Writer: Latifa Sadat Mousavi
Leila Hosseini is a well-known name and figure for women in Daikundi province who have been involved in civil and human rights activities for more than a decade. She had struggled for the right to education, training, and employment since the fall of the first period of the Taliban regime, and she also worked to educate girls. She left Afghanistan after the re-establishment of the Taliban. “After the Taliban took control, I had no choice except to emigrate and leave my homeland,” she told Nimrokh.
The story of Leila’s life after the fall of the first period of the Taliban regime until the re-domination of Afghanistan by this terrorist group
Leila Hosseini was born in a remote village in Miramur district of Daikundi province. After the fall of the previous Taliban regime in 2001, she faced negative attitudes about girls’ education and decided to study with several other girls in the village. Gathering in a mud house in a corner of Berger village, they began teaching the Qur’an and Hafiz’s divan. Gradually, this group of three or four people increased to twenty people, and then in 2002, they chose one of the village husseiniyahs as a school to continue their education.
As Afghanistan collected the remnants of the war after the fall of the Taliban regime, foreign organizations also expanded their humanitarian activities to help the Afghan people. In 2002, DHSA went to Shahristan district to study the situation of the villagers to prioritize the needs of the people. Leila Hosseini and other girls had asked the staff to build a school for them.
“I remember very well that at that time, the employees of many institutions came to our village to check the situation of the people and see what the villagers need. My friends and I were young girls and we were happy to see the staff of the aid agencies. One day, when we were returning home from Hosseiniyah with a group of girls, we saw the employees of the relief agencies passing by; We approached them and gathered around them, and asked those who spoke in different accents to build a school for us.”
This led to the establishment of a girls’ school in our village, and the education of girls, despite misconceptions and bad customs, started from there. With the support of the DHSA, I succeeded in graduating from the twelfth grade in a rapid education program in 2006 and also taught lower grade girls during my education.
One of the major challenges for girls’ education at that time was passing the entrance exam, which was held in Bamyan because Daikundi was a newly established province and could not yet hold the general entrance exam. This caused the majority of girls to be deprived of education again.
Leila Hosseini was the first girl to cross this barrier and entered the Faculty of Agriculture of Kabul University in 2007 after passing the entrance exam in Bamyan. We studied in a class of 380 people, only thirteen of whom were girls.
After many difficulties, we graduated from university and looked for a job. Finding a suitable job for women in the highly traditional society of that time was still difficult.
Leila says; “One day, the other girls and I went to the Ministry of Agriculture to find work and asked for help. We worked on one of the ministry’s agricultural projects for a year; After that, I worked with organizations such as Oxfam as a Social Organizer and OHW in Daikundi province.
Working in these institutions opened another window for me to work in the field of women’s rights. During the fieldwork, people were surprised to see female employees with men, and they always asked me if I am accompanied by a mahram when I work with men? How can I work with stranger men? And dozens of other questions, but in answering them I tried to give a satisfactory answer. For example, girls have the right to study, and when they study, they have the right to work, and it is not wrong for women to work.
In 2016, I started working with the Equality for Peace and Democracy, or EPD, which was established by Narges Nahan in 2006, as the provincial director of this organization in Daikundi, and in the same year, I established the Daikundi Provincial Women’s Network. I gathered active women from all Daikundi districts. We documented the problems and challenges of women in the districts and participated in the litigation with relevant institutions in Daikundi and the center of the country.
In 2009, I established the Social Association of Pioneering Women in Nili, Daikundi Province, with 30 members from all over Daikundi Province.
We documented the problems and challenges of women in the villages and participated in the litigation with relevant institutions in Daikundi and the center of the country.
We achieved good results by monitoring local government performance in improving the situation of women; Because the presence of Daikundi women in all fields grew, and women members of the network held workshops to enhance their capacity to advocate and lobby, oversee government performance, civil society, writing proposals, conduct research, and work in four committees (Peace, Education, Health, Law). We documented women’s challenges in Daikundi villages to sue.
We worked hard to implement the EVAW law in Daikundi; In workshops and radio programs, we tried to implement this law and make the people aware.
Major challenges for women in Daikundi villages
As the annual attendance of girls in educational institutions such as schools, universities, and the presence of women working in government offices, the media, stadiums, and commerce, access to health services, and formal justice increased; Women’s problems were compounded. When women became aware, they protested against inequality and other challenges, and the rate of violence against women increased.
Because women did not have the patience to endure violence, they sought access to justice in the justice system.
Thus, violence against women, lack of access to formal justice, geographically difficult access to roads to school and university, poverty, underage and forced marriages, lack of school repairs for female students, and the traditional atmosphere of society were some of the major challenges for women in Daikundi.
