November 22, 2022
The explosion at Kaaj educational center in Kabul was so powerful that it lifted 17-year-old Fatima Amiri off the ground before thrusting her slim body several meters away.
“I did not faint,” Amiri told VOA over the phone from her home in Kabul.
“I ran to a nearby hospital on my own,” Amiri said as she described the September 30 explosion, which killed 54 people and injured 114, mostly ethnic Hazara students who are repeatedly attacked by the Islamic State group in Afghanistan.
That she managed to walk to a hospital does not minimize the severity of Amiri’s injuries. She has lost one eye and still has shrapnel in parts of her face.
“I can’t hear in my injured ear, and I can’t eat properly because my jaw hurts badly.”
Despite being traumatized and suffering from her injuries, Amiri last month took what is known as the Kankor exam, an annual test for entry to public universities in Afghanistan. She scored in the top 10 among thousands of applicants.
Amiri’s performance on the exam has secured her admission to Kabul University to study her favorite subject, computer sciences, and gave her hopes for a better future in Afghanistan – a country often reported as the worst place for women.
The Taliban, which returned to power in August of last year, have banned secondary education only for girls with no explanation as to why the ban was imposed and when it will be lifted; however, primary and middle schools as well as universities are open to males and females.
Amiri’s ability to graduate from the four-year study program will largely depend on how much she will be able to heal from the injuries she suffered in September.
Doctors have told Amiri that she will regain hearing in her left ear only if she can travel abroad for treatment because advanced medical services are not available inside Afghanistan.
She also needs delicate surgery to have the shrapnel removed from her face, repair her jaw, and restore tissue inside her ear.
Like a majority of Afghans, Amiri’s family lives in poverty and cannot afford to send her out of the country for treatment.
Aid agencies say nearly all Afghans have been pushed to poverty over the past year largely due to international sanctions against the Taliban government as well as the cataclysmic social, economic and political changes Afghanistan has seen since the Taliban’s return to power in 2021.
On November 9, a Virginia-based Afghan couple launched a US$30,000 crowdfunding campaign for Amiri’s treatment and support. As of November 22, the campaign has received more than $33,000 from hundreds of contributors from around the world, according to the organizer, Farhad Darya.
While the campaigners have raised more funds than expected, they still face obstacles implementing their goals.
Sending the funds to Amiri’s family in Kabul will be extremely complicated because of international financial sanctions imposed on Afghanistan.
Securing a passport, visa and flight tickets for Amiri also comes with hurdles because most embassies are closed in Afghanistan and Taliban authorities have restricted passport issuance.
“We are tirelessly working to get her to India or Turkey, but Afghanistan has diplomatic relations with no country and this is time-consuming and not easy,” Darya told VOA.
Under the Taliban, the young Amiri, a Hazara, suffers double discrimination because of her gender and ethnicity.
“Women have been erased from public life and their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights disregarded,” Richard Bennett, U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, reported last month.
The ethnic Hazaras, a religious minority, have long complained about discrimination and even persecution in Afghanistan.
“I have still not lost all my hopes for the future,” Amiri said in Dari, one of the two official languages in Afghanistan in addition to Pashto.
“I have a lot of aspirations to serving my country in the future.”
It is, however, not clear what work opportunities will be available for a young Hazara woman after Amiri’s expected graduation from Kabul University in 2027. For now, the ruling Taliban have set up a men-only government and banned women even from going to public parks and sport centers.
Taliban officials say their restrictions on women’s rights are based on Islamic laws – a claim challenged by many Muslim scholars inside and outside Afghanistan as erroneous.
“This will change too,” Amiri said about the current situation facing Afghan women.