Becoming Fatima – Making Aspirational Choices

Posted June 22, 2022
Photo: UNDP Kazakhstan

My mother once told me that she doesn’t like the choices I make, that I am a disappointment.

It broke my heart to hear such words.

My name is Fatima. I am from Afghanistan. And this is my story.

In 2019 I applied for a EU-UNDP scholarship and came to study in Kazakhstan. I was so happy. I couldn’t believe it.

I was born in Iran I. have five  brothers and a sister.  My father owned a small store, my elder brother worked at a mechanical workshop. I have many happy memories about my childhood in that country.  

In 2005 we returned to Afghanistan.

I graduated from 9th grade in Iran and wanted to attend high school. My mother and elder brothers tried to convince me that it is not safe for girls to go to school. Partially, they were right, but I was young and full of energy. And I wanted to study.

 

Photo: UNDP Kazakhstan/Alexey Malchenko

My mom would let me go to school on the condition that I wear a burqa. I could not see a thing around me when donned in a burqa, so I kept the face cover open. (Fatima is laughing) My mom was ok with that.  

We lived in the area with cheap housing for refugees who returned to Afghanistan so we had no electricity in our house. After school I went to teach math courses for younger kids and did my homework at the educational centre. At home I used a small torch to read when it was dark.

At grade 12, one family suggested my mother marry me to their son. I knew there was little chance that a husband would agree to let me study at university so I said, “No”.

 

I remember my mom told me that I was not a good daughter. I was not calm like my sister, I was not obedient like my sister. I caused so much trouble. She said she would never forgive me. To hear such words from your mother was heartbreaking.

It was as if I had to choose between a loving mother and education. It was not an easy choice.

My sister was given as a wife to that man. She completed 7th grade. She was 14 years old.

When I graduated from school, I was planning to apply to university.

“What will you do with your education?” – I stopped counting how many times I heard this question. We argued every night.

My brother told me that university has a lot of expenses and that our family cannot afford it. Eventually I managed to convince them and went to Kabul to study. I worked, my younger brother worked as well and helped me financially, and I managed to pay for my BA degree.

 

My father never interfered in family arguments about my education plans. When I studied at university, he started asking me how I liked my education, what I was studying, and many other questions.

I understood that it was his way of supporting me.

My sister’s husband did not allow her to continue her education at school. The first several years of marriage were very hard on her.

A lot of work around the house was exhausting for a teenage girl. She lost her first child before she was 18.

All of this affected my mother badly. She had her regrets. Her traditional views were shaken. She changed a lot. “You were right”, my mom tells me now. Her words warm my heart. As if the sun emerged from the clouds and started shining after so many days.

Photo: UNDP Kazakhstan/Alexey Malchenko

I try hard to keep warm relationship with my sister. I wanted her to continue her school education so that she would could pass her knowledge on to her kids. But for now, she’s not listening to me.

Somehow, she holds me responsible for all the hardships in her life.

I graduated from KBTU with a master’s degree in finance.

I enjoy living in Almaty, I made new friends. People are kind and supportive here. I see a lot of hospitality and respect between men and women.

I like doing research, and I really hope I will find a research-related job.

I also like writing stories. I write mostly about women. Each woman’s story is a unique one. It is a story of change. A story of courage. A story of becoming.

My name is Fatima. And this is my story.

 

Overall, 155 young women from Afghanistan will receive education in Central Asian universities by 2027 under the scholarship programme financed by the European Union and implemented by the UNDP.

Women make up half of Afghanistan's 40 million population. But only a small percentage are enrolled in universities.

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This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its content is the sole responsibility of UNDP Kazakhstan and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.