Shahba Shahrukhi has had enough of the tension and ongoing sociopolitical issues in Afghanistan. The 28-year-old psychologist decided that the only way to change things in her home country is to run for parliament. In a campaign that angered her parents, she took part in Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections since 2010.
“I know I have to do this to show other women that you can be a leader and you can fight. This country needs new blood,” said Shahrukhi.
As the first woman in her family to earn a college degree, Shahrukhi has committed herself to promoting education for Afghan women. Running in her home of Samangan, she has set out to fix what she has previously referred to as “Afghanistan’s biggest wound.”
Unfortunately, Shahrukhi has her work cut out for her: only 16% of parliamentary candidates in this year’s election are women. To make it worse, Afghanistan has often been criticized as “the worst place in the world to be a woman.” So for Shahrukhi and other women running for parliament, the elections prove their need to escape the shadow of men.
She’s right. A resurging Taliban holds territory in more than 40% of the country and civilian deaths have exceeded 8,000 fatalities this year. On the day of the election, nearly 200 people were killed or injured when attempting to vote. The conservative government has even gone so far as to reduce the number of provincial council seats reserved for women from 25% to 20%.
Shahrukhi feels that the international community is partly to blame. Following the US-led invasion, monetary aid poured into the country, but very little of it went to help Afghan women.
“Instead of handing money to contractors or the government, the international community needs to invest in us personally,” said Shahrukhi. “Our government needs to take us seriously. [Women] have so much potential, yet so few opportunities to be anything but second-class citizens.”
And the facts back her up. Following an $89.7 million initiative to improve employment opportunities for women in Afghanistan, only 55 individuals have been placed in government jobs.
But in a nation where women can be beaten to death in the streets under false pretenses, what Shahrukhi is doing is truly awe-inspiring.
“I want to have faith, but sometimes it is difficult. Even if I don’t win, it’s still important for me to show people that I am here, that I am not scared and that Afghan women will not stay silent. We are survivors, and we will keep going always.”
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