“Political struggle is the best way to achieve equality.”

Hameeda is a candidate in the Kabul provincial council election. The 26 year-old student has studied international relations and is currently studying gynaecology. She’s a firm advocate of women’s rights. Hameeda believes a sound political establishment is possible and says she will not accept anything less. Here is our interview with Hameeda for the ‘Young Politicians’ section of our magazine.

Please tell us about your personality.

I am a peaceful woman with a painful past and I am quite different from other women. I have always been true to myself. I fight all hardships and make a great effort to achieve what I want. I detest bullying.

How different are you from other women?

The way I live is different. I am different and behave differently insofar as I take a stand against inequality and unfavourable customs and traditions. That is something other women either accept willingly or unwillingly but remain silent. I have always fought to achieve what is my right and when I see other women not supporting me in this cause, it disappoints me. I never accept defeat.

What are the things that other women do not speak out about?

They do not speak out against the customs and traditions that are imposed on them. They give away their 12 year-old daughters to 40 year-old men in the name of marriage. Decisions about the life of a widow are taken by others, but not herself. Sometimes they say women lack wisdom. Leaving home is considered a crime for women. Women’s rights are used as a tool rather than being regarded from the perspective of democratic and human values. There are many other such issues. We must be confident in ourselves.

You said you do not accept defeat. Is it possible for someone not to experience defeat in his/her life?

I am afraid not. In fact it is important to change defeat into success and weaknesses into strength. Everyone experiences defeat. Those who believe in themselves regard defeat as the first step to success, but the case is opposite for weak people.

How much has your different approach to life brought positive changes to the lives of yourself and other women?

Well, the development of ideas is important. There has to be social awareness. Social conditions must provide an environment in which everyone can live. To achieve that goal, every responsible citizen has to make an effort. Everyone must recognize his or her own rights and respect the rights of others. Then we can live a life that is free of violence. I don’t only want a peaceful life for myself. Our aim must be to change our own lives and the lives of others for the better. That’s why I am standing as a candidate the Kabul provincial council election.

Why do you want to be elected to the provincial council?

Most importantly, it is my right as a citizen of this country. Additionally, women’s presence in politics so far has only been symbolic. I want to play more than a symbolic role in the country’s political system. Election and the political struggle is one way of achieving gender equality in society.

How confident are you of succeeding?

If the election is fair and transparent, I am 80% confident and trust that my supporters will vote for me.

To what extent are women involved in politics at the moment?

As I said before, the female presence has been mostly symbolic. If politics were practiced in a democratic way, if public awareness was higher, if corruption was eradicated and mafia groups were controlled, there is no doubt that the participation of women would rise.

But haven’t the past 12 years been a golden period for the development of women’s rights?

Yes, to an extent. But I see both differences and similarities between then and now: back then women were imprisoned in their own home; today their noses, ears and lips are being cut off. Domestic violence has increased and marital disagreements still lead to retribution. Sometimes, active women are threatened. The negative mentality in society hinders women’s progress in many fields of life.

Have women’s rights been neglected over the past 12 years?

Based on the volume of assistance given to Afghanistan in the name of women’s rights, progress has been inadequate. Twelve years is a long time. The changes that have taken place during this period are only manifest in the lives of women living in Afghanistan’s large cities. There’s no evidence that life has changed for women in living Nuristan, or the caves of Bamiyan or the volatile province of Helmand. Even in provinces very close to Kabul like Wardak, girls are not sent to school or they are not allowed to study past the 4th grade. In many parts of the country, women are still dying during childbirth simply due to the lack of health facilities.

That means more attention should be paid to women living remote provinces.

Yes. Villages and rural districts need more attention. We will not have a peaceful and violence-free society until there is more awareness and social services are provided in the most remote districts of the country.

Do you think change will come in the next decade with the participation of young people such as yourself in politics and administration?

It’s possible. Providing all the citizens of the country with equal opportunities and facilities requires a coordinated effort, more reconstruction work and it will take a long time. Post-conflict countries require a lot of time to return to normality. Afghanistan is one of the countries that can succeed provided its government and people work harder. The young people in the country should be used as a force for progress to those ends. Since young people are usually removed from undemocratic politics they can play a very effective role in the social and political development of the country. Involving experienced and qualified young people in government and the political system could contribute immensely to achieving an ideal society.

What kind of people will be voting for you in the upcoming election?

I expect it’ll mostly be women and young people who vote for me.

Do you expect support from any specific group of young people?

Yes. In particular I expect support from civil society organizations and the national coalition of young Afghans that includes youth organizations from across the country. But I will also try to garner votes from across various other sections of society.

When did you first get interested in politics?

My family never had anything to do with politics. I am the first woman in my family or even my hometown to get involved to this level in politics. For as long as I remember, I’ve been interested in family affairs. Then I was stopped from going to school, but I overcame that hindrance and continued to study in the medical field so I could help people as a doctor. But that wasn’t enough for me and I felt myself drawn to in politics. For sure, there have been obstacles in my path here too. To achieve my goals and objectives, I have had to work tirelessly and hard. Success or failure is not the crucial thing – what’s crucial is that the field isn’t left open to unqualified people.

You are a doctor. What is your field?

I am in my final year studying gynaecology. I also studied international relations in the US for a year.

What kind of activism have you been involved with so far?

I worked in media for a while. For the last three years, I have worked as a women’s rights advocate. My major engagements have been with Afghanistan National Organization of Women, Shahr Banu Radio in Herat and Rahrawan-e Danish Institute.

Where were you born?

Wardak province.

How old are you?

I am 26.

So, you are very young?

(Laughing) Yes.

Are you married?

Not yet. It’s still too early to make that kind of decision.

When do you think would be the right time for you to get married?

Well, people living in the villages have a saying: “Hit your daughter with your hat. If she does not fall down, find her a husband.” My family has said many times that it is my turn. However, I think the best time for marriage is when you understand what married life and looking after children really entails.

What is your definition of life?

Struggle and reflection.

How much are you yourself?

I have always tried to be myself.

How much is love important?

Yes, very much. Love is important all through one’s life.