She dressed as a man. On her head, she sported a Pashtun-style turban and a white shilwar kameez. I sat in the first row of the David Koch Theater in New York City to listen to the fierce words of Afghanistan’s elected official.
“Fight for your land! Stand up on your own! Don’t depend on others to defend Afghanistan,” she said in Pashto, her native tongue
Her name is Bibi Hokmina.
On stage, she held only a microphone and delivered a powerful message that was translated into English by a young Afghan female interpreter. In her homeland of Afghanistan, she is armed. She carries her weapon, her prize possession.
Bibi Hokmina is a woman of passion and poise. Strong and smart. Wise and witty. At the Women in the World Summit in March, Bibi Hokmina represented all Afghan women’s dreams. Women deserve a life of honor and dignity.
“Women in Afghanistan want to be respected,” she said. At home, Bibi Hokmina helps the poor and the oppressed. She builds schools, clinics and gardens. She is Afghanistan’s face of change.
Few Afghan women are elected officials. Bibi Hokmina is a member of the Provincial Council in eastern Afghanistan. In recent years, there have been other notable female leaders in the Wolesi Jirga or the lower house of Parliament. I had learned about these women from a team of Afghan instructors, with whom I teach and train U.S. government analysts and warfighters.
But I had never seen an Afghan female leader dressed as a man. With her black turban, she could be mistaken for a Pashtun male. At the Summit, she told listeners that it is her choice to dress as a man. “My father had me dress as a boy to protect the family during the Soviet invasion,” she said.
Then, world-famous-journalist Christiane Amanpour asked Bibi Hokmina the oft-repeated question (that I believe has been asked of every Afghan):
“Do you want the US forces to leave Afghanistan? And do you fear the return of the Taliban?”
Bibi Hokmina responded, “If the situation arises that the U.S. troops leave Afghanistan, then the Taliban will come to power. And women will become slaves in their homes. There will be no more schools for girls. The Taliban will not allow women to speak their mind.”
With a raised fist, Bibi Hokmina shouted, “I will fight to my death to save Afghanistan! I will never let the Taliban rule me!”
Like many Afghans I’ve met in the past three years, Bibi Hokmina believed the U.S. government and its military troops had a duty to fulfill. A mission to accomplish.
“The United States should not abandon us now,” she said. “We need a stable Afghanistan. The U.S. can help us achieve this goal for all Afghans.”