Zhala Sarmast, the teenage Afghan girl who cycled her way to a nomination for the Nobel Prize, says she biked across her country to inspire other women to be independent. Sarmast, the 17-year-old resident of Kabul, was in town for a workshop at the Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development, Regional Centre, Chandigarh, in PEC University where she shared her journey from being an ordinary girl to a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, all thanks to a cycle.
Dressed in corduroy pants under a long shirt with a scarf draped around her neck, a confident Zhala spoke about the present situation of women in Aghanistan.
“The situation in Afghanistan is much better than what it used to be during the Taliban days. But there are a few provinces like the south and north Afghanistan where women are still not allowed to go to school. All women are supposed to do is stay at home and look after other people,” she said.
Though the percentage of girls who go to school is still merely 40 per cent, she said it was an improvement from the 20 per cent that it used to be a few years back. Zhala’s father died nine years ago and she was brought up by her mother. She affirmed that her mother always supported her in whatever she wanted to do.
“My mother is my father and my elder brother as well. She has always supported me and my sister, who is five years older than me. Though neighbours and relatives were not happy but my mother stood as a pillar and I want to thank her for it.”
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About her ride across Afghanistan, she said, “We were a team of bikers who rode across the most difficult areas in Afghanistan. My main aim was to inspire young girls to be independent and I was able to send that message to them. My relatives were hesitant but I succeeded in making a point.”
Other than cycling, Zhala also plays the guitar and is very passionate about it. Talking about the history of Afghan music, she said, “The first orchestra of Afghanistan was found by my grandfather. However, it completely disappeared after the downfall of Taliban. Now, my uncle has again revived the orchestra and I have learnt to play the guitar from him.” Zhala also hosts a show called “Conversations with Zhala” on Ariana News where they discuss a wide array of issues.