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'Favored Daughter' Sets Sights On Afghan Presidency


Afghan parliament deputy Fawzia Koofi

Afghan parliament deputy Fawzia Koofi

Left on the side of a street to die when she was an infant, Fawzia Koofi entered a world that did not want her.

She survived that test when, after hours of screaming in the sun, someone picked her up and brought her to safety. Her exhausted mother, who had initially abandoned Koofi, took back the impoverished family's 19th child and promised her no future harm.

Since then, Koofi has proven time and again to be a survivor. Having endured years of struggle under Taliban rule, she gained employment with UNICEF in 2002 as a child-protection officer after the fall of the hard-line regime. In 2005, she followed on that success by winning a seat in the Afghan parliament, where she was among the first women to take a leadership role.

In 2005, she followed on that success by winning a seat in the Afghan parliament, where she served as the country's first female deputy speaker.

Now a veteran lawmaker well into her second term, the 36-year-old Koofi has braved numerous death threats to become a champion of women's rights, a leader in the fight against corruption, and a vocal critic of the possible return of the Taliban.

Adamant About Change

In her latest book, "The Favored Daughter: One Woman's Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future," the accomplished author and mother of two sheds light on her harsh upbringing and her grandest ambition yet.

Koofi wants to become Afghanistan's first female president, and as English editions of "The Favored Daughter" hit the bookstands, talk of her prospects of winning in two years' is sure to heat up

Koofi is under no illusions. Afghan women launched unsuccessful bids for the presidency in the country's 2004 and 2009 elections.

Nonetheless, although she concedes that Afghan women are considered by some as second-class citizens in one of the world's most religious and conservative countries, Koofi is adamant that things are changing.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, she cites the inroads women have made over the last decade and the growing participation of women in social and political life.

She believes these factors have given her and some sectors of Afghan society optimism that the country may be prepared for a woman president.

"The common belief in Afghanistan is that the president of the nation has to be a man," she says. "There is still a long time until the 2014 [elections] and we still have many problems. I don't claim that there are no problems and that everything will happen very easily. However, certain parts of Afghan society -- intellectuals and those who want changes -- are ready to accept a woman as president, and we can build on that."

Remarkable Rise To Prominence

Koofi’s climb to prominence is remarkable considering the obstacles she faced as a girl growing up in Badakhshan Province, one of the most remote and conservative regions in the country.

Born to an illiterate mother and a distant father with seven wives, there was little reason to believe she would one day represent her native region in the halls of parliament.

Koofi lived a peripheral existence in a family that eventually expanded to include 23 children.

Her father -- who served as a parliamentarian in the "democracy decade" of the 1970s and whom she has portrayed as incorruptible and strongly traditional -- only spoke to her one time.

Koofi’s life was to be thrown into disarray when war swept across Afghanistan and claimed the lives of her father and two brothers.

While living with her relatives during the intervening years of war, she completed school. Later, under the oppressive rule of the Taliban, she risked her life to educate other women.

'Still Strong Despite Everything'

Koofi began her political career after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001 by promoting women's rights to education in a "Back to School" campaign.

As a lawmaker, Koofi’s quiet strength and resilience serves her well in her effort to improve the lives of Afghan women, many whom continue to grapple with abuse, illiteracy, and forced marriages.

She provides valuable lessons to her two children, Shohra and Shaharzad, in her first book, "Letters to My Daughters," which was published in 2011.

In the "Favored Daughter," whose English edition was published in Britain this week, Koofi reminds her daughters to remain strong no matter what happens.

"One reason that [I wrote the book] was I wanted to leave a message behind if I were no longer alive for my daughters," she said. "The second reason is that it was important for me to let the world know about the strength of Afghan women, which people don't know about. They usually hear things and think of them as poor, illiterate women. I wanted to show them another side -- that we are still strong despite all these things."
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and the broader South Asia and Middle East region. Send story tips to bezhanf@rferl.org. 

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