 50 percent of school students in many cities and provinces including Herat Province which is even 51 percent.

We have other achievements too. Today as we talk, women in Afghanistan have 28 percent of Afghanistan Parliament seats, three women ministers in the cabinet, one female governor, one female mayor, women in attorney and judgment positions, sportswomen, women in police and National Army, women in business and more than 51 percent of women in Higher Education.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan (and Afghan women) in the immediate future?

As we approach a power transition and international troop withdrawals in 2014, a huge wave of disappointment has occurred among the new generation and women and all citizens of Afghanistan. The most important element for youth and women in Afghanistan’s ongoing political process and transitional change is hope!

What do you believe is necessary to expand the rights and empowerment of women in your country?

Lack of unity among women delays women movement process in the whole country, especially in insecure areas. The same situation is going on in Afghanistan Parliament.  It is not just because we are from different backgrounds, it is because women are influenced by powerful men from their provinces for particular provincial causes. When women are not represented in high numbers in their province, they come under the influence of other male politicians.

What would you want to tell an American audience about Afghanistan that you don't feel is well portrayed in U.S. media?

Afghan youth want our country to present a new identity in the world and as their representative, I want to represent their wish by showing a different picture about my country. Through this interview, I want to give a message to my honorable audience in [the]United States that Afghanistan would not be the country of violence against women and terror against humanity but the country of hope.

Terrorism is not rooted in the Afghan villages and towns – it never was.  Its sources and this phenomenon’s support networks all exist beyond Afghanistan’s borders.  Therefore, while the international community’s security is being safeguarded from the threat of terrorism, the women, children and people of Afghanistan must no longer be made to pay the price and endure the brunt of the war. Indeed, they deserve a better life.

What advice would you give young Afghan women as they look towards the future?

As I believe I opened new doors for my generation (young men and women), I don’t want to close the doors behind me in my political destiny. I want to take accurate steps, so my generation can follow them. I think this will help my country to survive and develop. Since 70 percent of Afghans were born after 1980, youth are the majority and they can do anything. Afghanistan can take advantage of such a great powerful potential and I want youth to take that responsibility.

I really have the ambition that one day, Afghan men and women altogether, launch a powerful movement for women and human rights in Afghanistan. I have the aspiration of taking part in paving the road of equality in Afghanistan among all women and men. 

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