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Authors: Fawzia Koofi

The Favored Daughter

BOOK: The Favored Daughter
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To my mom, who was the kindest,
most talented teacher in the world;
to both my daughters, who are the stars of my life;
and to all women of Afghanistan



Copyright © Fawzia Koofi, 2012.

All rights reserved.

First published in France as
Lettres à mes filles
by Michel Lafon.

First published in 2012 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN® in the U.S.—a division of St. Martin's Press LLC, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

Where this book is distributed in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world, this is by Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited, registered in England, company number 785998, of Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS.

Palgrave Macmillan is the global academic imprint of the above companies and has companies and representatives throughout the world.

Palgrave® and Macmillan® are registered trademarks in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and other countries.

ISBN: 978-0-230-12067-9


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Koofi, Fawzia, 1975–

The favored daughter : one woman's fight to lead Afghanistan into the future / Fawzia Koofi with Nadene Gourhi.

  p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-230-12067-9 (hardback)

1. Koofi, Fawzia, 1975– 2. Women legislators— Afghanistan—Biography. 3. Legislators—Afghanistan— Biography. 4. Women—Afghanistan—Biography. 5. Afghanistan. Ulasi Jirgah—Biography. 6. Women—Social conditions— Afghanistan. 7. Children—Social conditions—Afghanistan. 8. Women's rights—Afghanistan. 9. Human rights—Afghanistan. I. Gourhi, Nadene. II. Title.

DS371.43.K66A3 2012




A catalogue record of the book is available from the British Library.

Design by Letra Libre

First edition: January 2012

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Printed in the United States of America.




A Historical Timeline of Afghanistan





September 2010

The morning I wrote the letter that begins Chapter 1, I was due to attend a political meeting in Badakhshan, the province of Northern Afghanistan that I represent as a member of the Afghan parliament. Badakhshan is the northernmost province of Afghanistan, bordering both China and Takjikistan.

It is also one of the poorest, wildest, most remote, and culturally conservative provinces in all of Afghanistan.

Badakhshan has the highest rate of maternal mortality and child mortality in the entire world, due in part to its inaccessibility and crippling poverty, but also in part to a culture that sometimes puts tradition ahead of women's health. A man will rarely seek hospital treatment for his wife unless it's clear she won't survive otherwise. With childbirth, this often means a woman may undergo three or four days of agonizing labor. By the time she reaches a hospital—often on the back of a donkey after traveling over rocky mountain tracks—it is usually too late to save both mother and child.

On the day I wrote the letter I was warned not to travel because there had been a credible threat that the Taliban planned to kill me by planting an improvised explosive device (a roadside bomb) underneath my car. The Taliban dislike women holding such powerful positions in government as I do, and they dislike my public criticisms even more.

They often try to kill me.

Recently they have tried even harder than usual to murder me, threatening my home, tracking my journeys to work so they can lay a bomb as my car passes, even firing on a convoy of police vehicles that was supposed to protect me. One recent gun attack on my car lasted for 30 minutes, killing two policemen. I stayed inside the vehicle, not knowing if I would be alive or dead when it was over.

I know the Taliban and those others who seek to silence me for speaking out against corruption and bad leadership in my country will not be happy until I am dead.

But on this day I ignored the threat. I have ignored countless similar threats, because if I didn't, I could not do my job.

But I felt the threat. I always feel it. That's the very nature of threat, and those who threaten know that.

I awoke my eldest daughter, Shaharzad, who is twelve, at 6:00 a.m. and told her that if I didn't come home from this trip in a few days, she was to read the letter to her ten-year-old younger sister, Shuhra. Shaharzad's eyes, full of questions, met mine. I placed my finger to her lips and kissed her and her sleeping sister on the forehead as I quietly left the room and closed the door.

I regularly tear myself away from my children to do my work, despite knowing I might well be murdered. But my job is to represent the poorest people of my nation. That purpose, along with raising my two beautiful daughters, is what I live for. I could not on that day, and will not ever, let my people down.


Dear Shuhra and Shaharzad,

Today I am going on political business to Faizabad and Darwaz. I hope I will come back soon and see you again, but I have to say that perhaps I will not

There have been threats to kill me on this trip. Maybe this time these people will be successful in doing that

As your mother it causes me such bitter pain to tell you this. But please understand I would willingly sacrifice my life if it meant a peaceful Afghanistan and a better future for the children of this country

I live this life so that you—my precious girls—will be free to live your lives and to dream all of your dreams

If I am killed and I don't see you again, I want you to remember a few things for me

First, don't forget me

Because you are young and have yet to finish all your studies and can live independently, I want you to stay with your aunt Khadija. She loves you so much and she will take care of you for me

You have my authority to spend all the money I have in the bank. But use it wisely and use it for your studies. Focus on your education. A girl needs an education if she is to excel in this man's world

After you graduate from eighth grade, I want you to continue your studies abroad. I want you to be familiar with universal values. The world is a big, beautiful, wonderful place and it is yours to explore

Be brave. Don't be afraid of anything in life

All of us human beings will die one day. Maybe today is the day I will die. But if I do, please know it was for a purpose.

Don't die without achieving something. Take pride in trying to help people, and in trying to make our country and our world a better place

I kiss you both. I love you.
Your mother





Even the day I was born, I was supposed to die.

I have stared death in the face countless times in my 35 years, but still I'm alive.

I can't explain this, other than knowing that God has a purpose for me.

Perhaps his purpose for me is to govern and lead my country out of the abyss of corruption and violence. Or perhaps his purpose is simply for me to be a good mother to my daughters.

I was my father's nineteenth child out of a total of 23, and my mother's last child. My mother was my father's second wife. When she fell pregnant with me she was physically exhausted from the seven children she had already given birth to. She was also depressed at having lost my father's affections to his newest—and youngest—seventh wife. So she wanted me to die.

I was born out at pasture. During the summer months, my mother and a host of servants would make the annual journey to graze our cattle and sheep in the highest points of the mountains, where the grass was sweeter. This was her chance to escape the house for a few weeks. She would take charge of the entire operation, gathering enough dried fruit, nuts, rice, and oil to sustain the small party of travelers for the three months or so they would be away. The preparations leading up to the trip would be a source of great excitement, my mother packing and planning every last detail before a convoy on horses and donkeys set off across the higher grounds.

My mother loved these trips. As she rode through the villages, her joy at being temporarily free from the shackles of home and housework, and being able to breathe in the fresh mountain air, were evident to all.

There is a local saying that the more powerful and passionate a woman is, the nicer she looks while sitting upon a horse in her burqa. It was also said that no one ever looked more beautiful on horseback than my mother did. It was something about the way she held herself—her uprightness, her dignity.

But the year I was born, 1975, she was not in a celebratory mood. Thirteen months earlier she had stood at the large yellow gates of our
(house), a large, sprawling, mud-walled, single-story structure, and watched a wedding party descend the path that snaked down from the mountains through the center of our village. The groom was my mother's husband. My father had chosen to take a seventh wife, a girl who was just 14 years old.

Each time he remarried, my mother was devastated—although my father liked to joke that with each new wife my mother became yet more beautiful. Of all his wives my father had loved my mother, Bibi jan (literally translated, the name means “beautiful dear”), the most. But in my parents' mountain village culture, love and marriage very rarely meant the same thing. Marriage was for family, tradition, culture, and obedience, all of which were deemed more important than individual happiness. Love was something no one was expected to need or to feel. Love only caused trouble. People believed unquestioning duty was where happiness lay.

BOOK: The Favored Daughter
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