Through Their Eyes: One Afghan woman’s fight for change

World Today

A female journalist and activist was shot and killed in Afghanistan recently. Some suspect the Taliban in an attempt to silence women although no one claimed responsibility. That’s why some women are now fighting back.

CGTN’s Sean Callebs tells us the story of one woman. She is pushing for change in our special series ‘Through Their Eyes- Afghanistan.’

As a woman, who owns and operates a restaurant in Afghanistan, Laila Haidar will never be confused with a wilting flower. Head-strong, uncompromising and demanding she’s trying to allow color to flourish in a drab and dangerous nation.

Haidar opened a restaurant years ago with $200 and a wealth of determination. It’s a rarity in Afghanistan which is a place where men and women can mingle together, drink tea and relax.

“It was surprising for people to see a woman establishing a restaurant. But I had to do it. I needed a source of income to start my projects,” Haidar said.

Haidar’s main ‘project’ though, is kilometers away from her restaurant.

Haidar wades into a world, where men are addicted to heroin in a nation where the drug is cheap and easily found. She’s emerged as a powerful and unlikely human rights hero to get them off drugs and into treatment at her rehabilitation center.

“How difficult was it at first for you a woman to approach drug users? Did they reject you?,” I had asked.

“I think addiction is kind of a treatment sickness and you need to fight against it and that is right,” said Haidar. “An addict won’t get clear with a single shower but eventually he can be cleaned and saved.”

The rehab center Haidar started is where doctors and counselors can help men such as Hussain Dad.

“To be honest, I was tired of addiction and no friends or relatives to ask for help,” said Dad.

They bear the scars of the past – but now have a future. Thousands have received help here over the years. Haidar says the uniform and shaved head helps keep them from running away.

Despite a regimen of strict rules and demands – recovering addicts call her “mother.” She says about one in five are able to stay off drugs.

“I think the problem lies with me if I contact drug again once I leave,” said Dad. “I think I will get addicted again.”

Haidar is one of the few women in Afghanistan who drives and often refuses to wear a headscarf.

“I believe human rights are women’s rights and I will fight for them,” said Haidar.

Haidar also operates a halfway house for women. A safe haven for the abused- and girls forced into the sex trade, like this 16-year-old, Haidar recently freed. She was sold to drug dealers by her parents to pay off their thousand dollar heroin debt.

“I see small girls that are being sold. I know girls who have been forced into a lifestyle that would shock you,” said Hairdar.

It’s something she knows first-hand.

“I was forced into a marriage with a mullah when I was just 12 years old. He was much older than me. I became a mother at 13 and by the age of 18 I had three children.”

She summoned the courage to leave her husband and went into hiding. Haidar emerged a different woman in a country still struggling.

Afghanistan is negotiating a power-sharing structure with the Taliban in an effort to foster peace. It’s a deal, Haidar wants no part of.

“A new government that includes the Taliban that is frightening to me. I think all of our efforts will be wiped out and women will once again be relegated to the house and the kitchen,” said Haidar.

Haidar doesn’t want to see another generation suffer. So she fights to bring beauty and meaning to Afghanistan.Even at her restaurant where these men working there are recovering addicts.

“I find happiness when someone returns to his or her normal life that is really what makes me wholeheartedly happy,” said Haidar.