Ghafari was finally able to start working in November 2019, nearly a year after her appointment, but soon, as she tells CNN, she would face constant harassment, intimidation and regular protests: mobs of angry men protesting outside his office, holding sticks and throwing stones.
She remembers walking into his office and everyone else walking out, as well as the times when she would come to his office through a locked door, having to break the lock just to get in.
But the young Afghan civil servant continued to run and served as mayor for two and a half years.
“The more they ignored me, the stronger I became; the more they rejected me, the stronger I became; the more I saw how [they ridiculed] me for my gender, the stronger I became,” she says.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to show you people, because whatever’s on my mind is like you, too.’
And Ghafari would succeed in changing some people’s attitudes. She says one of her fiercest critics told her years later that she had proven him wrong when he told her she was nothing more than a little girl.
“I was able to show the power and the ability of women and prove that we can do anything. I showed people that no matter how many times I get attacked, I will always be here because I mean what I am. doing is good,” she says.
But all of this happened before America withdrew its troops from Afghanistan last year and before the Taliban took control of the country. Initially, Ghafari had wanted to stay, but the situation on the ground got worse and worse, she said. Her father was murdered in 2020 and she thought her own life was also in danger.
“I have no illusions about the Taliban, but I am also aware that they will now be in power in Afghanistan for a few years. The media has mostly focused on the Taliban and how they will govern, but I am interested in the people and I believe we need to build, rather than break, the bridge between the Afghan people and the world,” she said.
In February, Ghafari returned to Kabul for the first time and says she was horrified to see how quickly conditions had deteriorated there and in neighboring provinces.
“We have always had shocking poverty in Afghanistan, but now even those who belonged to the middle class are struggling to survive. State employees have not received their salaries for months. As I drove around from Kabul, I saw people standing on the side of the road and selling their household goods,” she says.
She hopes to expand to other parts of the country in the coming months.
“I urge you to do all you can to get our people out of this predicament and to raise your voice for humanity. The solution is not for everyone to sit still and send in statements. We we need action at least after seven months of darkness for the men and women of my country,” she said in her acceptance speech at the UN.
“My country has been at war for 40 years. Achieving peace in a country that has been at war for decades is never easy. It often involves making unpleasant choices and talking to people you find obnoxious. And yet there is no other way. This is how peace was achieved in Northern Ireland and Yugoslavia, and I think this is the only way to achieve it in Afghanistan,” she continued.
In addition to prioritizing human rights and women’s rights in any international talks with the Taliban, she called on world leaders not to close their doors to Afghans seeking safe haven. Referring to the welcome that many European countries offer to those fleeing the war in Ukraine, Ghafari added: “Our blood is not different in color from Ukrainians.”
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