LONDON: What goes through your mind when you hear the word Afghan women? Well, for most non-Afghan people it is a woman at the mercy of a man, a woman who needs help from others to get her place in the society and a woman that depends on foreign aid to survive.
That is the picture that has been painted onto our brains by the countless media outlets, news reports and foreign development organisations making money in Afghanistan. In reality, there are countless Afghan women who wake up every day and write their own destiny, and sometimes the destiny of others too.
In this article we are proud to profile, recognise and pay tribute to 10 extremely influential and pioneering Afghan women leaders from across the globe, who crushed every barrier to reach where they are today without anyone’s help and as a result of their hardwork and talent.
1. Maryam Monsef
Maryam Monsef is a Canadian politician who made history when she became the first Canadian of Afghan origin to become a member of parliament, the first Muslim to serve in the cabinet and the youngest minister in Canada.
She has served as the Minister for Women and Gender Equality, Minister of Rural Economic Development, Minister of International Development and Minister of Democratic Institutions.
Coming from a country that has experienced war, poverty and discrimination against women, Maryam has taken it upon herself to fight against poverty and for women empowerment not just in Canada but on a global level. Today she is one of the most iconic personalities of the Afghan diaspora and a role model for millions of Afghans across North America, Europe and Asia. Maryam has already made history by becoming the first Canadian-Afghan to join the parliament, the first Muslim cabinet member and we look forward to a day when she makes history again by becoming the female prime minister of Canada.
2. Maryam Atmar
Maryam Atmar is a former investment banker turned entrepreneur and philanthropist. Leaving Bank of America behind, she set up the World Afghan Congress, the first organisation in history to bring the Afghans of the world together to build a strong diaspora community that learns from each other to achieve success in their adopted countries, does business with each other and works together to build a better Afghanistan. While most people wait for donations to do this type of work, Maryam invested her own money to decide the future of her people.
As a philanthropist, Maryam sent a lot of money in the form of donations to Afghanistan to support orphans, widows and victims of war. Soon, she learnt that donations don’t build nations. She felt to help people stand on their feet and give women true economic freedom and ensure their basic human rights, the only way was through trade and entrepreneurship. She set up a company to focus and invest in Afghanistan and also became one of the founding members of the British Afghan Chamber of Commerce, the leading chamber of commerce in Europe today working with Afghanistan.
She is also the visionary behind the ‘Visit Afghanistan’ and ‘Buy From Afghanistan’ initiative, a collaboration between British Afghan Chamber of Commerce and her company that promotes and facilitates trade with Afghanistan. It has become the biggest private sector trade initiative for Afghanistan in Europe, and one of the biggest in the world. While we see many people waiting for a photo opportunity with foreign diplomats and government officials, Maryam works behind the scenes with many former military generals, diplomats and ministers serve under her leadership.
3. Farkhunda Zuhra Naderi
Farkhunda Zahra Naderi is one of the most prominent young women leaders and a fearless politician in Afghanistan. Farkhunda has served as a member of parliament in Afghanistan, an adviser to the president, represented Afghanistan globally and has also been a World Economic Forum young leader.
She is the only woman who stands side by side with Afghanistan’s most powerful political and ethnic stakeholders, expressing her views with pride and without fear. On issues related to women rights, she does not hold back either, marching in the front on the streets and standing tall on podium to challenge all those who try to undermine human and women rights.
Farkhunda is also a lover of art and literature. She is the patron of the Hakim Nasir Khusrow Balkhi Cultural Centre and Public Library in Kabul, and played a key role in its reconstruction. Young, passionate and confident, she is probably one of the few women in Afghanistan, who has the charisma to lead Afghanistan if peace comes to the country.
4. Shabana Basij-Rasikh
Shabana is an educator, humanitarian and young leader, who is the co-founder of the School of Leadership Afghanistan (SOLA), a nonprofit school dedicated to giving girls world class education. She has been recognised as a social entrepreneur by Forbes 30 under 30 Asia, has received an Honorary Doctorate and Afghanistan’s highest national honors for her amazing work in Afghanistan.
SOLA is Afghanistan’s first boarding school for girls. She is also an ambassador for Girl Rising, a global campaign for girls’ education, Tedx speaker and was recently named one of National Geographic’s 2014 Emerging Explorers as well as one of CNN International’s Leading Women of 2014. With a smile on her face, Shabana is building the future of Afghan girls.
