Natasha Latiff is me. I am currently a 25yr old women’s rights advocate/ lawyer with a deep love and passion for development work. I embarked on a sudden but fascinating journey alone to Afghanistan at the age of 17 years in pursuit of ‘truth’, following a childhood passion for women’s rights and a strong belief that education is a basic human right and goal in development work.
Since then, I have travelled to Afghanistan and now live there. There is something about life education that is truly empowering. I wanted to learn. So I visited a number of schools and took down notes from my conversations with teachers in order to learn more about Afghan children, the psychological traumas of war and how the children are being healed and empowered through education. One long ride took me to an IDP camp (for internally displaced people). Displaced from their homes, this was where some of the most vulnerable of the Kabuli population lived. It was horrific and many perished during Afghanistan’s harsh winter. With the gracious help of my family and friends, they were able to distribute children’s clothing to young infants and toddlers at the camp (picture below). We were also able to gift 50 street-children gift packs of school stationary and art materials for learning English.
I love the children. Most of my afternoons were passed in villages and in schools conversing with street-children and meeting some of their families.
I trekked through the hillside with some of the children. Hand-in-hand we talked about everything we could share within the narrow space of foreign vocabulary, gestures, and expressions, often laughing at each other’s confusion of what was actually being said or being caught for agreeing to something without really understanding! Despite that, there is a communication behind these forms that transcend our cultural and linguistic-al shortfalls. As human beings, sharing comes as natural as breathing. I just wanted to know them. They wanted to know me. And at times, just being together was enough.
Aschiana is an amazing school for these vulnerable street-children. Here we learned English through games, art and acting. In turn, they gave me an experience of love and understanding I’ll never forget. They were this big bubble of energy and love. I could not help but learn about living and giving with compassion. That more than anything, the Afghan children want to express, be heard, and share simple and sincere companionship with others.
The Zabuli girls school is another school I support. Razia Jan, the founder, is an incredibly inspiring woman. I was so moved by her stories. So many children have been lifted by her arms because when she gives herself, she gives it all. There is no compromise in her conviction and her courage. She has built a girls school in a very conservative village in Deh Subz where the village elders initially refused a school for girls, proposing instead that boys be educated. She fought for this to happen responding ‘The girls are the backbone of Afghanistan and you all are too blind to see it.‘ She wanted the girls to be educated. But education for girls is a risky project in Afghanistan. School girls in Afghanistan are often attacked by Taliban factions for attending school. This school runs on the courage of these amazing girls and their teachers.
Professional Life & Gender Equality
I am the Founder and Executive Director of an innovative research initiative called Femin Ijtihad (translated as the ‘critical thinking’ of gender-related laws and notions). This initiative is designed to provide Muslim women activists and N.G.O’s with the discursive and informational tools on Muslim women’s rights through the dissemination of accessible scholarship in the form of toolkits, reflective summaries, podcasts and an online portal. The project is run by a team of very talented and beautiful women, who I have come to really love and admire.That’s Tamara and I representing F.I. at the Clinton Global Initiative in Texas.
In 2007, I designed and implemented a study inviting 30 Afghan judges, parliamentarians and lawyers in Kabul to consider a gender-sensitive reform of the Afghan law on rape. The conclusions of the research were summarized in a report that discussed the participants’ responses and analyzed alternative legislative approaches to drafting a law on rape that comport with both Islamic and international human rights law. In 2009, I attended meetings with legislative drafting experts and representatives of the Afghan civil society in Kabul, and studied the phrasing and content of the draft law on the family code and violence against women prepared by the groups. This included participants from U.N. Mission in Afghanistan, U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, UNIFEM and the Afghan Family Law Drafting Committee.
I love travelling. In between law school, work and FI, I travelled in search for waterfalls, figured my way into a valleys and up mountains, swam with wild dolphins, stayed on a farm, paraglided and sky-dived, picked wild mushrooms, taught dancing on a hill-side, trekked up a volcano. Then when all was done, I moved to Afghanistan and lived in a mud-house with my new Afghan family (I don’t anymore) Writing, dancing, reading and travelling have become so interlinked with each other; I am using all to tell stories in many different ways. I think they all have in each way empowered by self-expression.