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Breaking Fear: A Local Story Becomes a Global Solution

Fatima Rezaie on the beach; Cox'x Bazar

Every year millions of dollars flow from the US military to Afghanistan in order to “help” it become a peaceful place. Last month the Washington Post reported that, “In recent years, the United States has spent tens of billions of dollars on Afghan forces to increase their numbers and add infrastructure. This year, the Obama administration’s budget for Afghan forces is about $11.2 billion, about twice the planned budget of $5.7billion in 2013” (washingtonpost.com). However, at the very beginning of the US and UN missions of infrastructure reconstruction in Afghanistan the Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that the humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan would oblige $10 billion over a 10-year period, by which he meant was to " to help the Afghans help themselves" (un.org). As Afghan women, we wondered for a decade when we would receive that humanitarian assistance but the aid till now went toward expanding the militaries. But militaries are not going to make a difference in Afghanistan; what Afghanistan needs is what the Secretary General Kofi Annan said on December 2001: that both men and women in Afghanistan need to make decisions about creating and building “accountable institutions” for their progressing country. He also indicated the UN’s “role” in helping to “encourage this process” (un.org). His last statement to the Afghan people was most significant-- that “there cannot be true peace and recovery in Afghanistan without a restoration of the rights of women” (un.org). Secretary Annan was, indeed, a man who called out to the country men to support women, because there are only few people who really understand that the overlooked reason behind a successful society and state is educated women. Hence, my written feature story perpetuates the importance of woman’s education for a hopeful family and successful country in a peaceful globe.

Every Afghan woman compassionately and uniquely relates her extraordinary dream and goal of education but lack of opportunities depart them from hope. In this story we discover the importance of a supportive father. Besides, we get to know the conditions for successful women that are; education’s importance in bringing opportunities, bigger dreams, a long voyage, and promises. These factors help women to get back, what Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn reminded us, “Half of the sky,” which belongs to women, but long ago we have been forgotten and forbidden of thinking about it. Fatima Rezaie’s life story is, indeed, about “turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide.” Through her story, we find the importance of education on changing lives in Afghanistan and in the entire globe. This is not only a woman’s story; it is the ultimate solution for the international community to “help” Afghanistan.

This is a common story of an ordinary Afghan woman, who never left the country for any refuge but survived the fearful life of an Afghan citizen under the catastrophic political changes in the state as upshot of the global politics. Her almond eyes are filled with pride. Fatima Rezaie, the second eldest child and daughter of five sisters. She is wise but afraid of being a woman, but she believes that there are many ways to define women, but these are only abstractions. She thinks that women are stronger than men in term of bringing change and effective contributed societies. She says that, “Women are wise, with emotions, thoughts, and strength inwardly,” but there are sometimes when a tyrant comes and takes away her strength. She describes women in a manner that reflects the wider Afghan view. “Women are being suppressed; therefore they are pitiful and fearful of their own being.” With a clear voice she says, “The biggest sin is fear,” as Imam Ali says. I fear men. I have grown up with fear of being kidnapped or shot by the men around me,” which she refers to the Taliban’s men. She is not afraid of women but of being a woman, and she wants to make sure to break the fear by getting involved in a worldwide women’s movement to liberate Afghan women.

“As long as I am far from them, that is the way of breaking the fear.” She thinks that it is only a belief for her, but she has never faced those fears. She raises her eyes and utters that if she understands that that fear is only a “ghostly” and invisible negativity of her mind, “I could face that fear,” she says. I can see that there is no such thing fear and fearful for her. She can eliminate the fear by erasing those notions from her mind. She giggles and murmurs, “I am learning Karate for I wanted to show that I know the technique of fighting and defending back for myself.” She says it with a face of uncertainty but then an expression of pride and confidence about moving forward comes through. Fatima talks about the fear, which has been rooted in her mind since she was a child and living with her parents in her small village among mountains of Ghazni Province. That fear forced ordinary people to carry guns in order to protect their families from thieves, who were the first sign of the Taliban’s Regime. Soon there was news that the Taliban had conquered Kabul and established their own regime. She explains that, “It was the first sign of the Taliban’s Regime as the thieves.” The unknown people got to settle in their village as well, “All the children’s were taught [at home] to be afraid of those people, the Taliban, who spread fearful perception among the people. We were little children used to hide when the unknown people crossed our village, mountains, roads, and lands.”

