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Leigh Cuen – WNN Reviews
(WNN) Kabul, AFGHANISTAN: 37 year old Fawzia Koofi, Afghanistan’s first female parliamentary speaker, is currently a leading candidate for the country’s 2014 presidential elections. Her recently published memoir “The Favored Daughter,” is reaching a global audience. It has now been sold in 20 different countries and published in English, French, German, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and Polish. As much as “The Favored Daughter” is a political memoir it is also a story about relationships between women, mothers, daughters, and strangers.
“This is what I live for…,” Koofi writes. “…And what I know I will die for.”
Scattered throughout her memoir, Koofi wrote letters to her two young daughters about her hopes for their futures and the future of their nation. With the help of journalist Nadene Ghouri, Koofi immortalized her story, her mother’s story, and a simultaneously feminist and traditional perspective of Islam in Afghanistan.
The book does raise several contradictions. While it humanizes the Afghan women’s narrative for a global audience, it was not published in Dari, Pashto, or for that matter, any of the nation’s indigenous languages. The narration also noticeably avoids intimacy or self-criticism. This weakens the story and, in some ways, makes it seem like propaganda. The memoir would have benefited from more personal reflection and vulnerability. Even so, the perspective this memoir immortalizes is invaluable. It bridges the gap between western notions of “liberation” and women like Koofi: traditional, proudly religious and fiercely independent.
Koofi has an incredible story. Death has been her omnipresent companion since birth. She was born in a rural region of Badakhshan, the 19th child of Afghanistan Wakil (Representative) Adul Rahman who was elected to Afghanistan’s Parliament in 1965; and would later be ambushed and assassinated.
The heir of a political dynasty, Koofi’s father was murdered by extremist mujhadeen when she was a child. Her husband too would die from health complications he acquired during prolonged imprisonment under the Taliban.
“Before my father and I became members of parliament, my father’s father, Azamshah, was a community leader and tribal elder,” charted Koofi in “The Favored Daughter.”
“The Badakhshani districts of Darwaz and Koof, where my family and my last name originate, are so remote and mountainous that even today it can take up to three days to drive there from the provincial capital of Faizabad. And that’s in good weather. In winter the small mountain passes are completely closed,” continued Koofi.
Depressed because her husband was marrying his 7th wife, a 14 year old, as she struggled through 30 hours of labor that ended in a daughter instead of a ‘preferred’ son, Koofi’s mother’s birth attendants left newborn Koofi out in the sun to die alone. This was, after all, her father’s 19th child out of 23 children.
Badly burned from the sun’s rays, Koofi’s face would bear the scars of her betrayal past adolescence. Her ceaseless wailing finally moved her mother to take pity on the newborn as she asked her those helping her birth the child to bring her inside. Koofi’s mother was horrified when she saw her infant’s scorched face. Then her heart melted.
Later her mother fought for Koofi’s right to education, along with her right to chose a husband that would support Koofi’s aspirations.
Typically preferring to wear simple headscarves and vehemently resisted the Taliban’s imposition of the burqua on Afghan women Koofi brings dignity to the choices. As Koofi describes times she chose to wear her mother’s emerald green, embroidered burqua, her pride radiates off the page.
Yes, she inherited her father’s political connections. But it was her mother that taught Koofi about dignity.
Together Koofi and her mother survived decades of war and violence, from the Saur Revolution in 1978 to civil war and the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
“We must not go back,” said Koofi in a recent interview with WNN – Women News Network. “The problems that threaten that advance are the Taliban, corruption in government and the huge number of weapons in Afghanistan and all the money earned by drugs and guns,” she added.
It was a desperate struggle to save her husband from prison that first spurred Koofi to revive her father’s old political alliances. Later in a letter to her own daughters Koofi writes: “Every injustice I can help solve as an M.P. [Member of Parliament] perhaps makes up a little for what I could not do to save his life.”
“The only crime my husband committed was that he married me, and I come from a political family,” outlined Koofi to NPR – National Public Radio in a live radio interview given in February this year.
In her memoir Koofi lays bare the struggles her political aspirations have stirred up within her family. She describes the fierce debates between family members as they decided if she, a woman and a mother, could represent the family in Afghanistan’s Parliament.
“The election in 2010 showed that the Afghan people really trust women; they want women to participate in daily life and politics,” she said to WNN. “We need to keep momentum of flourishing democracy and women’s participation,” she continued.
Before his untimely death her father had physically hurt and abused her mother. He only directly addressed Koofi, his three year old child, one time by telling her to just “go away.”
Rather than harboring resentment Koofi now draws inspiration from his reputation as an ‘accessible’ politician, who failed in his relationships but was devoted to humanitarian causes.
“The Favored Daughter” includes the only letter Fawzia Koofi ever addressed to her father. In it are words of forgiveness, honesty and courage.
“It is a legacy I will never betray,” she writes to him. “Even if I know that one day, just like you, I will probably be killed because of this work.”
The work for Koofi is now focused on her re-election as a strong Afghan woman and president of her country in 2014. Even as change brings increased violence and intimidation to moderates in Afghanistan she remains steady as she pushes forward.
“Afghan women are some of the strongest women in the world, yet many people in the West perceive them only as nameless faceless victims beneath the burqua,” said Koofi to WNN. “70-80 percent of Afghan women are still illiterate. Afghanistan is a land where girl children are seen as less valuable than a goat – a goat will at least give you milk and meat. A girl is another mouth to feed and a dowry to finance.”
In 2012 challenges for women in Afghanistan, especially women running for political office, continues as women in the region are still fighting to be included at decision making tables throughout Afghanistan. “…despite clear improvements in women’s awareness of the voting process itself, limits on their ability to access information still placed substantial restrictions on their ability to take part in elections as informed political actors,” said the combined super-agency at the United Nations, UN Women, in a recent report issued in March 2012.
Advocates in Afghanistan today are now scrambling to bring fair and equal treatment for all women who live in urban and rural regions regardless of their standing in society. Fawzia Koofi is one of these advocates.
“My dreams for this nation will live on in you,” says Koofi’s personal words in her memoir for “The Favored Daughter. “I know as I write these words my mother is definitely smiling in heaven,” conveys Koofi as she shares her dreams for a new Afghanistan.
Women’s rights in Afghanistan have been often been ‘one step forward – two steps back’ with obstacles that have forced advocates inside the country, including Parliament Member Fawzia Koofi, to work harder each day to reach their goals. Koofi and numerous other women in the region work to bring their ideas forward in this 4:59 min August 2012 video. This video also highlights the specific work of Actionaid in Afghanistan.
For more information on this topic:
“Equal Rights, Unequal Opportunities – Women’s Participation in Afghanistan’s Parliamentary and Provincial Council Elections,” AREU – Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit with UN Women, March 2012;
“Women and transition in Afghanistan,” CARE International Policy Brief, July 2012;
Leigh Cuen, freelance journalist and reviewer for WNN – Women News Network, specializes in reporting on global human rights issues, the environment, identity, cross cultural communication, multicultural art and contemporary literature. In addition to WNN, she has written for the Earth Island Journal, San Francisco Public Press, Palestinian News Network, J. weekly newspaper and El Tecolote newspaper. Cuen has also contributed research to the Middle Eastern Media Research Institute on the political culture of English-speakers from the Middle East and other topics, including the Muslim communities of Chechnya and China. and is currently also a WNN news correspondent in Israel.
©2012 WNN – Women News Network
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