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Leading Change: Featuring Marzia Nawrozi
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.
Advocate for Women Facing Domestic Violence
Marzia Nawrozi is a brave young woman with a long-term vision of eliminating domestic violence and violence against women. She understands the power of education, and sees it as a door of opportunity and a means of cultural change that will better the lives of women in Afghanistan.
Education: A Door of Opportunity
Marzia , the fifth of seven children, was born and raised in Herat, Afghanistan. She considers herself “luckier than many girls” because her father taught Marzia and her sisters at home when the Taliban closed girls’ schools in Afghanistan. “Life under the Taliban regime was very tough,” she says. “Going to school was my biggest dream. After the Taliban regime ended in 2001, my dream became true and I went to a real school.”
In 2008, Marzia finished high school and applied for an opportunity to pursue her undergraduate degree in the United States under a special scholarship program funded by the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women (IEAW). “In Afghanistan, it is very difficult for a woman to leave home alone to pursue an education in the United States,” Marzia says. “My parents supported me, but sometimes traditions and customs caused problems for me.” She successfully convinced her family to allow her to forgo early marriage in order to pursue educational opportunity.
Through an IEAW scholarship, Marzia attended Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Now, I am a college graduate,” she says proudly. “When I compare myself between now and the first day I joined the IEAW program, I see that I have improved and changed a lot. IEAW has helped me become a better person; I am now a woman with better ideas and more confidence.”
Educated to Serve
As one of less than 12 percent of Afghan women who are able to read and write, Marzia feels a sense of obligation to serve other Afghan women. She has thrown herself fully into efforts to battle domestic violence and violence against women in Afghanistan and in refugee communities in the United States.
“Since a very young age, violence and discrimination against women and girls made me sad and disappointed,” she says. As a seven year old, Marzia witnessed a neighbor beating his wife. It was the first time she had seen such violence, and she remembers the incident in detail. When she entered school, Marzia saw and heard more stories of injustice against women and girls. “When I was in the eighth grade, one of my classmates committed suicide because her in-laws didn’t want her to go to school. When I was in the ninth grade, my best friend was forced to marry her first cousin, and by the age of seventeen, she was a hopeless widow with two children.” Confronted with such injustice, Marzia vowed to study hard and work to help oppressed and abused women and girls.
As a high school student, Marzia worked with young women in the Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Herat Province. She taught vocational training and literacy classes for women at the center. Marzia learned that many women there were imprisoned because they had tried to flee abusive home situations. “I saw and heard so many heartbreaking stories about women who were innocent and did not deserve to be treated like criminals for trying to escape abuse.” Marzia says that witnessing such injustice and suffering was difficult, but it gave her a strong desire to improve the treatment of women, no matter where they live.
While in the United States, Marzia has sought opportunities to help develop her skills in the protection of women’s rights. She volunteers at WomenNC, InterAct and Kiran in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she translates for Farsi, Dari and Pashto-speaking immigrant and refugee women who are seeking refuge from domestic violence.
Marzia’s research on “Violence against Immigrant and Refugee Women in North Carolina” was featured at the 57th session of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women in New York City. While at the UN, Marzia met women from all over the world facing similar challenges to their physical and psychological well-being. “I learned that the problem of violence against women is multi-faceted and will not be solved overnight. I learned that in many countries, the problem stems from tradition, culture and power. In order to change this culture, women and men will have to be educated.” She adds, “Changing cultural norms is not easy and it will take many years. But starting the process of educating men and women is the only way to solve the problem.”
Marzia hopes to pursue a graduate degree and to continue her work with the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations working to help women in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. She would like to thank IEAW, Meredith College and the local families who supported her while she was away from home. “I will always remember and appreciate them!”