When Fatima was twelve, in 2001, her family moved to Kabul, “People were so miserable in that time, there was not enough water in village and agriculture got worse. Therefore, people decided to move to capital city, to Kabul.” Similar to most of the rural people, Fatima’s father took them to Kabul.
Her father was an architecture engineer, who was graduated from Kabul University in 1960s, she got to know when they moved to Kabul. Her father was now a member to Loyee Jirga, "'grand council,' is a political meeting usually used to choose new kings, adopt constitutions, or decide important political matters and disputes" (hrw.org), under the new government of Hamid Karzai. “Father and family were so happy for a new place to live, a new air of freedom to breathe, a new government for educated men to work, and a new system for girls to get education.” Her father used to encourage them to study hard; so that they can go to school, university, and become educated people in as others in Kabul. They reached to Kabul in the month of Ramadan.

After a week of Ramadan, on the 6th night of Eid-ul-Feter, some men in thief-like disguise entered their home at night around 9. Fatima was in the kitchen and she saw three men with guns on their arms entered in different rooms. “I was frozen with fear and horrified imagination of dead with those guns,” she says it while her eyes still stun with horror. One of the thieves came to Fatima and asked, “What are you doing? Leave everything here and come with me.” She walked toward the home here she found all of her family members sitting next to each other, and their guns point to their heads. Her first glance went to her father, who used to be “the strength of everyone at home and the entire village.” She says with a choking in her throat that, “For the first time, I saw my father’s face pale and frozen with fear.” She sat in a corner beside her other sisters. The “thieves” went for searching every corner of the house for finding anything valuable. Meanwhile, they also warned and spread fear among the family members. “No one was moving, screaming, or crying,” for a while she saw everyone being ice-covered in their souls and minds. Even the children were much quit and looking to the thieves with amazement, she says it and I could see her complexion bloodless as she was there.
They started asking those questions that they exactly knew the answers before.
“They asked my cousin that ‘Why do you want to go to Iran?’ who was supposed to leave for Iran in a month.”
The next question was the “who are working in government” from their family, but no one could answer their questions.
Later they alienated women in another corner telling them that, “We want to make sure to shoot all of you in one shot.”
However, the men suspected on their hidden intention of raping women and the young daughters.

“They came to kill us, as they said, ‘We had killed 100 of families and you are the 101st family, but not to steal.’”
While two of them were in another rooms, in the meantime, one poured hot water from the oven on her uncle’s hand, the once who wanted to go to Iran. His hand was burnt from the hot water as he screamed, one of the thieves said, “This man wants to immigrate to Iran. How can you go out of Afghanistan, when you cannot bear the heat of this water?”
Suddenly, Fatima’s father and the rest of men members, including her uncles and cousins, became outraged thinking that they were acting violently. So they stroke on the man on his shoulders; since they wanted to protect the family, women and children, they asked them to jump from the windows to the yard.
The first thing Fatima did while putting her feet on the yard; she stood in the center of the yard and started shouting for asking people to help them. “I wanted to shout, there was no voice in my throat. I lost my voice. I was shouting severely but I did not hear my voice back.” Compared to the other women and children screaming from the yard for asking their neighbors’ help, she was deaf.

