AfghanistanWomen Leaders

From trade red carpets to immigration paving stones

The story of a decade of thriving trade in Afghanistan to street protests and immigration

Siddiqa Mushtaq, co-founder of the Farabi Institute in Kabul, a member of the leadership board of the Chamber of Commerce and Women’s Industries and a women’s rights activist, has had more than a decade of thriving business in Afghanistan.

By spreading the red carpet of trade, she provided employment and education for Afghan women and girls, but with the changes that took place in Afghanistan, she took the ahead the pavements of immigration.

In an interview with the Afghan Women’s News Agency, Ms. Mushtaq said that with the fall of the country to Taliban forces, her business activities plummeted and she joined the protesters as women began to protest in the streets of Kabul.

But when the circle of security threats narrowed, the women protesters were repressed, arrested and tortured. She was threatened with death too, left all her achievements and aspirations at home and emigrated.

The narration of Siddiqa Mushtaq’s education

Siddiqa Mushtaq was born in Behsud, Maidan Wardak province. She and her family immigrated to Iran during the previous five years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan and returned to Afghanistan in 2004 after the overthrow of the Taliban regime.

Siddiqa Mushtaq had finished her schooling in Iran, and when Kabul shook the remnants of the war from its head and face, and the field of people’s access to school and university was gradually expanding, Seddiqa also passed the entrance exam in a course and she learned
midwifery for two years.
With the support of her father, she managed to become a midwife, contrary to the expectations of other families and relatives, and began working as a midwife in a Kabul hospital, helping women and children.

Siddiqa says: “my relatives warned me that if anyone took my name, they would kill me.”

I was told what the Hazara girl should do to work and study?
Stay at home like other girls, if someone takes your name or causes us notoriety, we will destroy you.

Siddiqa’s relatives did not expect her to reach a position to help mothers and babies, and when they saw Siddiqa in the hospital, they allowed their daughters to study and work outside the house like Seddiqa.

My relatives and neighbors did not take sick women to the male doctor and brought their injections for me to do. It reminded me of my father’s advice to me one day to take firm steps to achieve my goals, to ignore the mentality of people who talk about women and girls studying and working, and just to pursue my goals. It showed that I had changed the mindset of my people towards working women.

Siddiqa’s presence as a midwife in the hospital and helping women in the family paved the way for other girls to study as well.

How Siddiqa Mushtaq’s first business came to fruition?

In 2007, when people’s access to hospitals and clinics gradually increased with the help of foreign institutions, the death rate of mothers and infants due to lack of access to health facilities also had a long graph. So, with the help of her husband and two other business partners, Siddiqa Mushtaq came up with the idea of ​​setting up an educational facility for girls to learn midwifery.

“I sold my jewelry and gold and we established the Farabi Institute with very little wealth,” says Siddiqa. It was 2007 and I, on the initiative of my husband and two others, were thinking of creating an educational center for girls.
At that time, the economic situation of my people and my family was not very good, and I sold my jewelry and gold so that I could establish the Farabi Institute.
The Farabi Institute has attracted the attention of the people since its inception, providing a field for health sciences, especially for girls, with the addition of dentistry, orthodontics, medical technology, and pharmacy.

In addition to working for the Farabi Institute, Siddiqa Mushtaq also worked with human rights organizations to advocate for women’s rights.

At the beginning of 2021, Siddiqa Mushtaq started studying management at the master’s level, and to expand her business activities, she also opened the Rayhan Kindergarten to teach children in the pre-school period. But it was not long more, all her efforts, aspirations and achievements of a decade, fell to the ground.

Hearing the news of the successive fall of the provinces to the Taliban in Kabul, the city was still calm and people were busy with their daily lives because the fall of Kabul was unimaginable despite strong security belts.

But on the morning of August 15, when all the students were in their schools and universities and the staff had gone on duty, the news came that the Taliban from the gates of Kabul had disturbed the peace of the capital and plunged Kabul into chaos.

Ms. Mushtaq says they also released the students and sent them home, closing the gates of the Farabi Institute for an indefinite period of time. With the Taliban ordering the reopening of schools and universities, they also reopened the Farabi Gate, but the presence of girls and students is no longer as lively as it used to be.

After confusion and uncertainty, we opened the gates of the Farabi Institute, but the majority of my students emigrated and a few who remained in the country could not afford expenses to continue their education.

I decided to increase scholarships for girls in the spring of 2022 because I want my institution to survive with the least amount of money I have left and girls not to be deprived of the right to study because of the meager economy.
On the other hand, the Farabi Institute has provided employment opportunities for a number of others.

Siddiqa Mushtaq, who was a member of the leadership board of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industries due to her business activities, received the annual statue of Bibi Khadija from this chamber this year.

After the Taliban came to power, Ms. Mushtaq took to the streets of Kabul to protest the Taliban’s misguided policies regarding women’s education and work, demanding the rights of women and girls until she was threatened to death by her students who had joined the Taliban and also the Taliban intelligence, following the identity of the protesting women, followed them to suppress them. The reason that forced Ms. Mushtaq to emigrate.

Migration narrative

When the circle of security threats became narrower and the protesting women were imprisoned.
I was also disappointed that I sold all the equipment and toys I had bought for Rayhan Kindergarten at a very low price so that I could support the Farabi Institute of Health Sciences. But there was no place left for me to stay in my country because my life and my family were endangered by participating in street protests and civic activities in the past.
I was in contact with an Italian journalist that we knew from the past. At the same time, she called me for an interview and when she found out about our living conditions, she helped me leave Afghanistan.

With the Taliban increasing restrictions on women and the atmosphere of terror caused by the arrest of protesting women, one morning I and my family, wearing traditional clothes and wearing breathtaking burqas, headed to the Torkham border for Pakistan. The border was full of young people and families who wanted to leave the country, one for unemployment, one for survival, and one to escape the harsh treatment of women. Eventually, with the help of Italy, we crossed the Torkham border, entered Pakistan, and from there arrived in Italy after a quarantine period.

Siddiqa Mushtaq is 36 years old and the mother of three children. She has now left all her ideals and achievements in her homeland and hopes that one day she will be able to return to her homeland without fear and that her children will study in Afghanistan. And like her, they can work and serve for their homeland.

The interviewer: Latifa Sadat Mosavi

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