Now with the arrival of the Taliban in Afghanistan, women have been deprived of all their rights and privileges, but the women of Daikundi province are, as always, the most deprived.
Women’s struggles against the reproaches of religious scholars
With the expansion of women’s commercial, sports, social, and artistic activities in Daikundi, the anger of religious scholars toward women’s participation in Daikundi society also increased. In congregational prayer sermons, they used to complain about women, from wearing colorful clothes to riding a bicycle and singing to girls. The mullahs of the mosques always addressed men in their prayer sermons to stop women who endanger the reputation of the religion. But in the monthly meetings of the Women’s Association and other meetings, on the occasion of March 8 and other national days, we also invited religious scholars to the meetings. In the meetings, religious scholars discussed the challenges with women and discussed them scientifically. Although the traditional Daikundi atmosphere was never suitable for women, it could not stop women from progressing either. Daikundi women and girls had significant achievements in various fields.
Leila Hosseini’s achievements in the Pioneer Women’s Social Association
Daikundi, one of Afghanistan’s most remote and mountainous provinces, has only seen significant growth in education over the past 20 years, with roofless schools full of boys and girls who believed in progress and development. But girls’ access to health services and formal justice remained low, with women and girls being abused in remote villages in the province and victims of violence not having access to formal justice. Rural girls also married or were forced to marry to alleviate the poverty of their families.
The lawsuits of the Pioneer Women’s Association with the Daikundi Endowment and Hajj Endowment and the cooperation of the imams of the mosques caused awareness in this regard, even in the most remote villages, and recently the narrations of underage and forced marriages had decreased.
Numerous lawsuits were filed with the judiciary and prosecutors for women’s access to formal justice, while five female prosecutors were working in Daikundi. There was still a plea for a female judge in Daikundi, although due to corruption and the central government’s lack of attention to Daikundi, five female judges employed at the Daikundi Court of Appeals worked in the Kabul district court and refused to go to a province like Daikundi. But due to intense pressure from civil society organizations and lawsuits, a female judge was expected to be sent to the Daikundi Court of Appeal.
The presence of female employees in Daikundi government offices, which has always been one of the lawsuits of the association, has recently reached nearly 29 percent, and the presence of female students in the country’s education has reached 45 percent. In the presidential and parliamentary elections, 64% of Daikundi women went to the polls, and before the election, training and awareness-raising workshops were held by the Association of Leading Women in the Villages to encourage women to vote in the elections. For women employees in Daikundi government offices, with the emphasis and pressure of civil society organizations and the Women’s Association, a Committee to Prevent Harassment of Women and Children was established to identify and prosecute perpetrators of violence against women. Awareness sessions were held in connection with the bad culture of the herdsmen and the escape of girls from homes in the villages and media programs to raise awareness in this regard.
In addition to these responsibilities, Leila Hosseini identified about 300 vulnerable families and provided them with humanitarian assistance. She also sponsored a female student who wanted to drop out of school due to poverty, until she graduated from university and got a job at a non-governmental organization.
On the last day of the fall of the provinces to the Taliban, Leila Hosseini left her home for her father’s village and stayed there for a while. When Daikundi province fell to the Taliban terrorist group without a fight, she left for Kabul because the Taliban were not expected to enter Kabul. But on August 15, when Leila and her family arrived in Kabul, the Taliban entered Kabul and reached the presidential palace.
“I stayed in Kabul for two months under the Taliban control, Kabul had become a city of strangers. Every time I went out for a little work, I would go out in a long black dress and wait for blasts around the city or flogging by the Taliban. I thought I was walking on a ground full of mines and explosives. During my two months in Kabul, I was not at peace for a single day, especially when I heard about the targeted killings of journalists and human rights activists. Although I was lost in the crowd of Kabul people, I still felt that if they knew me, they would shoot a few bullets at me; Because I have always struggled with religious scholars to implement and propagate the law prohibiting violence against women, and in the opinion of religious scholars, I was a vicious person who forced women, victims of violence, to go to the judiciary.”
“When I no longer saw a place for myself in the Taliban regime, I had no choice except to emigrate,” said Leila Hosseini.
“Finally, two months after the turmoil and despair, I started migrating. I received an immigration acceptance from one of the foreign countries I worked with. The day I entered the airport, they were checking our travel documents at the airport gate; I was very scared. My arms and legs were shaking when a Taliban fighter asked me why I was leaving. I had no answer to tell him.
If I were to say; Because I filed a lawsuit against women, or because religious scholars are hostile to me, or because my life and that of my family are in danger. I preferred not to say anything and smiled bitterly and lowered my head and we passed. I took a deep breath and thanked God. From inside the plane, I took another good look around, at the hills of Kabul, the buildings, and the dusty sky that I remember all these days. When I return to my homeland, I do not witness these.”
Translated by: Ali Rezaei