Shukria Barakzai in March 2011
|Born||1972 (age 42–43)
|Known for||Elected to Wolesi Jirga in 2005|
She was born in 1972 in Kabul, Afghanistan. "Barakzai" is a common name among the Pashtun, one of the country's main ethnic groups, and was shared by its rulers from the 1830s until the overthrow of the last king, She speaks both of Afghanistan's official languages, Pashto and Dari, as well as English.
Barakzai went to Kabul University in the 1990s. Half way through a degree, she had to break off her studies because of mounting violence between the government and the Mujahideen. In September 1996 the Taliban captured Kabul. By then, many citizens, especially the educated middle classes, had left for a life in exile, but she stayed in the city of her birth. In 1999, she felt ill and went to see a doctor; the religious police caught her on the street without her husband and beat her for what they saw as a crime (see Taliban treatment of women). Barakzai felt that she had to resist in some way, so set up an underground school in her home. She resumed her education right after the Taliban were driven out of Kabul in late 2001 following the American-led war in Afghanistan, and gained a degree in archaeology and geology.
In 2002 Barakzai founded Aina-E-Zan (Women’s Mirror), a national weekly newspaper. Her mission was to "improve the understanding and knowledge of Afghan women in society” (see Civic Journalism and Advocacy journalism). She began the publication without any resources, lacking even a computer and access to a printing press, hoping to encourage women to fight for their own rights, and to build a strong democracy and civil society.
She campaigns on issues such as maternal and infant mortality, areas in which Afghanistan has great difficulty. (The World Health Organization (WHO) calculated that Afghanistan in 2003 had the world's highest proportion of women dying in childbirth (Maternal Mortality Ratio) at 1900 per 100 000 live births.) Barakzai states, "Child marriage, forced marriage, and violence against women are still common and accepted practices." She focuses on large issues, saying, "in my opinion the burka is not that important. What is important is education, democracy and freedom." She stresses unity among women as well as the role that men have to play.
Barakzai credits technology such as mobile phones, banned under the Taliban regime, with helping young Afghans integrate with the modern world. For example, using text messaging to vote for a participant in a television talent show contest demonstrates how democratic voting can work. She also uses her position to point out the lack of freedom of the press and the risks to journalists. (Reporters Without Borders ranks Afghanistan 156 out of 173 in its list of press freedom, and says the situation is especially difficult for women and those working in the provinces.)
Move into politics
Barakzai was appointed a member of the 2003 loya jirga, a body of representatives from all over Afghanistan that was nominated to discuss and pass the new constitution after the fall of the Taliban. In the October 2004 elections she was elected as a member of the House of the People or Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the National Assembly of Afghanistan. She is one of 71 women out of 249 MPs.
She is one of only a handful of female MPs who speak up for women's rights, and faces death threats for her views. Her criticisms of the legislature are wide-ranging: "Our parliament is a collection of lords. Warlords, drug lords, crime lords." She defended Malalai Joya, another female MP who has condemned warlordism, who faced abuse and threats of violence in parliament: "I was I think the only one which is I just announced that some MPs were threatening to rape her. [...] That's why after this, they kept quiet." In November 2014 she was injured in a suicide attack on a convoy in which she was travelling in Kabul. The attack killed three people and injured 17.
While expressing gratitude for "the support of the international community" in creating the conditions by 2004 in which hundreds of publications and dozens of radio stations could flourish, Barakzai condemns "the support of armed groups and outlaws, a key part of U.S. policy". Although most of her life has been spent in Kabul, she acknowledges that the capital does not truly represent the country, and refuses to blame the Taliban for all the difficulties that Afghans face: "When we talk about Afghanistan, we should discuss conditions in the entire country. In many provinces and villages, which are in very bad condition, there is no difference between the period before the Taliban regime, the time of the Taliban, and now." She opposes U.S. President Barack Obama's troop build-up plan, asking for "30,000 scholars or engineers" instead of that many soldiers. She intended to stand for President of Afghanistan in 2014, as by then she will be over 40, as the constitution requires, but did not run.
Marriage and family
Barakzai is married to Ghaffar Zakhel, who stood for Parliament at the same time as her. In 2004, 12 years after their wedding, he took a second wife, as is his right under Muslim marriage law. He did this without telling Barakzai, who learned of it through friends, and she admits to feeling "disturbed and hurt" and "a victim of tradition" because of his decision. She has turned her attention to campaigning against multiple marriages, trying to persuade women not to become a man's second wife.
References and footnotes
- Every vote we cast weakens the Taliban, The Sun
- "Afghan Editor Works to Rebuild Country" 30 July 2005 Women's E-News
- "Successful Afghan politician still victim of tradition", 8 March 2009 Taipei Times
- "The Media Report" 22 June 2006
- "The world health report 2005 - make every mother and child count"
- Speech accepting the Worldpress.org International Editor of the Year Award, 9 May 2005
- "Women in Power in Central Asia Roundtable" Radio Free Europe 29 December 2005
- "Afghans hope tech embrace could help quell violence" 3 March 2009 Associated Press
- Reporters Without Borders World Report 2009: Afghanistan
- Boloji profile 9 Oct 2005
- Jason Staziuso (2009-03-03). "Afghan tech boom: Mullah embraces iPhone". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-03-04. mirror
- Clancy Chassay (2008-11-22). "Acid attacks and rape: growing threat to women who oppose traditional order: Female MPs speak out as conditions worsen and Islamists gain respectability". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-07-08.
- "The Media Report". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2006-06-22. Retrieved 2009-07-08.
- "Afghan woman MP survives car attack". BBC news. 16 November 2014. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
- Anand Gopal (2008-03-02). "Many in Afghanistan oppose Obama's troop buildup plans". Christian Science Monitor. Archived from the original on 2010-02-18.
- Women of the Year: Shukria Barakzai, BBC Radio 4.
Media related to Shukria Barakzai at Wikimedia Commons