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Malika Suraya Afghanyar: 'We Want to Work, to Think, to Walk, to Be Present, to Speak'

03/28/2014 12:05 pm ET | Updated May 28, 2014

Malika Suraya Afghanyar is a filmmaker. She is studying film directing and writing at the Fine Arts Department of Kabul University.

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Photo : Atiq Arvand / Matthieu Hackière


Can you share with us some memories of instances when your rights have been violated and how they have influenced your life?

I was very enthusiastic about studying at university and impatiently waiting to take the entrance exams. But my family were against me studying. They told me to go and visit one of my relatives in a village. Without knowing the date of the entrance exams, I went to the village. Subsequently, I found out through one of my relatives that the exam would be held the next day. I set out in the darkness of the night and walked to the city and I took that exam. My family only found out after the results came out, when it was too late for them to do anything about it.

There was another time when I wanted to travel to Iran to take part in a volleyball competition. There was a consent form for the athelete's family to sign in order to allow their child to take part in the competition. Knowing how my family would react, I didn't give them the form. As the competition date was nearing, I had to show the form to my family. When they saw it, they said: "What are we going to do with you?!" I told them that they had to sign the form because I would do what I wished. Finally, they had no choice but to give in.

What are the important achievements in Afghanistan today?

In relation to women, in particular in remote districts such as ours [Bamiyan], a lot of progress has been made. For instance, there have been huge developments in relation to literacy, work inside the home, such as carpet weaving, and handicraft. But not much has been done in other fields.

What has attracted your trust in the present system? What do you consider an innovation, a positive development?

I do think things have been accomplished in the cultural domain by hard-working young people who have endeavored to promote the arts without any expectations. But when I look at other areas in society, not much catches my eye as a positive initiative.

What do you fear most today?

I fear that the Taliban may take over power and the government again.

What are the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan?

The biggest challenge is moral corruption. Nearly 90 percent of the people have moral problems. Administrative corruption is also very important: It prevents the country from standing on its own two feet. Another challenge is economic self-sufficiency. Economic dependence has prompted us to keep looking and stretching our hand towards the West and the neighboring countries.

Would today's Afghanistan allow girls to once again be banned from schools and women excluded from social participation, as was the case under the Taliban rule?

In my opinion, nobody in this country other than the clerics wish to see the Taliban's return to political power. As to the question if the society would allow the schools to be closed down, it would depend on the specific conditions of the time. Under the present circumstances, I think it is possible.

What are the major factors deterring women from participating in social, economic, political, and cultural spheres?

Illiteracy and cultural poverty are the major deterrent factors. Nobody has a proper understanding of women's rights and children's rights in Afghanistan.

What do the women of Afghanistan want?

Their major demand is freedom. This freedom begins from the smallest issues -- such as freedom of choosing what to wear -- and extends to higher-level social, political, and cultural levels. Freedom of thought and opinion are the most important demands. We want to work, to think, to walk, to be present, to speak. And they are all our rights.

What do you wish for your daughter?

I wish that she will be able study with ease and travel to any part of the world she wishes to without worrying. I would like to support my daughter, not guide her. I wish for her to be self-sufficient, to decide what she wants to do and to choose her own course.

What have you done in your personal and professional life to fight against obstacles to women's participation in Afghanistan?

I do not like to brag; I try to put everything into practice. I'm very pleased to see that my social activities have raised some questions amongst the women and girls in our family. Some of them encourage me, some of them are jealous, some hate me, and some gossip about me behind my back within the family. I'm personally quite pleased to see just how much one person can stir things up. Nobody's opinion is important for me, but their reactions are interesting.

One of my sisters married our cousin, in accordance with our customs. From the very beginning, my aunt's family started putting pressure on her and oppressing her. For example, my brother-in-law was beating my sister on a cold winter's day, just after she had recently given birth to their child. When I saw that, I took my sister and her children to our home and she is now living separately from her husband. I bought a house for her and I send her some money every month to enable her and her children to live comfortably.

Do you have a specific message?

I have a request to the society and the government. I ask them not to block the path of their sisters, mothers, daughters and wives. Let them progress; let them learn and gain knowledge.

"Unveiling Afghanistan, the Unheard Voices of Progress" is a campaign by Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA and FIDH, which explores views held by Afghan civil society actors. Over 50 days, 50 influential social, political, and cultural actors hope to spark conversation and debate about building a society that is inclusive of women's and human rights in Afghanistan.

You can read original interviews in Dari on Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA