Tamana Ayazi and Kat Craig: The danger and devotion of fighting for women in Afghanistan

Recorded atOctober 24, 2022
EventTEDWomen Presents
Duration (min:sec)23:44
Video TypeTED Stage Talk
Words per minute167.44 slow
Readability (FK)65.39 very easy
SpeakerTamana Ayazi and Kat Craig

Official TED page for this talk


The women of Afghanistan are being persecuted under Taliban rule, but they're not standing down. Filmmaker Tamana Ayazi chronicles the harrowing reality of one women's rights advocate -- Zarifa Ghafari, Afghanistan's youngest female mayor -- in her documentary "In Her Hands." In conversation with human rights lawyer Kat Craig, Ayazi discusses the making of her film, her experience interviewing the Taliban leaders she opposes and her hopes for the future of her beloved country.

Text Highlight (experimental)
100:04 Kat Craig: Tamana, welcome.
200:05 It's so wonderful to have you here today.
300:07 Thank you for joining us.
400:09 We're going to be talking about your directorial feature debut "In Her Hands."
500:14 I can't wait to hear all about that process of making such a beautiful film.
600:20 But before we start, can you tell us a little bit about what it was like when you were younger in Afghanistan, what it was like growing up?
700:27 Tamana Ayazi: Thank you so much. It's lovely to be here with you.
800:31 Some of the good memories I have from my childhood [are] being able to play soccer on the street with boys, with my friends.
900:38 And also I used to have a bike.
1000:40 I used to go out every evening with my friends to bring groceries, to just go, you know, spend some time together and just be there and exist.
1100:54 KC: And that very active life has continued for you.
1200:58 I know that you started making films at a really young age, when you were still in high school, is that right?
1301:03 TA: Yes, I was in 11th grade when I started.
1401:06 I was part of a program called Citizen Journalism and Documentary Filmmaking, and I was representing my hometown, Mazar, north of Afghanistan.
1501:15 And that’s how I started making films.
1601:18 And it was -- we were supposed to make one documentary, one short documentary per month from pre-production to post-production.
1701:26 And we were very excited about that.
1801:28 And it opened other doors.
1901:30 I was able to go to the places I have never been and I was able to meet people, communicate, listen to them and try to tell their stories.
2001:40 KC: Let's talk a little bit about "In Her Hands."
2101:42 Can you summarize a little bit about what the film is about and why you chose to tell that story?
2201:49 TA: The film is about a strong woman who was trying to make a change in her community.
2301:54 And like many other Afghans from my generation, Zarifa Ghafari was trying to make a change in her own hometown of Maidan Shar, Maidan Wardak.
2402:04 And she was quite famous in Afghanistan, so I was really curious to know about her more.
2502:10 So that's how I visited her.
2602:12 And then we were trying to make a film not only about who Zarifa was, but also the country itself.
2702:20 So we tried to include other characters to be able to tell a story of the country, not only one person.
2802:27 And the journey of the country towards 2021.
2902:41 (Video) Zarifa Ghafari: In the name of Allah. May God protect us.
3002:57 Driver: I’m Mayor Zarifa Ghafari’s driver, and I guard her 24/7.
3103:03 And I'm very happy to be serving a woman who so completely serves her country and her people.
3203:21 ZG: After we pass these deserts, we’ll feel safer.
3303:30 Slow down. Drive slowly.
3403:35 Cars are heading towards us.
3503:39 (Horn blares)
3603:45 Driver: I drive above the speed limit, one hand on the steering wheel, one on my pistol, because the road I drive Zarifa on every day between Kabul and Maidan Shar is controlled by the Taliban.
3704:04 She is a champion for me and our people.
3804:12 I live every second of my life with the memory of her.
3904:25 KC: So the film spans a period -- I think you started working on the project in 2020 and Zarifa, the main character, is the youngest female mayor in Afghanistan, in the capital city of a province that has always had a strong Taliban presence.
4004:43 And you did go out and you filmed in the mountains with the Taliban.
4104:49 You said earlier that one of your favorite parts of filmmaking is talking with people and telling their stories.
4204:55 It must have been difficult meeting people whose views you don't share.
4305:00 Tell us a little bit about how you managed to build those relationships and how you were able to film there.
4405:08 TA: I think filmmaking and storytelling is more about listening to people, understanding them, no matter how different they are.
4505:16 So this is how -- When we started working on this documentary, "In Her Hands," that's how it started.
4605:24 So with Zarifa, for me, it was easier because she was a woman, she was from my own generation and we were trying to make a change in our communities, using different tools or different ways.
4705:36 But then also we thought that's important to include also the Taliban, because there was peace talks going on between the US government and the Taliban, but Afghans were not included.
4805:48 And we, as Afghan woman, knew that we will be more affected than anyone if there is any change in the country, especially if Taliban will come back to power.
4906:00 KC: When you met with some of the senior leadership in the region of the Taliban, how did they respond to you?
5006:07 Were you able to have conversations and did their opinion of you, do you think, change over the course of the filming?
5106:15 TA: When I first started contacting the Taliban, so basically we did it through the leadership.
5206:21 We contacted them to be able to go there and film them.
5306:25 It took us some time, they did not respond to messages on time.
5406:28 So it took us weeks and months to get permission.
5506:31 But then once I was there, because I was a woman, and then after -- they said after 25 or more years, there was an Afghan filmmaker, a woman on the mountains with them.
5606:43 So they were quite shocked to see me there.
5706:46 So when I was doing the first interview, they tried to not look at me.
5806:51 But then I remember by the time they started, you know, being more comfortable.
5906:57 And then at the end, I remember when I was saying goodbye to one of the leaders, one of the commanders, he was blushing and he wanted to shake hands with me.
6007:07 And then that time I wasn't sure. I was like, what will happen?
6107:10 Because I see all these other Taliban commanders and Taliban soldiers, and they had their guns with them.
6207:16 So I was like, what if I shake hands and something happens to me?
6307:21 And I remember our local producer who visited Taliban so many times before, he kept saying, "Tamana, be careful, don't do that."
6407:29 So, yeah.
6507:30 KC: And did you shake his hand?
6607:33 TA: He didn't want to do that at the end. So yeah, we left at that.
6707:36 KC: Yeah.
6807:41 (Video) Solider 1: The government has failed the people of Afghanistan.
6907:47 Ask the people here whether the government has done anything for them.
7007:53 Solider 2: We are from this country, and we will serve it.
7108:09 Solider 3: Brave Mujahideen!
7208:11 Solider 4: Until we establish Islamic rule across the whole planet, we will not surrender to anyone.
7308:20 I have been put here to fight people.
7408:24 I have been instructed to kill people.
7508:27 To destroy people, behead people.
7608:31 Until they believe there is no god but Allah.
7708:41 Musafer: I’ve fought in these mountains since the US invasion in 2001.
7808:47 Look at me, I am 36 years old, but everyone thinks I am 40 or 50 years old.
7909:02 KC: This is with the same people who were sending written death threats to Zarifa, the main character in the film, as early as 2017.
8009:12 Tell us a bit about the risks that both she and you faced working in a province that had such a strong Taliban presence.
8109:24 TA: It just came back. I can still feel it.
8209:28 It was not an easy experience because you know that any moment you might get killed.
8309:36 And there were times when we filmed at night, days and nights in Maidan Wardak, I was with her and there was fighting going on between [the] Afghan army and the Taliban.
8409:46 And also, whenever we were in the car, I remember she used to hold my hand really tight, saying that “Tamana, what if there is a sticky bomb in this side of the car or that side of the car?”
8509:59 But, you know, when you're going through so many crises, you find ways to deal with it.
8610:06 And then we try to remember the good things about, you know, being there.
8710:11 And then I used to say that, "Zarifa, we are very close to Kabul."
8810:15 It happened most of the time on the way between Maidan Wardak and Kabul.
8910:19 Or I remember when we were in the city and we lost a few friends in Taliban sticky bombs explosions.
9010:26 And we were down most of the time, but that doesn’t mean that there was no life.
9110:31 We found ways to deal with it.
9210:32 We found ways to be happy.
9310:34 We found ways to find solutions, at least to raise our voice.
9410:38 I remember we did campaigns.
9510:40 We did protests to -- make people, our leaders, and the world leaders, listen to what was happening and what was waiting for us in the future.
9610:53 But unfortunately, I think we ended up where none of us were ready.
9711:01 (Video) ZG: Whenever I meet people from different communities, I ask them to educate their children because education is the only way out of this situation in Afghanistan.
9811:18 Hello, how are you? Are you well?
9911:21 We thank you for coming here.
10011:25 Thank you.
10111:30 Our girls do study. There...
10211:34 There are some classes.
10311:43 ZG: As a girl, I studied. I have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.
10411:49 When I was studying, I had to walk an hour each way to my school in Paktika.
10511:56 There were many suicide attacks and fights.
10611:59 My father told me not to go anymore.
10712:03 So I started going to school secretly.
10812:05 I was going to school in secret after he went to the office.
10912:09 It was my lifetime dream to see that my parents are proud of my reputation and my achievements.
11012:23 So please educate your daughters and send them to school.
11112:26 If you educate one girl or woman, you save ten generations.
11212:34 KC: You spoke about how many women in Afghanistan were actively campaigning to continue to move forward and not to fall back into old ways.
11312:48 As the filming progressed and you realized that the Taliban were gaining power and more likely to come back to a position of strength, how did that feel for you and Zarifa?
11413:01 Did it change when you were in villages and cities?
11513:05 Could you tell there was something different in the air?
11613:08 TA: Whenever I was in Kabul, I was not able to see the change because everything was OK.
11713:14 Everything was alright.
11813:16 But whenever I went to the villages, to other provinces ...
11913:20 And I remember coming back, I came with a lot of information, but I was not really able to tell even my own family.
12013:26 I didn't want my sisters to be scared of the future.
12113:29 I didn't want my mother to be scared of her future and my future.
12213:34 And if I have told them that, OK, I saw that these things were happening in the provinces, especially meeting Taliban, I knew that they were progressing.
12313:42 And I remember whenever I went to other provinces in the past, I wasn't really sure about it
12413:48 but it was eye-opening to see all, you know, the Taliban, people like me, ordinary Afghans, all of us, we were trying to build a country in our own ways, but ended up destroying the whole country.
12514:05 And the -- The flags changed when we crossed from one territory to another territory.
12614:13 There was a republic flag, and then there was [a] Taliban flag.
12714:16 So we knew that there is a difference.
12814:18 And I remember, Zarifa and I, and other friends, female friends, we talked about it a lot.
12914:26 We were like, we need to push for it. We need to do something to change it.
13014:30 We knew, we had the fear in our heart that Taliban might come back, but we thought they will be part of the government.
13114:41 And the way it happened -- when the government collapsed, it was not only the government, it was -- the people, full of hopes and dreams.
13214:52 And the future collapsed in front of us and we couldn't do anything about it.
13314:58 We did have fear, but we didn't know that it would end up the way it did.
13415:03 KC: And eventually it got so bad that Zarifa had to leave, she left.
13515:09 She came back. She had to leave again.
13615:11 You have had to leave.
13715:13 And it's something that very few people have to make those difficult decisions.
13815:19 It must have taken a lot.
13915:23 Do you plan to go back if you can?
14015:26 Would you return?
14115:30 TA: After Toronto for one week my heart was really calm and I was thinking about it, because since I left Afghanistan, the fire was there, you know?
14215:40 And when I left, I left my soul in Afghanistan with my loved ones, with my country, with my homeland, with everything I had and built for all these years.
14315:54 The way we left, we didn’t know that it [would] happen.
14415:58 And I remember when I left, I did not say bye to my loved ones.
14516:03 I still remember my family.
14616:06 I still remember my friends.
14716:10 I told them that, you know, this is not a goodbye.
14816:12 I cannot say goodbye.
14916:13 You don't know what will happen.
15016:15 I will come back.
15116:16 I will go to the airport.
15216:18 I don’t know [if] it will happen or not.
15316:20 I will be back.
15416:21 And I was making excuses because I didn't want to leave my country.
15516:24 That was home. That was everything.
15616:27 Yeah, I kept my passport.
15716:32 But yeah, that's what keeps me alive.
15816:37 And people might have different dreams.
15916:38 Some people might think that, OK, I want to travel.
16016:41 I want to make the best fun, I want to do this and that.
16116:45 But my biggest dream is to go back to Afghanistan and live the way I used to live.
16216:51 KC: We all hope that that will happen sooner rather than later.
16316:55 But for now, we know that the situation is very difficult for many women.
16417:03 You came to Europe and even here we've spoken about the everyday sexism that you experience and how exhausting it is to educate men on issues around gender equality.
16517:21 Are there parallels?
16617:22 Do you see any opportunities for us to learn from each other?
16717:27 Because I know many people in the audience will feel your pain and recognize that exhaustion.
16817:32 How do we learn from each other?
16917:34 How do we work together as women globally to create change?
17017:39 TA: Sexism is everywhere and we need to come together to work on it.
17117:46 But the only thing I would say [is] that it’s tiring and exhausting, but we should not give up. We cannot stop.
17217:52 KC: Absolutely.
17317:54 TA: So we need to have solidarity, to work on it together, to push for it.
