Against all odds
Once upon a time, long long ago...there was once a—WAIT. I’m kidding, this isn’t a fairy tale! And it’s not a story that happened long ago. This story is happening right now. There are no damsels in distress either, it’s a story about two young women fighting for their rights!
Hadisa at the UNICEF Afghanistan office.
Meet Hadisa. By the time she was 20-years-old, she had already founded two companies that empower girls to get into the workforce.
At the age of 18, she founded SearchPath, a recruitment company based in Afghanistan that helped young people, particularly young girls to gain employment and become financially independent.
“Young women feel that they are restricted by cultural expectations. They feel discrimination affects them more than men," she says.
SearchPath placed over 350 people into jobs and provided training and skill development for over 2,000 young girls.
Later, Hadisa established TechBano, an IT company that focused on developing websites, databases, and mobile applications. TechBano also provided several full-time jobs and internship opportunities for female university graduates.
Hadisa speaking at a creative youth camp for 40 youth participants.
In 2021, UNICEF engaged Hadisa in the Changemakers initiative. A programme that supports young people from around the world to become transformative leaders. Once a month, Changemakers like Hadisa took over the UNICEF Afghanistan Instagram, which was used as a platform to amplify the change they would like to see in their communities and country.
UNICEF also engaged with Fatima—another young woman in the Changemaker initiative, who’s helping to change the lives of young girls in her community.
Fatima is the captain of her basketball team in Mazār-i-Sharīf, Afghanistan. She swiftly moves up and down the court using a wheelchair, made especially for sports.
“When I play sport, I feel great. It energises me and makes me happy. I also feel relieved from day-to-day stress,” Fatima says.
Because of her disability, she’s sadly had to endure bullying and insults. Some days, she returned home from school upset and in tears.
But, with the support of her parents, Fatima hasn’t given in to the hurtful comments. Instead, for the past four years, she has empowered herself and young girls living with a disability by helping them in sports like basketball and the wheelchair running team.
Fatima shoots a goal during basketball practice.
“When I first started playing basketball, I found it very challenging and I thought I would not be able to continue doing it,” said Fatima. “But after learning basketball, people came to me and said I was a role model for other people, especially children with disabilities. When I heard that, I felt so proud, and I continued playing basketball.”
“I was happy to use UNICEF platforms to talk about the challenges of children with disabilities, and the issues they face in their everyday lives,” she says.
Now a year later, UNICEF met with both Hadisa and Fatima again to see how their lives have changed since we last saw them.
Unfortunately, their story isn't one with a happy ending...yet.
In August 2021, the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul, and placed serious restrictions on female rights and freedom. Girls in grades 7-12 have been banned from education and women were not allowed to hold any managerial positions. This meant Hadisa was forced to close both of her companies.
“Losing these two businesses was the worst time of my life,” she says. “The most difficult part was telling my employees that we could not keep them.”
The loss was especially painful as Hadisa is the eldest child and financially supported 11 members of her family.
“I do not have a source of income to support my family now. My dreams are shattered; I have no idea what my future – or my sisters will look like.”
Now, 24-years-old Hadisa is finishing her master's degree in the US, but her mind and heart are with her family in Afghanistan. In the meantime, she holds remote learning sessions and conferences to guide students in Afghanistan on how to get scholarships and study abroad.
Hadisa, third from right, stands with her MBA classmates at Willamette University in the United States. She is currently in the second year of her Master's programme.
As for Basketball player Fatima, she’s been forced to stop playing the sport she loves as girls have also been banned from taking part in sports.
“My dream was crushed,” Fatima says. “It was a very painful moment for me, and I thought for a moment that my whole future was destroyed. We worked for four years to build our team and improve our skills, but we lost everything in just a few days.”
She is eager to continue her education in any way she can and is currently preparing for Kankor, a university entrance exam for a private institution.
“If I could at least continue my studies, I could become a strong female journalist. I will not give up.”
Hadisa and Fatima continue to push forward despite the restrictions to ensure their rights to education and liberty can be lived by all women. UNICEF will continue to advocate, for as long as it takes, at national and global levels to make sure young girls are free to live the lives they’ve always dreamed of. They only hope that the world will not forget about what women in Afghanistan are fighting for. And that one day soon, they’ll get their happy ending.
Our time is now — our rights, our future.
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