The sounds of shooting helped them to double their voices in calling their neighbors’ help. Also, in the meantime, the darkness filled the room, where the three men of the family were attacking those three men.
After the neighbors’ arrival, everyone came to the room.
She saw her father’s mouth filled with blood. She saw everywhere was blood, on the floor, on the walls; even the air was filled with blood. In another corner, she saw her brother-in-law lying with his head full of blood. “In one night everything was gone, my mother and her sister became widows.”
Even after 2001’s “War Against Terror” and “Humanitarian Invention”, Kabul was not cleaned up from the Taliban’s insurgencies, and its severe violence still remained silent in every corner of the country. As with Fatima’s father, there were other cases of insecurity and using of weapon as a way to keep harassing and torturing disarmed Afghan members. There was not any accurate statistics that I can rely on giving you sense of insurgency in Kabul after 2001. “No one believed it, even I did not believe it for years.”
Fatima’s father gave up his life on the way to truth and peace, but he granted his mathematical skills to his daughter, Fatima. Therefore, Fatima did not stop the pursuit of mathematics thanks to her memories of her father and his teachings. She continued her education by her uncle’s financially and socially supports. “I got to study in Marefat high school from 3rd grads till 12 grads in Kabul,” where she got to meet energetic, competitive, and joyful friends, which helped her to escape from quietness and a corner of self-bothering.

As time went by, Fatima’s mother believed that she could be the strength to her, now that her strength, her husband, was not alive anymore.
After high school graduation, owing to her intelligence, she was able to take the Kankor examination for Kabul University and was eligible for a scholarship to the Asian University for Women (AUW). She was accepted into the pharmacy department in Kabul University, but she preferred AUW because “it was international with a standard education, and most importantly it was women’s institution, and it was in Bangladesh, a Muslim country, [so her family did not have any problem].”
“Life seemed so different here,” the first words I heard from Fatima about her life in another country, she proceed, “At first, I used to walk little. From the corner of our home to the school and sometimes, I reached to Kabul University too.” I can see Fatima putting on her gym shoes, stretching her arms, and going to play basket ball and badminton, and walking all over campus. She says with her eyes sparkling, “I am moving much faster than I used to do at home.” Fatima remembers those mountains resting around her home, as splitting her eyes from the world behind the mountains. So she says, “I flew over those mountains that I used to watch resting around me.” Those mountains made Fatima dream about crossing them one day. “I crossed those mountains, and I came to Bangladesh to attend AUW.” Probably, I could feel Fatima seeing those mountains resting underneath her feet, as she was seeing them from the little window of the plane. She could have heard the sounds of the nature, and could see the moving and cottony cloths crossing and beating the wings of the plane, which keep her eyes wide opened.

She utters with her own voice that there are thousands of Afghan women are being kept from their skills under locked undergrounds and doors; they just need opportunities and inspiration regardless of their culture or religion. She makes her final point that, “these doors should be open and the women should be led toward opportunities, inspiration, and dreams by breaking the fears together.” How truthfully Kristof and WuDunn write in their article “The Women’s Crusade,” that, “Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution” (nytimes.com). Fatima’s story has proved this quote; she is, indeed, the solution of not only a family’s problems but of whole societies are connected to her. On the day of leaving Kabul for AUW, her mother was heartened to see her daughter cross the mountains of Afghanistan. For a while, Fatima thought that mother would react the same way as she did while Fatima’s uncle wanted her to join them for Iran as refugee. She says with a soft mumble beneath her breath that, “mother took my clothes from their luggage and did not allow me to go to Iran, but this time she allowed me to come to AUW because she knew that I was a grown-up now.” If the humanitarian money were used to create opportunities for women’s education not only in Afghanistan but in the entire world; we could hope for a globe free from militaries and violence. Women’s education and emancipation are, indeed, the ultimate solution for Afghanistan and the global community to be reconstructed and saved.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

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amiesissoho's picture

Fatima a story of hope!

Fatima a story of hope! thanks for sharing it.