17418:00 KC: And hearing stories like yours, like Zarifa, there's an amazing line in the documentary where we follow her in such extraordinarily difficult circumstances and she's constantly under threat.
17518:17 And she says, "Well, men have had 40-50 years to get this right
17618:20 and they haven't yet done it right.
17718:22 So I'm not going to give up."
17818:24 Is that representative of the spirits of many women that you encountered in Afghanistan?
17918:29 TA: The spirit of almost all the women I know in my country, including my grandmother, my mother, my friends.
18018:38 All of us.
18118:40 Because, yeah, war is ugly.
18218:42 And it was the men who created the war.
18318:45 It was the men who made peace.
18418:47 We always pushed for it.
18518:49 But then there was no space for us [at] the table, no matter how hard we pushed for it.
18618:55 But it doesn't mean that we give up and it's done.
18718:59 And we are, you know ... We made peace with that.
18819:02 It was the spirit of the whole country.
18919:04 It still is.
19019:06 And it is the women who are [the] resistance in Afghanistan today.
19119:11 They were protesting in solidarity with Iranian women in Kabul, in front of [the] Iranian embassy.
19219:18 So yeah, I think the future is female.
19319:22 It's us.
19419:24 And we are the ones who can make change because we don't fight.
19519:28 We don't care about ego.
19619:30 We care about solutions.
19719:33 KC: So all of the people listening today, inspired by your story, by the strength of women in Afghanistan, what can we do to support the struggle?
19819:42 You said solidarity is key to change, and I couldn't agree more.
19919:46 How do we work together?
20019:48 What can we do to keep the plight of women in Afghanistan in the news and to make sure that one day you're able to return and do the wonderful work that you've been doing?
20120:02 TA: I think women in Afghanistan need solidarity more than anything right now.
20220:07 I remember I was interviewing women who were protesting because I was working on research for Amnesty International.
20320:14 And whenever we talked, I was asking them why they started protesting and they said that, "Tamana, we lost everything we had.
20420:23 We are not able to work.
20520:25 We are not able to go out without a mahram, a man, family member, and we are not able to move freely, travel to other provinces, to countries outside Afghanistan without a man."
20620:37 So it means that Taliban do not count women as humans or equal to men.
20720:43 So there should be a man to validate that they exist.
20820:48 And they say that, "We lost everything we had.
20920:50 And that's why we are fighting.
21020:52 We are not afraid to die, but it makes us happy and encourages us when we see women, no matter Afghans, non-Afghans from outside the country, supporting us.
21121:07 And that's all we need."
21221:08 And they were thanking me all the time for doing the interviews.
21321:11 And they were like, "You listen to us and it's important for us."
21421:16 So there is a need to come together and support the woman in Afghanistan, in Iran, or any part of the world, because all we fight for is our basic human rights.
21521:31 I think it's really important to support the woman in Afghanistan or any other part of the world who are fighting for their basic rights.
21621:38 It's 2022.
21721:41 I know that women, we as women, we are political.
21821:44 Our bodies are political.
21921:45 Our opinions, whatever we say, whatever we do is political.
22021:49 Women get criticized more than men, and no matter in which field.
22121:55 And it's really important for all of us, no matter where in the world, to support those women protesting on the streets in Kabul and other provinces of Afghanistan.
22222:07 And one of the ways we can do this, we can open a conversation about Afghanistan, so it's on the news again.
22322:13 So people talk about it and we don't forget what's happening there.
22422:18 I know that I was the lucky one who is here now, who is able to work.
22522:22 But I also know that it was painful to leave.
22622:27 But for them, because they are fighting, they need our support, solidarity.
22722:33 And we need to put pressure on our governments, no matter where in the world, to change the policies, to put pressure on the Taliban, to change their policies and make a change.
22822:46 KC: I think people can start by watching "In Her Hands."
22922:50 It really is a beautiful film.
23022:54 It's incredibly compelling.
23122:57 And for me I found there were threads of hope in there.
23223:01 So I think watching the film, understanding this incredible strength of the women of Afghanistan, will inspire many, many people.
23323:12 And hopefully they will step up and show that solidarity and continue to raise awareness of the issue.
23423:19 You no doubt will continue to do so.
23523:23 I know you have more films, I think, that you're hoping to make in the future.
23623:29 And we're just very, very lucky to have you, such a wonderful and compelling storyteller, to shine a light on this issue and educate us all so that we can stand in solidarity.
23723:41 So thank you.
23823:43 It's been wonderful listening to you today.
23923:45 Thank you, Tamana.
24023:46 TA: Thank you.