Written by: Ezzatullah Mehrdad
When Hussnia Bakhteyari was born, it made her family sad. When she tried to enter school, her father stopped her. When she entered university, her family withdrew their financial support. Throughout her lifetime, she has been dealing with huge obstacles and her family never appreciated her work. However, her perseverance pushes her forward.
Hussnia Bakhteyari was the first child born in her Afghan family. She remembers the story her mother told her when she was 12 years old, the story of her birth. “When I was born in 1987, my grandmother, grandfather and all the family members were sad, especially my two grandmothers. They had a fight with each other and cried over the birth of a daughter and not a son.”
Who was to blame? Her mother? Her father? Or the misfortune of Hussnia? The questions were in the minds of her family members. Hussnia’s mother said many people blamed her. Hussnia recalled the story, “At the time, my father’s sister had even attempted to find another wife for my father. She used to complain about my Chinese eyes and say, ‘Look at her eyes, she won’t be able to see with those eyes.’”
Even 25 years later, it still hurts Hussnia when she talks about her childhood. When her brother was born, the discrimination against her worsened “The family was happy when he was born. I was mad and unhappy, asking myself ‘Why? Why does my family behave differently with me differently than with him?’” She remembers, “Breakfast was extravagant for him; egg, or milk or butter despite the fact that our family was not rich. But I had a poor breakfast; only tea with bread.”
The effects of this discrimination still haunt Hussnia, “I hate to eat breakfast and most of the morning, I don’t have breakfast.”
The family immigrated to Quetta, Pakistan in 1994. “They didn’t care about me there, either. They sent my brother to a private school and didn’t let me attend public school” Hussnia told me. “When my brother was doing his homework, I started to cry. Especially his beautiful ruler made me sad and more tears flowed down my cheeks.”
Hussnia was trapped between her desire to go to school or giving up and accepting what her family wanted for her.
“To stop my tears, my family put me in a Madrassa (Islamic religious school for children to learn how to read Quran and fundamentals of Islam),” said Hussnia. “In the Madrassa, I was the youngest female student with a female teacher who didn’t care how I did with my lesson. However, attending the Madrassa was my salvation for a while.”
When Hussnia became a teenager, she was determined to turn her life around. “With my own efforts, I entered the 3rd grade of Rabia Balkhi High School when I was 15 years old.”
“After only one year of studying, I came back home one day and, my father told me, ’You can’t go to school anymore.’ It shocked me.” Hussnia was overcome with feelings of darkness and tears streamed down her cheeks. “My tears were washing my face all night”
Her desire and perseverance to pursue her education remained strong during her teenage years. As she was growing, her desire to attend school was becoming stronger than ever before. “I finally persuaded my family to let me go to school,” Hussnia told me.
“When I was 18 years old, I got into 5th grade of night high school and completed two grades in one academic year. In 9th grade, I entered Ferdawsi High School. I continued until I earned a high school diploma with a two-year college of health care study, in 2010,” said Hussnia.
Her strong willpower, perseverance, and desire to improve led her to be successful in high school despite weaving carpets, taking care of two young siblings, and doing her school work.
Hussnia’s family did not pay attention to her. They didn’t encourage her. They didn’t appreciate her work. Instead, they tried to convince her to do what girls are supposed to do in Afghanistan. “My grandfather frequently was telling me to stop going to school and get married,” she told me.
After graduation from high school, Hussnia was inspired to return to Afghanistan. She came back to the country of her birth and entered Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education to study law with no funds from her family. She supported herself by working as a tailor instructor with the ‘Mothers for Peace project’, a women’s empowerment project.
Considering her limited support and resources, Hussnia has enjoyed many achievements. She was selected for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Program, a global initiative which provides women entrepreneurs with a business and management education, mentoring and networking, and access to capital. Through this program, she studied business management at the American University of Afghanistan for two years.
Years passed, but her family did not change. “My family came to my graduation from University without a gift,” said Hussnia. The empty hands of her family at her graduation ceremony made her cry again.
She was hired as an assistant by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. Then she became an entrepreneur. Hussnia said, “I started my own business making jewelry with agate and had several female employees.”
Currently, Hussnia is a prosecuting attorney in the attorney general’s office of Stop Violence Against Women. She secured her position without corruption, a difficult task in a country where youths escape due to joblessness and government corruption.
Hussnia also has a women’s handicraft business called “Strong Women Handicraft Company” which employs eight women. They make different products with weaving, sewing and embroidery.
Hussnia Bakhteyari has overcome many obstacles since she was born. Considered a misfortune at birth, she faced discrimination her whole life. She was forced to leave school after only one year, fought much resistance to complete high school, and received no support to pursue university studies. However, today she is a successful and highly-respected professional. Her perseverance prevailed.