By Lawrence Bartlett -
LEADING Afghan women's rights champion, lawmaker and presidential hopeful, Fawzia Koofi (pictured), has a revealing anecdote about life.
As she walked out of the Presidential Palace in Kabul recently, a male parliamentary colleague approached her and said: "'Ms Koofi, if you would really like to live in a palace — because you are running for the presidency — why don't you get married to a president'?"
Even now, weeks later, Koofi's steady brown eyes flash at the memory.
"It really made me feel angry, because that's how they see it," Koofi said in an interview in her Kabul home.
"If a woman would like to become a president it's not because she's qualified for it, it's because she would like to live in a palace!"
In a riposte, she told her colleague pointedly that, unlike some men with dubious pasts in Afghanistan's 30 years of conflict, she had no need to hide in the security of a palace.
"I'm happy sometimes when they oppose me because it means I'm something to them, they feel I am strong — and I also give them the required punch, I think."
Named this year as one of the world's "150 Fearless Women" by a US website, Koofi, 36, is a widow with two young girls who are addressed in her memoir Letters to my Daughters.
It is a tale of courage and passion in the face of the overwhelming challenges faced by a girl growing up in the country. She was left in the sun to die after her birth by her exhausted and depressed mother — one of seven wives in a family of 23 children — who knew that another girl would not win her husband's approval, she writes.
The baby Koofi lay alone, screaming and sunburned, for almost a day until pity prevailed and she was returned to her repentant mother — to start a close and loving relationship.
The sunburn scars lasted into her teens, but they — and any psychological scars — are undetectable in this elegant and confident woman.
Pictures of two men find space on the walls of Koofi's rented home near parliament: one a portrait of a stern-faced father, the other shows her and President Hamid Karzai.
Her father — a politician murdered when Koofi was just three — spoke directly to her only once.
She accuses the president of being prepared to compromise on women's rights for political gain among the conservatives.