Amie

parwana fayyaz's picture

Dear Amie:

Thank you so much for your comment, after listening to Fatima, I got to believe that hope is everywhere just like dust around us, but we forget to see and feel it. Hope is alive everywhere, in my country and in yours.
Thanks
Best regards
Parwana Fayyaz

"Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,"
Emily Dickinson

WILDKat's picture

Riveting

Fatima,

I saddens me greatly the war in your nation. For so many generations conflict reigns there.
I wish for you strength and happiness. May I suggest a few TED talks which may interest you:
http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/inge_missmahl_brings_peace_to_the_minds...

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/monika_bulaj_the_hidden_light_of_afghan...

http://www.ted.com/talks/morley_sings_women_of_hope.html?utm_source=feed...

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/sheryl_wudunn_our_century_s_greatest_in...

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/zainab_salbi.html

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/suheir_hammad_poems_of_war_peace_women_...

Finally, when her talk is released on TED.com: Leymah Gbowee, leader of Liberia.

You are not alone in your hoping for a brighter light for your country and the women in it.
I stand with you.

Naturally grateful,
Kat Haber

"Know thyself." ~ Plato

parwana fayyaz's picture

Dear fellow:

Thank you so much for your videos, I would love to watch the videos, I will let you know about my reaction toward these Ted Talks. And with your permission, I would love to share these links with my Afghan friends and all of my AUW fellows.
Thanks,
Best regards,
Parwana Fayyaz

"Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,"
Emily Dickinson

WILDKat's picture

YEs, Yes, YEs!

Diversity of ideas requires all shapes, sizes, cultural values, and female hearts to express and listen to themselves in beautiful ways.

Naturally grateful,
Kat Haber

"Know thyself." ~ Plato

parwana fayyaz's picture

Dear fellow:

Thank you so much, I got to hear all the TED videos on Afghanistan or women's power. I loved the photographer's art on bringing Afghan people into words through the images. Also I got to hear Hammad's poems on how women can response war in a peaceful tone.
Thank you,
Parwana
“What we speak becomes the house we live in” Hafez.

WILDKat's picture

YEs, Yes, YEs!

Diversity of ideas requires all shapes, sizes, cultural values, and female hearts to express and listen to themselves in beautiful ways.

Naturally grateful,
Kat Haber

"Know thyself." ~ Plato

mrbeckbeck's picture

Invest in women, invest in peace

Great work Parawana. I like how you've focused on Fatima's story, and how you've connected her journey to the larger picture of Afghanistan's future. I truly believe that investing in women is the same as investing in peace. For too long weapons and war have terrorized peaceful people. I hope that one day soon Fatima and you can return home safely and live without fear, and build a bright future for your country as educated women leaders.

Kindly,
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Manager

parwana fayyaz's picture

Dear Scott:

Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. Women are the important part of society, if women are restricted from education and contribution, then the country and nation collapse. Throughout the history, it has been observed, and the actions have been taken for "investing in women," which is, indeed,"the same as investing in peace." This time, we want to see it in Afghanistan and other corners of the globe. And we believe in hope and action.
Thanks,
Best regards,
Parwana Fayyaz

"Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,"
Emily Dickinson

Sakina Roshan's picture

Another great piece!

Thanks for sharing such a wonderful story. It is more amazing with your words which sits in minds like a sound and poetic flows. You have understood Fatima very deeply and her feelings were out with your words. AMAZINGLY WRITTEN! Wish all luck Parwana jan.
your sister
Sakina

parwana fayyaz's picture

Dear Sakina jan:

Thank you so much for following my writings and stories. I am glad you got to read it.
Thanks,
Best regards,
Parwana Fayyaz

"Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,"
Emily Dickinson

ikirimat's picture

Thank you for sharing

Thank you for sharing Fatima's story and its my hope that one day she sees her dreams of getting home come true. Home is best

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


parwana fayyaz's picture

Dear Ikirimat:

Thank you so much for your comment. Fatima's story brings hope to people for not being afraid or ignorant about their own ordinary stories because the cycle of lives keep going [sometimes there are similarities between humans' lives]. So stories keep history vivid and unquestionable for the future.
Thank you,
Parwana
“What we speak becomes the house we live in” Hafez.