5. Ruqeia Ahmadi
Ruqeia Ahmadi is a young British-Afghan lawyer and a rising leader of the British Afghan community from Yorkshire. She is a strong advocate for civil rights, the rights of ethnic minorities, youth and the role of women as leaders in Britain.
Ruqeia is a trailblazer in the legal industry and has been nominated for the ‘Ones To Watch’ category of Britain’s prestigious Northern Power Women Awards 2020. She is also an adviser to the British Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry as well as Afghan Business Association UK on corporate law, trade, investment and business.
Committed to her community and women empowerment in every sphere of the society, she is the youngest member of the Afghan Council of Great Britain’s leadership council, leading the council’s legal and women affairs. Young, passionate and talented, Ruqeia is rising fast and on her way to make history in Britain’s legal, social and political arena.
6. Samira Nawa
Samira Nawa is a Danish-Afghan politician, a member of the Danish parliament and the Social Liberal Party. A strong leader and the daughter of a highly educated doctor mother.
As a liberal politician with a family background that traces back to Afghanistan, Samira is strongly committed to fighting discrimination, inequality and women’s rights. She stands for a Denmark that embraces all its citizens regardless of background, all that it gave her and now she wants to give back.
Samira is a young political leader of Afghan origin who fought against all odds to achieve success as an ethnic minority woman. She has achieved what most men can only dream about and against far more challenges. Today she remains a role model for the younger men and women of Afghan origin in Europe. She is a living proof for European Afghans that Europe is their home and they must participate in social and political affairs to become leaders of this amazing continent without the need to fall at the feet of warlords in Kabul to achieve political success.
7. Roya Mahboob
Roya Mahboob is a tech advocate, entrepreneur and humanitarian working to empower women in Afghanistan and across the world through technology. She leads and mentors the globally renowned Afghan Girls Robotics Team and is busy trying to build a tech hub in Kabul university.
Roya is the CEO and Board Member of the Digital Citizen Fund, sits on the Advisory Board of Forbes School of Business of Ashford University, Resolution Project, and the Global Thinkers Forum organization.
Roya was named to TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2013, a member of the 2014 Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards, Civic Innovators, The Advancement of Gender Equality through Education Award and Young Leader of World Economic Forum.
8. Nadia Nadim
Nadia Nadim is a Danish-Afghan sportswoman and the most high profile female footballer in Europe of Afghan origin.
She has played for the French football club Paris St-Germain and Denmark national team as a forward since 2009. She has also previously played for the world famous Manchester City football club.
Nadia has proudly represented Denmark in 73 games. Despite losing her father at a very young age and being brought up by a single mother, her rise is no less than a miracle.
Nadia is not only a genius in the football ground but also a genius academically studying medicine, soon to qualify as a doctor. She also speaks 9 languages and looks forward to serving her people, Denmark and humanity in the future.
9. Laila Haidari
Laila Haidari is one of the most inspirational social activists, humanitarian and social entrepreneurs of Afghanistan. She runs a cafe restaurant Taj Begum and uses some of her profits to rehabilitate heroin addicts at her rehab centre, Mother’s Trust. There are around 2.9 million drug addicts in Afghanistan, a country with a population of 35 million.
Determined to help her countrymen and women, Laila risked her own funds and borrowed some from friends instead of going to foreign donors, a typical path for those who run women focused projects. She is rising to a challenge that many men would not even dare to stare at.
Laila is a remarkable example of native women of Afghanistan and their courage to solve their nation’s problems themselves instead of waiting for others with strategic and political objectives. Laila’s story has been captured in a documentary by Bridge Production and must be watched.
10. Mursal Hedayat
Mursal Hedayat is a young British Afghan tech and social entrepreneur. She is the founder of CEO of Chatterbox, an innovative language learning platform that employs refugees as teachers and trains them to teach their native languages.
Growing up in Britain with an Afghan family background, Mursal knew that the vast majority of refugees are highly educated just like her own family members, yet when they come to Britain, they become jobless and depend on the state. That is when she founded the award winning startup Chatterbox to employ refugees and provide services to people and businesses looking for language support services.
Mursal Hedayat has been recognised as Forbes “30 under 30”, MIT Innovator, UK Inspiration 50, Financial Times’ Inclusive Boards Top 100 Most Influential Leaders in Tech and as Technation’s Trailblazing Women of UK Tech.
In the man dominated tech world, Mursal has flourished against all odds purely due to her hardwork, commitment and talent. She is an inspirational role model for young British Afghan boys and girls dreaming of becoming tech entrepreneurs.