At the age of 18, I was forced to give up on my dream of becoming a physician. The year was 1998. The Taliban had taken control of northern Afghanistan after a long siege and announced that girls and women would now be prevented from pursuing an education. It was a poignant moment because I had just enrolled in university to study medicine. The dream was within my grasp one moment – and taken away the next.
As you can imagine, this was not easy for me to accept. Since childhood I had been focused on this goal; it had given me purpose. Without it I was scared and unsure of what my life would become.
But if there is a single trait that all Afghan women share, it’s determination. Put another way, we lean in.
Despite my anger and disappointment, I was determined to make a meaningful contribution to my country and my family, even if it required plunging into an entirely new profession.
In 2003, I was living in Kabul when an opportunity arose to work for a new telecommunications company called Roshan. The role was executive assistant to the CEO, Karim Khoja. After accepting the position, I quickly learned that working in business was intense yet rewarding. To my surprise, I thrived in the high-pressure environment. And I believed in the company’s mission to rebuild Afghanistan and create economic opportunity and a better life for all Afghans.
After a short time, I transitioned to the human resources department, where I focused on finding and cultivating the company’s future leaders. Recruiting capable employees in a country with limited education and professional opportunities is a major challenge. In my world, a bad day isn’t a train delay on the way to work or a line in the coffee shop. It’s a rush hour terrorist attack that attempts to thwart the progress we are making in Afghanistan every day.
My country remains a challenging place to run a business. To those abroad who only know what they read in the news, I can only imagine the perception you hold. But I can tell you that there is more to the story.
At Roshan, we are making tremendous progress hiring and elevating women to leadership positions. I cannot tell you how many fathers my CEO and I have met to convince them that their daughters are capable and independent and a tremendous asset to our company if only given the chance to build a career. While I have no doubt that many of these fathers only want what’s best for their daughters, it takes time and persistence to introduce them to a new reality.
Afghanistan has a long way to go in achieving better economic opportunities, rights and equality for women and security for our communities. But I wish you could see the world through my eyes even for just a day. There are brave and courageous women who lean in every day to make our country and the world we all share a greater place.
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