Nilofar Ayub was playing in a street in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan. At that time, the little girl fell on the ground due to a slap.
When she was only four years old, a man with a huge beard touched her indecently.
After being slapped on the cheek, Nilofar was scolded by the man if she did not wear the burqa, her father would not be spoken to.
23 years after that incident, Miz Ayub said in an interview on BBC radio program ‘Outlook’, “I reached home crying that day. Father’s face was red with anger. His whole body was shaking with anger.”
“I remember my father pacing the whole house in anger. He was muttering – how dare he touch you. Then he made a big decision. He asked my mother to bring scissors and then cut my hair,” she said.
“Dress him in boys’ clothes,” said father to my mother.
Nilofar grew up during the first phase of Taliban rule in Afghanistan. The period is between 1996 and 2001. He spent ten years of his life disguised as a boy to escape the Taliban’s sharia law.
The Taliban interpret Sharia law in their own way and deprive women of their rights.
Miz Ayub currently resides in Poland. “Growing up in Afghanistan in those days meant growing up in one of the most conservative regions in the world,” he says, recalling his childhood.
“Here, rights are determined by whether you are male or female,” Nilofar Ayub said.
Nilofar was born in 1996, although the passport says 1993.
After US troops arrived in Afghanistan in 2001 and the Taliban retreated, Nilofar’s father began trying to enroll her in school. She wanted her daughter to be admitted to school as soon as possible.
According to Miz Ayub, it was not easy for the women of Kunduz. It was difficult for men to live in this city, let alone women.
“Being a boy in Afghanistan is a strength in itself,” he said. If you are two years old you will have more respect than the mother who gave birth to you. And at the age of four, boys become guardians of the birth mother. Her (mother’s) condition is like that of a maidservant. As a woman you belong nowhere; Absolutely invisible. A strategy adopted by a father”
Because of this, it became common for the girls in the family to dress like boys, he explained.
If there is no male to lead the family, any wealthy person will approach a female member and try to make her his wife.
A strategy adopted by a father
In his (Nilofar’s) words, “It was different in my case. With a male member in the family, we were able to live independently.”
Nilofar’s life is going to change completely, probably he did not anticipate that by cutting his hair in a strange way and wearing his brother’s clothes.
“I was treated the same way my brothers were treated. I could dress up in boys’ clothes and go to the market with my father, squeeze in the bus and go around. The boys around me became my friends. I used to play outside the house all day,” says Miz Ayub, recalling childhood memories.
The situation of her remaining sisters, however, was similar to that of other women in Afghanistan. They had to cover their heads and stay within the four walls of their houses. They had to cover themselves with clothes so that no part of their body could be seen. Nilofar’s father hated this.
Miz Ayub said, “My father was not at all in favor of wearing the traditional yellow colour. Dad used to fight with mom about why we were not dressed properly. He used to say why we wear loose, bulky clothes.”
A touch of reality
At the age of thirteen, Nilofar returned home after a rigorous judo training. He was feeling a lot of pain in his legs. Somehow wanted to go to bed and rest. As soon as he entered the bathroom, he saw a stream of blood coming out of his leg. Nilofar was terrified but never realized that her life had taken a new turn.
“The next day I told a girl friend about it. She laughed. She said, ‘You’re an idiot. Didn’t your sisters say anything about it?’ he said
It was this friend who told him about this ‘mysterious’ matter and explained the importance of sanitary napkins seen in TV commercials.
He said, “After returning home, mother saw something in my clothes. Instead of coming up and making me feel better, he kept cursing why I was growing up so fast.”
The mother cries thinking that Nilofar’s life will become like hers and her other daughters’ lives. Their lives were confined within four walls.
A tone of rebellion
Growing up as a teenager filled Nilofar’s life with rebellion. That’s why girls created a ‘group’ to explain body changes.
It was this attitude that motivated him to study in India. It also helped in shaping ideas about marriage.
“I got many marriage proposals. When I was young, marriage proposals started pouring in. But father gave me security in this regard. He said, he (Nilofar) is not going to get married now. He will finish his studies first and then he will decide what to do,” Nilofar Ayub said.
He finally got married in 2016. Nilofar’s husband fills the void created after the death of her father. A strategy adopted by a father.
In his words, it was definitely not possible to take the place of the father. But he (Nilofar’s husband) played that role. He helped me a lot.”
Miz Ayub’s family finally came out. They reached the capital Kabul and opened several furniture shops. At one time 300 employees worked in his shops. Most of them were women who had no male guardians.
But by 2021, after the US and its allies withdrew from Afghanistan, the Taliban returned. It was time to cover up for Nilofar and her family.
After chaos erupts on the streets of Kabul, he plans to take refuge near his workplace. And his mother and sisters moved to the other side of the city. But Nilofar went beyond their reach.
At that time, he was giving information about the events of Afghanistan to interested journalists.
A journalist from Poland asks Miz Ayub if he and his family are on the list of people who can get permission to leave Afghanistan.
“I said no. He said, ‘Give me an hour,'” Nilofar Ayub recalled.
His name was then added to a WhatsApp group and he was asked to reach Kabul airport within 24 hours. Nilofar brought only two backpacks.
a new life
Miz Ayub and his family currently live in Poland. He knew very little about this country (Poland) before he boarded the plane to get out of Afghanistan.
But despite all the obstacles, she is today a lawyer who fights for the rights of women in her country and in different parts of the world. Nilofer has already visited Brussels, Germany and the United States. He also told the people there about his life.
In his words, “My life has been a curse as well as a blessing.”
“The curse because it broke me from the inside,” Miz Ayub said.
“I cannot be fully female or male. But this also proved to be a blessing. I have experienced both. It has made me the strong woman I am today. Today I am that strong woman.”
(This report was written by Raphael Abuchai based on Nilofar’s story broadcast on BBC Radio’s ‘Outlook’ program.)