Zholia Parsi and Afghan Women: Defying the Odds in the Face of Adversity


Zholia Parsi in Kabul Photo: @Nagieb Khaja

Personal narrative by Tahmina Salik 

My feelings whirled inside of me as soon as I walked out onto the busy street after the taxi dropped me off at the specified destination in the eastern part of Kabul. In my heart, trepidation, excitement, and a tinge of uncertainty danced. In the noisy landscape of Afghanistan, I had set out on a quest to meet remarkable women—lion-hearts who had given their all to sing the freedom anthem in the streets devastated by conflict.

It was a turning point in my life, not simply a moment, to meet them. I had never met any of these brave women before, and I had been warned to be cautious before departing Denmark. They told me, ‘The Taliban are watching women’s rights campaigners. “Meeting them might draw unwanted attention to you.”

“If you have to meet up with them, go somewhere public, like a restaurant. Never visit anyone’s home unless you know them well; kidnapping incidents are on the rise,” I was warned. 

The address in my hand pointed me in the direction of the third entrance on the fifth floor as I stood on the busy street. As I got closer to the door, two stern-looking men stopped me. “Who are you, and who are you meeting?” was how they started their questioning. 

I stepped back, unsure of how to react, and chose to cross the street while I considered my options. I stood on the opposite side and saw two women approach the third entrance—one wearing a reddish-colored outfit and the other a green one. They radiated strength throughout the neighborhood with their commanding presence.

The two men also questioned these women, but they did not back down. They firmly replied, “None of your business,” with unyielding firmness. Move out of our way,” and went through the door. I followed after them and presented myself inside. “I am Tahmina Salik from Denmark, and I’m here to visit. I had never met Farah Mustafawi in person, yet she invited me here today. Through a mutual friend on WhatsApp, we were introduced.” 

They greeted me warmly. “I am Zholia Parsi,” one of them smiled, while the other, clad in green, identified herself as Laila Basim.

Together, we walked up to the fifth floor. Upon knocking on the door, it swung open to reveal yet another remarkable woman who welcomed us to her home. After taking off our shoes, Parsi, Basim, and I entered the living room to find a space teeming with colorful, resilient, and beautiful women. The energy in the room was palpable, coursing from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I couldn’t believe I was there.

Among these fearless fighters, the word “strength” took on a new, profound meaning. I had brought a large box of Merci chocolates with me, which I opened and passed around. The host, in the spirit of Afghan hospitality, brought us green tea.

 They took their papers and pens and started discussing the slogans to be written They came up with slogans such as “Taliban should not remove women from society,” “We are the voices of the people,” and “Taliban should accept international society’s demands without conditions.”

Even though I typically talk a lot, I remained silent. I wanted to experience every second of it, absorb all of it, come to terms with it, and feel that all of the risks had been worthwhile. 

When she was writing, Basim turned to face me and said, “Now let’s hear from Tahmina Jan, our guest. “Tell us more about who you are,” she asked me. I introduced myself and then shared my admiration for their bravery. “I am here to greet you, to applaud you, and to offer my support. I would like to know how I can support you,” I asserted. 

My statement brought silence to the room. All eyes were on me, and a heavy air had filled the room. It was as if the smiles, laughter, and chattering were a temporary attempt to feel the normality of life, the sisterhood, and the camaraderie. 

One started speaking, revealing the difficult circumstances they must deal with. Parsi urged me to amplify their voices outside of Afghanistan. “Let the world not forget us.”

To lighten the mood, Mustafawi another brave Afghan woman and a good friend recounted a funny story. I volunteered to be the event photographer, and I documented their slogans with images and videos. I did not want to be in photos since I wanted to guarantee my next trips.

They told me about the sacrifices they make to attend these meetings and the support they get from their male family members as we descended. Even after showing me some menacing threats from the Taliban, a young girl continued to attend the event.

I offered to invite them for lunch, but they had to return home to avoid worrying their families. I contributed a small amount of money to help them out with their cause. Their courageous march went on as we said goodbye and entered the streets. I was given the task of documenting their demonstration for social media. The tears, laughter, and “we won’t be silenced” slogans that day will never fade. 

I committed to helping them and advancing their cause. I’ve been a part of their movement ever since, keeping in touch with Parsi and offering assistance via my diaspora organization, the Danish Afghan Women and Diaspora Forum (DAKDIF). Her tenacity has been shown to me through the media.

Supporting Afghan Women’s Rights 

I had a troubling dream a week ago, and I made unsuccessful attempts to get in touch with Parsi. When I learned that the Taliban had detained her and her son, I became extremely worried. Parsi along with her elder son was arrested on the 27thof September in Qala-e Fatehullah Khan of Kabul. Her mobile phone and a number of documents were taken away by the Taliban as well. 

I am reminded of the bravery and tenacity of these amazing women as I find myself in the shadows of this restless night. It’s time to act, make sure they don’t get forgotten, and join in our pursuit of equality and justice.

Join me in standing with Parsi, her son, and all the courageous Afghan women. Their rights must be respected, their sacrifices honored, and their security guaranteed. Allow their fortitude to serve as our motivation to effect change and guarantee that no one is left behind in the struggle for equality and justice.

The founder of the Spontaneous Movement of Afghan Women, Parsi, is a prominent advocate for women’s and girls’ rights in Afghanistan. Her group has been instrumental in coordinating demonstrations against the Taliban’s repressive policies, especially those that severely limit women’s and girls’ access to school and public life.

It’s important to remember that Parsi was a committed teacher before the Taliban took power on the 15th of August 2021, demonstrating her strong commitment to empowerment and education. She unfortunately lost her work, though, as a result of the Taliban’s return to power, illustrating the severe effects of their policies on women’s rights and many people’s livelihoods.

Tahmina Salik is the chairwoman of Danish-Afghan Women and Diaspora Forum (DAKDIF). 

Note: The contents of the article are of sole responsibility of the author. Afghan Diaspora Network will not be responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the articles.

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