AFGHANISTAN. Herat: The only woman tour guide in Afghanistan, 22-year-old Fatima Haidari grew up leading sheep through the countryside. Today she leads tourists through Afghanistan’s Herat.
Growing up, it was heartbreaking for Fatima to see her brother and sisters forced to get married. She then decided to defy the norm and work for a living. The youngest among the eight children, Fatima is the only one who has gotten an education and is unmarried.
Fatima grew up in rural Gohr province where girls did not have access to schooling, but she convinced her family to permit her education if she brought in enough income from sheep herding.
However, after convincing her family, the real struggle began. Though she was able to get informal education, she usually stayed at home to help her mother. When she couldn’t afford notebooks, she would write with a stick. Getting an education wasn’t as easy as just getting admitted to the local comprehensive.
Fatima says that she didn’t even know that a tourist guide was a job. Unlike some kids, Fatima didn’t grow up dreaming of working in tourism as it was also not traditional for women to work.
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Whilst learning English, she began writing posts on Facebook for people interested in history and about places in her country that foreigners might not know about. Since then, there has been no turning back.
Soon she got noticed by Untamed Borders, a boutique travel agency that specializes in trips to more inaccessible areas. The company hired her in late 2020, making her the country’s first female professional tour guide.
According to UN Women, about 64% of Afghans agree that women should be allowed to work outside their homes, but it is not widely practiced as they face barriers like restrictions, harassment, and practical hurdles like lack of employment skills and education.
To keep herself safe, Fatima dresses modestly while on the job and never goes out with a group late at night.
Although she had a bumpy ride, Fatima says that the support of the people she has met through giving tours and her employers have kept her motivated. She believes that challenges are a part of her life and that if she gave up, then other women would never start.
Fatima dreams of changing roles for a while and letting someone else guide her. But most of Fatima’s reams are closer to home. She hopes to open a school to train tour guides, but she says “ladies first,” as there are fewer job opportunities available to women, although it would be open for boys as well
“I am the first lady in Afghanistan to guide people. But I do not want to be the last,” Fatima said.