Muqadasa: Fighting for Peace and Women’s Rights in Afghanistan

 

Sharp, outspoken and confident: twenty-four-year-old Muqadasa Ahmadzai wears a veil, but it cannot hide these qualities.

She was born in the early 90s to a traditional Afghan family in Jalalabad city, Afghanistan. As the ninth girl in a culture which often gives preference to boys, she had to fight for her position from her first breath. Her family adhered to the traditional belief that girls should remain at home after they reach the age of puberty.

Highlights

  • As the ninth girl in a family that expected a boy, Muqadasa wasn’t welcome and had to fight for her position from her first breath.
  • Earlier this year, Muqadasa and her friends ran a campaign that involved painting colorful peace messages on the walls across Jalalabad city.
  • Muqadasa often travel to nearby districts to help women and girls who are victims of domestic and other types of violence.
  • Now a member of the Youth Parliament, Muqadasa is considering running for parliament in the future to do more for her people.

Muqadasa was 12 years old, studying at grade 7, when she started to rebel. She used to sneak out and attend outdoor activities where the boys outnumbered the girls. This built up her confidence, and her ability to express herself before large groups of men and women.

When she was 19, her family found out that she had been involved in civil rights and peace activism. “I was beaten by my family for a few days when they found out,” says Muqadasa. “I tried to convince my father that if a son could fulfill his hopes, a daughter could also make him proud.”

At first, her family didn’t approve, and tried to discourage her from activism. Even her friends and relatives used to laugh at her. “They thought it was shameful for a young woman to attend public events and appear on TV,” says Muqadasa.

When she was still a teenager, she published a book of poems, but secretly -  no one in her family knew anything about it. One day, an uncle came to her home carrying a copy of her book.
 

UNDP_AF_ Muqadasa-2-2017Pari feels relieved after Muqadasa saved her daughters from being forced into marriage at a young age. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2017


“He told my father he was very proud of me for the book I had written.” My father realized since others appreciated my work, he, as my father, should also be proud of me,” says Muqadasa.  

Muqadasa’s activism puts her in personal danger from those who want to restrict women’s role in Afghan society. For this reason, she wears the veil. “Our society right now would not be able to tolerate a young woman engaged in activism, and not wearing a veil,” she points out.

A few months ago, Muqadasa and her friends conducted a campaign which involved painting colorful peace messages on the walls across Jalalabad city. The idea was to encourage combatants to renounce violence through graffiti. Muqadasa says, “we sent a message to them to join in with us and spray colors instead of blood.”

When they first rolled out the campaign, flocks of people gathered to see what they were doing. Sometimes men would drive up, and mock the women from their cars. Women painting graffiti was an unusual sight in a city where women rarely work outside their homes. “Some people would just gather and stare at us while we were painting,” says Muqadasa.

A young woman joins Muqadasa on her graffiti campaign for peace in Jalalabad city. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2017

Her work is not limited to raising awareness. Muqadasa also engages at grassroots level to help reduce violence against women. Her network of young women activists exceeds 400 throughout Nangarhar province. They travel to nearby districts to help women and girls who are victims of domestic violence, or who are at risk of being handed over as chattels in compensation for crimes their families are said to have committed. Such traditional practices are not uncommon even today.

For example, Pari, a young woman from Nangarhar, who was involved in a dispute over land, was one day given a terrible ultimatum: leave your land, or hand over your daughters for marriage. “I asked Muqadasa for help,” says Pari.  “Muqadasa gathered influential people in our community and helped to resolve our dispute.”

In the future, Muqasasa wants to expand her role as an activist so that she can help more people like Pari. That’s why she joined the Youth Parliament, a platform that the UN and Deputy Ministry of Youth set up for young people from across the country to experience what it is like to be a representative and learn how a parliament functions.

Muqadasa is considering running for parliament in the future. “I have a passion for politics,” says Muqadasa, “but only because it will give me a platform to do more for my people.”

UNDP_AF_ Muqadasa-3-2017Muqadasa paints a wall in Jalalabad to encourage combatants to renounce violence. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2017



 

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