Mahnaz’s father does not want her to return to Afghanistan after she graduates. He’s always been supportive of her education, particularly because her older sister is plagued by regret over ending her education prematurely to get married. Her dad thinks Afghanistan is too limiting for women. Mahnaz doesn’t disagree. During our time together on campus, she reminisced about the struggles she faced when she worked at an American NGO in Kabul in high school. She often argued with her male colleagues at the NGO and could never get them to recognize their own misogyny. “The men were saying it is not good for women to work,” Mahnaz recalled. “I said, ‘You see me, I am a woman working here. I’m very successful.’” But they insisted she was the exception, and that other women were prone to letting men take advantage of them. “I said, ‘Okay, then that’s your problem. Why you don’t make yourself better humans. Why don’t you become better humans so that our society becomes a good place for women to come and work?’”
She isn’t totally opposed to returning to her homeland either. She’d like to work for the United Nations on women’s and human rights issues, either in Afghanistan, the U.S., or somewhere else abroad, as a way to utilize the international relations portion of her double major. Another dream is to make films in Afghanistan (the other half of her major). Both documentary and feature films interest her, and so far she has shot several shorts—including one about the burn she sustained at the family wedding years ago. A film career, however, could prove even more challenging than the NGO work was. “It’s very hard for women to come to
Afghanistan and work in film as a director,” she said. “There aren’t organizations that support them.” Furthermore, women working in film are considered immodest—although that fact is not likely to stop her. “I don’t listen to them. I want to continue with what I like,” Mahnaz told me. But first, she hopes to go to graduate school in one of her two areas of interest, film or international relations. “I will see what graduate school I get accepted to and whether I can get financial aid. Even if I don’t get to graduate school, I want to work one year after my graduation in the United States. Then I will decide if I go back to Afghanistan or not.”
If this excerpt from one of her own stories is any indication, there’s no doubt she’ll choose the right path. “A beautiful woman is a girl who decides about her own life. She . . . never submits to a bunch of ignorant old women who tell her whatever your family and relatives decide for you is the best. She thinks and
decides for herself. Let her be alive and act alive. She is not a dead body that her family carries in the fog. She has a heart. They cannot bury it.”
Claire Martin ’95 is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles, California. She has been a mentor with the Afghan Women’s Writing Project since 2011.