For Parisa Haidari, staying alive after the Taliban came to power meant leaving journalism. But that wasn’t enough.
Parisa Haidari made her way more than 3,100 miles from Afghanistan to Italy.
This article, by high school student Keya Dutt, was produced out of News Decoder’s school partnership program. Keya is a student at School Year Abroad, a News Decoder partner institution. Learn more about how News Decoder can work with your school.
Parisa Haidari is taking classes with her daughter to become a certified nail technician. They hope to open a nail salon in Italy, which could also serve as a cultural center for Muslim women, who, like her, have had to flee Afghanistan, leaving their homes and careers behind.
Before Haidari ended up in Italy, she had been a journalist in Kabul. In some ways she has come full circle. She started out as a beautician back in 2005 while she finished university.
After getting a degree in literature, she started working as a cultural and social host for Farda TV/Radio, where she invited important figures on the show to talk about cultural matters, such as the growing feminist movement in Afghanistan.
But women’s rights was not something the general public embraced. Haidari said that after U.S. special forces killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, she began to hear stories about coworkers targeted for being journalists, specifically those who were women.
“Being a journalist and a woman working in social media was dangerous, many colleagues were threatened or killed,” Haidari said. “I did not feel safe doing this job, so that’s the reason why I decided to quit.”
Empowering women in Afghanistan
After seven years as a journalist, Haidari left her job and began working in an orphanage, where she taught young girls cosmetology skills, including hair-cutting and makeup application, in appreciation of the job that got her through university.
Years later, Haidari got a job at Nove Onlus, an Italian NGO aimed at bringing peace and justice to the world, as well as creating more jobs for women.
Her job was to drive a pink shuttle, a van that picked women up at their houses and dropped them off at work.
This empowered the women of Kabul and kept them safe. Many women were not permitted to go more than 20 meters from their house without a male relation. The pink shuttle allowed women to go back and forth to work easily.
On 10 August 2021, the Biden administration in Washington announced it would pull American troops out of Afghanistan, and a mere five days later, the Taliban regained control of the capital city of Kabul.
Fleeing Kabul to be free of Taliban rule
Shortly after, Haidari, her husband and her youngest daughter, with the help of Nove Onlus, caught a flight out of Kabul and came to Florence, where they caught a bus to Arezzo and finally to Viterbo. Their oldest son had moved to Germany many years earlier, while their second oldest daughter had married and moved to Iran.
“This wasn’t an organized trip, we left Afghanistan immediately, we hadn’t prepared ourselves at all,” Haidari said. “We hadn’t thought of this before at all, and when we came to Italy we met different people, religion, language, culture, food. Everything was new for us. So at the beginning it was difficult, but little by little we are learning to adapt to our new lives.”
Haidari attributes much of the help that they received to Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana (ARCI), a national Italian nonprofit organization that works to provide financial and physical aid to immigrants and refugees in Italy.
According to the Italian National Institute of Statistics, there are currently about 14,000 Afghan refugees living in Italy. Of this group, only 15% are women.
One expert, who works at ARCI, explained that this low percentage suggests that Afghanistan is not allowing women who lack husbands or who emancipated themselves to leave the country. “We have a lot of women in our project who ask to be reunited with their sisters or daughters but there is no solution for them now,” the expert said, speaking on condition that their name not be used. “There are no ‘humanitarian channels’ agreed with the current government of Afghanistan.”
The struggle for the rights of women under traditional Islam
Haidari’s earliest childhood memories take place in Iran, the bordering country that her family moved to from Afghanistan shortly after she was born. She is the oldest of 10 siblings, split between one father and two mothers.
Haidari doesn’t remember much of her early childhood, except the constant presence of war and instability in Afghanistan.
These conditions only worsened. Merely five years after she was born, the president of Afghanistan was killed and Nur Mohammed Taraki, leader of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, took over Afghanistan as the new leader.
During his reign, Taraki restricted women’s rights and established traditional Islamic values. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), since 1982 about 2.8 million Afghan people have fled to neighboring Pakistan and Iran in order to escape the ongoing chaos in Afghanistan.
After graduating high school in Iran, Haidari studied literature at a local university for two years until her family found her a husband, whom she met once before getting married. She was not even 20 years old on her wedding day, and had her first son a year later. Due to the birth of her son, she had to drop out of university, much to her dismay.
“I wanted to study, but when I got married I couldn’t continue my studies anymore, so I gave up,” Haidari said.
The Taliban reemerges.
In 1995, the Taliban rose to power in Afghanistan with the promise of peace, causing even more chaos and war in the country. Not long after, however, 9/11 happened, and the United States became suspicious that Osama Bin Laden, who was behind the attack, was hiding in Afghanistan. This led to United States occupancy in Afghanistan, which drove the Taliban out of power.
Shortly after this, Haidari moved to Afghanistan, full of hope for peace and equal rights for women in this war-torn country.
Now, Haidari is using the help of ARCI to open a nail salon that will double as a cultural center for Muslim women, particularly Afghan women, in the Viterbo province. “We want to open up this cultural center with the help of ARCI. We want to do it for women, for Muslim women and above all for Afghan women,” she said.
Haidari would like the women of Afghanistan to know that they are beautiful and strong, and that they can do anything just like, if not better than men can. She wants the world to know that Afghan women can do anything that they put their minds to.
“I have this message for the Afghan women: I am sure that we can find a solution, and one day we will pass all of this war, all of these things that are happening in Afghanistan,” Haidari said. “I hope that this situation soon ends in Afghanistan, and that we can get back the rights that we had before.”
According to the UNHCR, about 200,000 Afghan women fled the country in August 2021. Millions more remain, unable to escape.
Three questions to consider:
- Why did Parisa Haidari need to stop working as a journalist?
- Why did Haidari feel she had to leave Afghanistan?
- What are some hardships people face when they emigrate from one country to another?
Keya Dutt is from Chicago, Illinois, and is spending her second year of high school studying at School Year Abroad Italy. When in the United States, she attends the Latin School of Chicago. She has lived in Chicago, Tokyo, Detroit, Hyderabad, Shanghai and Perth. Her favorite subject is History, and outside of class she enjoys Model United Nations. In the future, she hopes to major in History or English at university and eventually become a political journalist.
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