A few weeks ago, Jon Stewart interviewed a politician and author on his show named Fawzia Koofi. At first introduction, it all seemed like a signature Daily Show episode. But it wasn't like any episode I've seen before -- and not just because of the subject, who came out in a traditional hijab. The difference here was that I don't think I've ever seen Stewart treat anyone with such reverence and admiration.
At one point, while discussing her book The Favored Daughter, she explained how she had been abandoned as a child to be left for dead because she was a girl. Stewart confessed to her, "Your story is so astonishing and inspiring that I am even embarrassed." And as the interview progressed, I had no choice but to jump on board with his benevolence. By the end of the interview, I was in tears.
Fawzia Koofi is a 38-year old woman running for President of Afghanistan.
The gravity of this hit my brain a few moments after the words made their way to my ears. My first thought was a competitive one: Afghanistan might have a female President in 2014? What if they have one before the U.S.? That would be so embarrassing. Well, the truth is, we should all be embarrassed already. Many countries are ruled by female heads of states, including Senegal, Haiti and Thailand. My second thought was more of the panicked persuasion: She's not going to survive this. She is going to get killed. She will be assassinated. This is unsafe. Then I did my research. And what I found out was astonishing.
Chosen one of the 150 most fearless women in the world by The Daily Beast, safety is not a feeling Fawzia Koofi has had the luxury of knowing well. Her fortitude was born with her. Her mother did not want her to suffer like she had, and her initial instinct was to end her life before it began by leaving her out in the sun to die. After hearing her cry for a day, her mother had a change of heart and took her back in, raising her with a different goal than her other daughters; the goal of education. Even though her family members disapproved, Koofi was educated. Now, her two daughters don't face the same challenges. They go to the best school in Kabul and she credits the social changes in Afghanistan as part of the reason.
With not a minute to waste, she began her political career in 2001 right after the fall of the Taliban. She was the first female Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament in the history of Afghanistan, which reserves approximately 28 percent of its seats for female members. She was reelected in the parliamentary elections of 2010 and then elected MP. And politics and tragedy run in her family. Her own father was MP for 25 years and died at the hands of the Mujahideen. Her husband was captured by the Taliban and died of tuberculosis he contracted during his imprisonment.
Despite several threats to her own life including a 30-minute attack on her armed convoy while she hid in the back, Koofi is now going for the top seat -- President of a nation that is facing an uncertain future. She is trying to make sure that the future is secure for women and children. She wants a democracy for her daughters, and for mothers like hers, who should never have to live in a country where they are made to think that letting their baby die is a better option than letting her live.
Her platform is supporting women's rights and ending corruption. Her slogan is "The voice of hope for the future of Afghanistan." In an interview with the The Daily Beast, she said "For as long as I am alive, I will not rest in my desire to lead my people out of an abyss of corruption and poverty." She's not the first woman to run for President of Afghanistan. That credit can go to Massouda Jalal, the first in 2004. She didn't win, but that doesn't deter Koofi. She told Jon Stewart: "I'm not running to lose, certainly. My candidacy is not just for the sake of running for office. I want to win."
I don't know enough about the political landscape of Afghanistan to know what her odds are -- and that's not really the point. In just two short years, Afghanistan could have a female president because of one woman's unprecedented courage. In four years, the United States might, too. And maybe more countries around the globe with a history of oppression might follow suit.
When we broke ground here at home, with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the images that stick out most in my mind are not of him, or of the masses gathered in city and town squares across the USA. What I remember most are the international reports of the citizens of Europe, Africa, Asia and South America rallying in the streets, crying out solidarity and cheering along with us.
On that night, the rest of the world was watching us with something other than an un-trusting and nervous eye. Yes, one could argue that our foreign policies and decisions hold weight in many nations and affect people worldwide, but this felt bigger than that. It felt like a metamorphosis of sorts, a shattering of old beliefs and systems and the hint of a new horizon. Fast forward just over four years, and I felt that same paradigm shift when I was stirred by Fawzia Koofi discussing her brave decision to run for President of Afghanistan on national television.
Today is March 8th -- International Woman's Day. Let's honor Fawzia Koofi, and women all over the world, who revel in possibility and who courageously look forward despite what has -- or hasn't -- been accomplished in the past. May the whole world be cheering for them in the streets in just the blink of an eye.
For more on Fawzia Koofi: http://www.fawziakoofi.org/