In the words of Adelah: “I believe that with gender equality, peace will come”

Illustration: Milica Cvokic

Adelah*, 27, is a former teacher from Afghanistan who is now pursuing her dream career in information technology. She is developing an app that connects Afghan women with gynecologists abroad. Adelah participated in a concept-thinking workshop for young Afghan leaders organized by UN Women to identify capacities, needs and existing solutions to support women’s empowerment and gender equality, and influence discussions of peace in their country of origin, Afghanistan.

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My story begins with a computer we had at home that only my brother was allowed to use. In a poor family of eight, I was the only girl with an interest in electronics. Every day, I went into the room where the computer was to clean it. I wanted to touch it and learn how to use it. When I asked my brother to teach me, he told me that girls should do household chores; that a computer was not a woman’s thing. One day at dinner, I announced, “I would like to be a computer girl. Everyone laughed and said, “Computers are not for girls!” It cut deep and I kept thinking about it for years.

When I was in grade 7, after passing three exams, I got a scholarship for a special school and my life began to change. I started working in my school as a teacher’s aide. I started supporting my family financially and started a one-year program to study English. Then I joined a women-only university where women could become teachers.

In my family, women can be teachers or doctors. There was no other choice. So that’s what I did. But deep down inside, it hurt. Every day I cried on the way to college. After graduating, I became a teacher, but I didn’t like it. I loved children but it was not my dream. I was not happy. I wanted to be free, not to be under anyone’s command. I told my family after a while that I couldn’t do it anymore. I asked them to let me do what I love. It was the first time I defended myself. I told them they didn’t need to support me. I had savings. And they said, ‘Okay, go ahead and try. We know you can’t become what you dream of.

I used my savings for the TOEFL exam. I sat it down three times. Each time it cost 3,500 Afghans. I was poorer with each test. I didn’t pass the first and the second time but luckily I passed the third. After a few days, I received a call from a university and learned that I had received a full scholarship.

In the first year, we decided with friends to found an NGO for Afghan children, young people and women. The goal was to educate and empower, then grow the community. We worked for a year to build it. Then COVID-19 ruined our plans. However, we did not give up. We have started disseminating information on safety measures related to COVID-19 through our NGO.

Then the Taliban arrived. We lived in Kabul, but my mother was in Kandahar with my aunt. She was stuck there and my dad disappeared. When you’re a father with daughters like us – who study, have an education abroad and are socially active – you have a lot of enemies. Before the arrival of the Taliban, my father received threats from our relatives: ‘Why don’t you push your daughters to get married? Give them to us to find husbands. Otherwise, something could happen to them.

When the Taliban took over, no one could help them because everything was in chaos. My mother tried to come back to Kabul but couldn’t. After a week we ran out of food. We couldn’t sleep. When my mother finally arrived, we still didn’t know where our father was. We crossed the border into Pakistan and stayed there for a month. There we heard from my father. He escaped and hid at the airport, being evacuated first to Qatar and then to another country. We were so happy he was alive!

Later, we went to Tajikistan, where I received a call from my university offering to continue my studies abroad. It was a difficult decision for me to leave my family, but I asked them to let me finish my studies. In October 2021, I left for another country. My first semester was horrible. I was alone and everything was new. After finding a job, I started sending money to my family to support them. It’s just me helping them. They are always hidden.

Now I’m studying to become a computer developer. I remembered not being able to use the computer at home and decided to become an expert in this field in order to show the world that computing can also be a woman’s affair. I’m working on an app to help Afghan women. In Afghanistan, when you have your period, you can’t tell anyone. So I decided to connect gynecologists outside the country with Afghan women through an app they can easily download.

Being an Afghan woman is difficult in itself. Men treat us like servants. Afghan women should shut up. If you raise your voice, you could be beaten to death. I remember one day, when I came home from school, I saw a large crowd and a lot of police at a neighbor’s house. I found out that a girl I knew had been killed. Later we asked her sister, who told us that the poor girl was killed by their father because he caught her with her boyfriend. The father worked in the police. Later we had a conversation in my family and my parents said that parents can kill their children in these shameful situations. I thought: if I have a boyfriend, the same thing could happen to me. No one would ask where my corpse was. I was scared.

After years of studying, I slowly realized that all of this is not normal. Everything should be equal between women and men. I learned that in Islam all rights – men and women – are equal.

I see Afghan women as brave and passionate women because even though they are excluded from education and schools are banned, they still find ways to learn and educate themselves. When I see their passion for studies, despite everything, I see a bright future for Afghanistan. I wish peace in Afghanistan and equal rights for women and men. I believe that with gender equality, peace will come.


*Names, locations and details have been changed to ensure the safety of the featured protagonist.

[Originally published on UN Women ECA website]

The article was prepared within the framework of the UN Women regional program “Strengthening women’s leadership for sustainable peace in fragile contexts in the Middle East and North Africa region”, funded by the Ministry German Federal Agency for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in cooperation with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

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