On Thursday, February 18, 2021, the Association of Central Eurasian Students at Indiana University (ACES) hosted Fatema Jafari for a brown bag talk titled “Afghan Women and Two Decades of Democracy.” Fatema Jafari is an Afghan women’s rights advocate and a former member of the Herat Provincial Council, where she has served on several committees related to women’s rights. Jafari began her talk by reflecting on her experiences as a teenage refugee in Iran and her early efforts to organize underground schooling opportunities for Afghan children barred by Iranian authorities from receiving a formal education. Jafari then moved on to her return to Afghanistan, her work as a midwife and a USAID-funded educator in the Herat province, and her eventual decision to seek political office to become a more effective advocate for women’s health and women’s rights. She was eventually elected as a councilwoman despite problems with corruption in local politics and her family’s initial opposition to her political career.
Though Jafari has since left elected office, largely due to corruption and threats to her life from opponents, she hasn’t given up her activism and still works as an advocate for Afghan women. Among the positive effects of women’s activism, Jafari mentioned the growth of initiative and self-reliance in Afghan communities. Where previously getting an Afghan family to send its daughter to school would take no small amount of convincing and financial incentives from USAID, families are now increasingly willing to raise money and donate land to establish schools for girls in their communities.
Jafari’s talk was followed by a lively discussion with the audience that touched on such issues as the role of families in supporting Afghan women, the future of Afghan democracy, the changes that would need to happen for Jafari to once again feel safe in Herat, the concrete anti-corruption measures taken by Jafari and her fellow provincial council members, and the potential legalization of the Taliban as a political party in the near future.
This and other talks in the ACES brown bag series are made possible by the support of the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center at Indiana University.