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Afghanistan

Life under burqa inspired struggle for democracy

Living conditions have improved in Afghanistan, especially for women. But many wonder what will happen when NATO troops leave in 2014. That year, Afghans also vote for their next president - who just might be a woman.

Under the Taliban, she dreamed of being out in the streets of Kabul without a burqa.

Life then was reduced to "looking at the huge world from the small window - that's how life was for a woman," Fawzia Koofi, a leading Afghan women's rights champion and lawmaker told Deutsche Welle.

Things have changed since 2001, especially for girls and women, the presidential hopeful says: "You see women in the parliament and involved in social activities."

Koofi, too, is a member of parliament. An avid advocate for women's rights, Koofi is intent on making sure her two teenage daughters have every opportunity to a better life.

"My daughters are struggling to go the best school in Kabul; they have iPads and laptops, they use Facebook," Koofi says and adds that during the Taliban era, she rarely had the opportunity even to use a pen or a book.

Today, about 2.7 million girls go to school across the nation, compared to just 5,000 under Taliban rule. Education is not only important for women on a social level, but also economically, the parliamentarian says, "because once you become economically independent, then you can be a main decision-maker in the family."

Agents of peace and change

Koofi is convinced peace and change in Afghanistan hinge on women: "The only way to bring peace to Afghanistan and to stabilize the country would be to bring forward new faces and new generations that support them."

A burqa-clad Afghan woman (Photo: Adek Berry/AFP/GettyImages)

Koofi wants Afghan women to have more than a 'window to the world'

The politician, who is in her mid-30s, had a hard life. She was born in a remote village in Badakshan province, near the border with China and Tajikistan.

"There was no doctor, no midwife. I was my mother's last child and my mother was exhausted," Koofi says. "She didn't want another girl to suffer as much as she suffered."

Local women swaddled the newborn in some clothes and left her in the hot sun, not caring if she lived or died. After a day alone, screaming and sunburnt, the women finally brought Koofi back to her mother. It was the beginning of a close relationship.

'It doesn't stop us'

Traditional and cultural barriers in Afghanistan make her work extremely challenging, Koofi says. As a member of parliament, she fights for gender equality, which has made her a target of the Taliban. She says she expects the radical militants will one day succeed in killing her.

For the Taliban, it's important to kill people who have a voice and who can make a difference, Koofi says: "I have already been attacked many times by Taliban. I think I am a favorite target. But it doesn't stop us - not only me, all women activists in Afghanistan."

Koofi fears a Talibanization of the country that would come about as a result of negotiating away the "democratic values" that have been gained since 2001. Reconciliation, she says, has gone "nowhere."

And she exhorts international forces not to leave the country in a hurry: "You came to Afghanistan on a mission, and that mission was to make sure Afghanistan is safe and not a security threat anymore for the world. Let's work together to make sure Afghanistan is a safe country and no longer a safe haven for terrorism."

Koofi says she's determined to do everything she can possible to make sure democracy survives in Afghanistan. That is also why she plans to run in the country's 2014 presidential election.

Her vision for the future is an Afghanistan in which "girls happily go to school and become doctors and engineers in their country."

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