Emily Garcia's picture

Strength and Hope

Wonderful job, Parwana! This story is deeply moving and so beautifully written. I love how you focus on the strength and hope of Fatima and her family. You've also conveyed so well the immobilizing fear war and conflict generate and have offered us readers a very human perspective on how this has affected both men and women in Afghanistan. Thank you for this story!! It feels alive and inspired and looks realistically toward a future of peace and equal opportunities for women in Afghanistan and around the world.

Warm regards,

Emily

Emily Garcia
World Pulse Online Community Associate

parwana fayyaz's picture

Dear Emily:

Thank you for your note. We want to nurture poems, prose, and stories for bringing peace in our homeland because the best way of communication is to have hope and wisdom-weaved words in our speeches. We want to tell individual stories in order to create our collective-new history of Afghanistan.
Thank you,
Parwana
“What we speak becomes the house we live in” Hafez.

EllenWingard's picture

Courage to Break Fear

My dear Parwana,

Once again you have seized our hearts and minds with your achingly inspiring story of Fatima and her journey from fear to freedom. Your strong and beautiful writing asks the question--how can one find the courage to break free from fear after experiencing such unspeakable trauma and personal loss?

Your story of Fatima answers this question and achieves something so difficult which is your ability to combine fact based journalism that educates with personal storytelling that sears the soul. Fatima's resiliency and resolve shines through as she chooses a life of education and empowerment as a loving tribute to her father's memory as well as being the best course of justice in the face of brutal ignorance.

May your voice continue to be a vision and vehicle for peace, thank you for telling this story so bravely and with such deep honoring and respect for Fatima and her family.

Warmest regards,
Ellen

parwana fayyaz's picture

Dear Ellen:

Thank you so much for your note. She always says to me that, "Hold on to the 'stone of hope,' and never give up." I believe in this words, because every word of hope gives me the strength of keep going and bringing other voices for contributing to peace for our homeland. Fatima's first step of breaking the fear is retelling of her story to the larger audience, to me, and to the world. It is a courage and wisdom of a free woman. I was so glad to hear from her, I had good time writing her story. There are stories that I have to bring them to words and history. And I am on the way.
Thank you,
Parwana
“What we speak becomes the house we live in” Hafez.

valerie.bagley's picture

Thank you!

Dear Parwana,

The story you share of Fatima is unimaginable, yet shows how optimism and hope can be found in even the most horrific of circumstances. I am with you 100 percent: I believe that educating and empowering women is the best way to bring a brighter future to any struggling nation. YOU, the grassroots woman journalist, are a perfect example of this. You will change the world with your voice. Thank you for illustrating this idea in such a beautiful and compelling way. All the best to you, sister!

Regards,
Valerie

parwana fayyaz's picture

Dear Valeria:

Thank you for your note. I have always wanted to hear from Afghan women around me, but now I have found the confidence to sit with them and do at least something for them, and it is writing their stories and bringing them to the larger audience. We, women, are capable of trying any way to bring peace and prosperous to the struggling nations of the world, from African to Afghanistan.
Thank you,
Parwana
“What we speak becomes the house we live in” Hafez.

MaDube's picture

Dear Parwana

Your article i not only timely but very necessary in the context of Afghanistan and the ongoing discourse on the role of women in peace-building. What your article is saying is exactly what Resolution 1325 says, that to build sustainable peace women's voices must be heard, women must be involved and women must benefit from the processes. It never says militarise. I understand the US is one of the countries that has drafted a National Action Plan for the implementation of Resolution 1325, I am not sure what the content of that plan is but it sure must have provision for scenarios such as the one in Afghanistan where the US gives funding for restoration and reconstruction. Surely they should be guided by the principles of the Resolution and ensure women are involved and also move towards nation-building rather than militarisation.

Great post.

MaDube

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