Afghanistan One Year Later: A Conversation with Fawzia Koofi

Former vice president of the National Assembly of Afghanistan Fawzia Koofi speaks about women’s rights in Madrid, Spain. (Photo By Alejandro Martinez Velez/Europa Press via Getty Images).

Over the last two decades, Afghan women experienced huge advances in their ability to access education, participate in the workforce, and secure representation in politics. In August 2021, the  Taliban returned to a changed Afghanistan with a more educated population than ever before. Fawzia Koofi, a leading advocate for the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, spoke with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) about the current situation in Afghanistan and how to support basic human rights and dignity for all Afghans.

“I think Afghanistan has gone back to scratch to where the Taliban were first time in power, and especially it has gone back to scratch when it comes to women and human rights,” said Koofi to NED President and CEO Damon Wilson during a Twitter Space conversation on August 19, 2022.  “Since the Taliban took over, they have actually issued 28 verdicts and decrees, and all of that is in one way or the other eliminating women’s rights.”

Koofi was the first woman to be elected as second deputy speaker in the Afghan parliament and served as a member of the Afghan delegation in negotiations with the Taliban in 2020. She is currently a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in partnership with the Carl Gershman Fund for Democrats at Risk at NED.

“We go to bed every night thinking about not only our partners who remain in Afghanistan but the 28 million people there who really deserve a brighter future,” said Wilson, who reiterated NED’s commitment to supporting Afghans in the fight for civil liberties and human rights. “And it’s because of the work of people like you, Fawzia, that I’m confident one day that will be the case.” [Read more about NED’s commitment to Afghan partners.]

Sharing her personal experiences as a politician and an activist, Koofi recalled working on the UNICEF Back to School Campaign in 2001, when initially some families opposed sending girls to school. “Eventually I think even in the remote, very conservative areas of Afghanistan, people wanted their daughters to go to school,” Koofi said. “One of the things that cannot be measured is that societal transformation, the fact that regardless of people living in whichever part of Afghanistan, they wanted to be part of the progress of their nation.”

Looking toward the future, Koofi remains committed to working for a political settlement that will allow her and others to return to Afghanistan. She said she will continue to create platforms to amplify Afghan women’s voices to international policymakers. “I think women of Afghanistan are in the age of making history,” Koofi said. “They are the natural resistance for the progress of their country, against oppression.”