Zarifa Ghafari: Where is the Ex-Afghanistan Mayor Now?

With Netflix’s ‘In Her Hands’ being an emotional, heavy, and raw documentary that shines a light upon the recent reality of Afghanistan, we get a complete insight into its position with the Taliban. After all, this Marcel Mettelsiefen and Tamana Ayazi-directed original carefully portrays the nation through the eyes of its youngest and one of few female mayors, activist Zarifa Ghafari. So now, if you wish to learn more about her — with a specific focus on her daily experiences, her past, her struggles, and her current whereabouts — we’ve got the necessary details for you.

Who is Zarifa Ghafari?

Although born in 1992 in Kabul as the eldest of eight to Special Operations Corps Commander Abdul Wasi Ghafari and teacher Karima Ghafari, Zarifa had to fight for her rights starting at home. According to the production, her strict father was rather traditional and did not initially appreciate her stance on education or her aspirations but gradually conceded owing to her determination. The first nine years of her life were actually under the Taliban’s original rule, yet she never let studies take a backseat, even when two bombings occurred to stop female literacy years later.

Zarifa escaped with minor injuries in the 2005 bombing, but she fractured her skull in three different places, and chunks of her skin were destroyed in the 2006 one as she was closer to the site. Nevertheless, she managed to graduate from Halima Khazan High School in the Paktia Province before landing a spot at a local Khost Province university, only for her father not to let her go. She thus reportedly followed in her mother’s footsteps and entered the crucial field of teaching in her hometown, which soon earned her a scholarship at Panjab University in Chandigarh, India.

Zarifa obtained both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from this public state institution on a full ride, and then the 22-year-old returned to Afghanistan to begin pursuing a career in politics. She first established the Peghla FM radio station in an attempt to give the women in her country an audible voice before finding herself surrounded by men while fighting elections to become Mayor. She did have hope, yet it was a surprise when she managed to bag the influential title for the capital city of Maidan Shahr in Wardak Province in 2018 — she was merely 26 at the time.

The youngest appointed Mayor of Afghanistan’s start term was reportedly delayed by around nine months owing to eerie protests over her age and gender, but again, Zarifa was not dissuaded. She took up her role in the conservative province and didn’t step away until she was promoted to the Military of Defense in 2021, mere months before Kabul’s fall to the Taliban on August 15. However, within these 2+ years, the militants had not only attempted to assassinate her, but they’d also slain her father (in November 2020), leaving her no choice but to flee following the power shift.

Zarifa Ghafari Continues to Inspire Many Young Women Today

Thanks to the support of various international agencies as well as organizations, Zarifa was able to make it out of Afghanistan alongside her husband, mother, and seven siblings in under three days. They initially flew to Islamabad and then to Turkey, where the German consulate took over — the latter helped them cross into pure Europe before having them settle down in the city of Bonn as refugees. The former Mayor said of this exile, “If someone wants to know how I feel, they should just imagine what it would be like to be torn from their beloved homeland.”

Zarifa continued, “It’s cruel. Not knowing if you’ll ever see [your country or your people] again. Will you ever hug the people you grew up with, the people you did things with. My country means everything to me. If I ever set foot in it again, will I still recognize it?… We couldn’t take anything with us. Baggage raises suspicions… [So, I only] took my father’s military cap with me… I brought my own military uniform… and I took a small can full of Afghan sand with me. I can’t fall asleep until I smell the pile of sand, touch it.”

She also admitted, “I came to Germany with my entire family on August 22, 2021. It was the most horrific experience of my life. Leaving my country was harder than losing my dad. I was never afraid of death — I’m sure the people who followed my story know I was already working in the path of death daily — so it was never just a decision about me. But my family [has] the right to live in peace when they have nothing to do with my work. The day I left Afghanistan, I promised myself to return once I could safeguard the lives of my family.”

And she did; Zarifa traveled back to her homeland in February 2022 as a part of her role as the Founder/CEO of the Assistance and Promotion for Afghan Women non-profit organization. In other words, although she still resides in Germany, the former Mayor continues to serve Afghanistan as an entrepreneur, an economist, and a human rights activist. She remains the Founder & General Director of Peghla FM radio and recently even penned a memoir entitled ‘Zarifa: A Woman’s Battle in a Man’s World.’

We should mention Zarifa was included in the 2019 BBC list of 100 Inspiring and Influential Women from Around the World, was honored by the U.S. Department of State as an International Women of Courage in 2020, and was awarded the InStyle 2020 title of Women Who Can Change the World. Most significantly, though, she received the International Women’s Rights Award at the United Nations Geneva Summit in 2022.

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