Text by Dunya Mina Yosufzai 
I am sitting in my grandparents Afghan living room on a warm afternoon, August 15th, 2021. The floor is covered in Persian carpets, each one a work of art in itself.
On the coffee table are several glasses of green tea and a bowl of juicy dates, bought at the local Turkish grocery store. My politically engaged uncle has also found his way here, and as he slurps his tea, he asks me to change the channel to NRK1,
where a news broadcast provides regular updates on the situation in Afghanistan.
After two decades of bloody civil war, the US and NATO have just begun the withdrawal of their military forces, leaving the Afghan military disastrously isolated.
US forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 as a response to the ruthless terrorist attacks on US soil that same year. This led to a seemingly endless civil war that had indescribable human and economic consequences. The Americans had now chosen to withdraw, knowing full well that withdrawal carried a real risk that the Taliban would once again seize power with all their oppression and brutality. 
According to the UN, the Bush administration at the time referred to the war in Afghanistan as the beginning of a global war on terror. I agree that the terrorist attacks on that fateful day in 2001 were a terrible atrocity that necessitated a response. I also understand that the motive for the invasion was to target Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which gave groups like Al-Qaeda room to operate within the country’s borders. Yet one can rightly question whether it actually remained a war on terror when so many civilian lives were sacrificed, and the conflict lasted so long. To me, it sometimes seemed more like a struggle for geopolitical power, and Afghanistan has unfortunately been a pawn in that big game since the Cold War. 
For several days I had been aware of the Taliban’s efforts to seize power in Afghanistan, and yet, I could not quite fathom that they could actually succeed
– it all seemed surreal. For so many years, Afghanistan had been dependent on the Western presence and support to maintain a certain degree of stability. Now suddenly the Afghans found themselves alone in a very uncertain situation, with the Taliban strengthening their grip on the country by capturing several provinces. 
Gnawed by a sense of despair, I could not help noticing the absurd irony of the situation. Just days after of the American forces’ withdrawal, the Taliban had already taken the large provinces of Herat and Badghis. It had taken them only a few days to achieve what had once seemed impossible. Afghanistan had been so deeply dependent on the West’s military and financial support to maintain some kind of control over the country, it was as if a boat had been tossed into a troubled sea, clueless as to how to navigate the violent storm now raging. