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Born to Lead: Naheed from Afghanistan

Under the oppressive Taliban regime, Naheed Farid was forced to drop out of school. Witnessing the denial of rights to Afghan women for years, she dedicated her career to empowering women.

In Afghanistan, barriers to women’s leadership begin at a young age with lack of education for girls. The World Bank approximates that only 24 percent of Afghan women over the age of 15 can read and write. Without these skills, women are far less likely to access formal employment opportunities. As a result, less than 20 percent of Afghans surveyed say women contribute to their household income. These statistics make Naheed’s story become that much more remarkable.

At age 27, Naheed became one of Afghanistan’s youngest elected officials in history. After being elected, Naheed decided to help women reclaim their rights, take power of their future and have a spot at the negotiation table.

A member of the Women’s Democracy Network (WDN) since 2012, Naheed attended WDN-sponsored dialogues, Afghanistan-Pakistan Women’s Forum, in Istanbul with women from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Afghanistan-Pakistan Women’s Forum served as a platform for women leaders from Afghanistan and Pakistan to build trust and improve cross-border cooperation. Through workshops, case study analysis and practical application of negotiation techniques, the participants discussed security and trade along border regions and Afghan refugee children’s education. A second iteration of the Forum was held in 2013, and in addition to continuing to build the platform for a track-two dialogue, the women attending discussed and proposed policy approaches to issues affecting both countries, including advancing peace and security with a focus on the role of women in promoting trade and improving economic relations in the region. The work of the Forum resulted in the publication of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Women’s Policy Brief on Women, Peace, and Security in 2016.

Naheed’s work with WDN grew after the Forum. In 2014, she was a participant in WDN’s Leadership Trek (LTrek) online leadership coaching program. Using the skills she learned from WDN she started a foundation, Farid Foundation, where she provided educational materials and clothing to schoolchildren. 

Naheed has helped pave the way for women leaders in her home country. In Afghanistan today, 27.7 percent of parliamentary seats are held by women—the largest number of women MPs in history. But, there is still work to do. 1 in 3 Afghans do not have enough money to buy food or cover other basic needs. The majority of this poverty is concentrated in rural areas where women face particularly high rates of social and economic exclusion. During a visit in Washington, DC in August 2017, Naheed shared the important link between security and women’s leadership. Women will not be able to focus on building democracy and equality when they don’t have enough food to eat. But Naheed sees hope in the women who have the passion to create change and who open the door and keep it open for future generations.