The Daily Telegraph

‘First female comedian’ in Afghanista­n vows the Taliban oppressors won’t get her off stage

- By Patrick Sawer and Sudduf Chaudry in Kabul

Awoman who describes herself as Afghanista­n’s “first female comedian” says she has no intention of leaving the country as the Taliban cement their grip on power.

Nadima insisted she would also continue her work as a women’s rights activist in the face of a regime with a history of brutalisin­g and oppressing women and girls.

“I want to stay and I will stay,” said Nadima, who goes only by her first name. “It would be inhuman for me to flee. I’ve given my word to the women I work with and I’m not just going to flush that effort down the toilet and shut things down.”

The 38-year-old is one of a small but significan­t number of activists for whom staying is a conscious decision, even as others flee. “I say to people ‘don’t run away, stay and rebuild this country’.”

Nadima says she harnesses humour to change people’s minds.

“I use comedy and social media to create awareness of human rights for women and children, and men as well, by challengin­g practices such as arranged marriages, child marriages, child exploitati­on, corporal punishment and domestic violence and arguing for equality, starting in the home,” she said.

Nadima’s parents fled Afghanista­n’s turmoil when she was just a baby, running through the mountains to Pakistan before settling first in Dubai and eventually in Canada, but she returned in 2019 – determined to do something for her native land.

Taking advantage of the relative – and with hindsight, precarious – stability provided by the presence of US and NATO troops, she set about challengin­g centuries of autocratic and sexist attitudes ingrained in sections of Afghan society.

“I take my message into schools and women’s groups,” she said.

“Recently I spoke to a group of widows. But, you know, I spend more time talking to men than women, trying to engage with them about the way they behave.”

Even under the previous government it wasn’t easy, but Nadima knows it will now get much harder.

Already there have been reports of Taliban militants attacking women with whips and rifle butts who have taken to the streets to demand their rights be respected. Women have started wearing burqas in areas where such clothes were rarely seen before, and they have been turned away from work, university and beauty salons.

Kabul’s vivid murals of women have been painted over and there is uncertaint­y over the future of education for girls.

A senior Taliban figure said on Monday that Afghan women should not be allowed to work alongside men, which would effectivel­y bar them from employment in government offices, banks, media companies and beyond.

“People have been left asking: ‘Who is going to take care of us now the West has gone?’” Nadima said.

“My response is that we are going to have to take care of ourselves. If we want to change our reality, change Afghanista­n, we have to change the way we think, we have to start being good to each other and we have to start rebuilding the country.”

‘I challenge practices like arranged marriages, child marriages and exploitati­on, and corporal punishment’

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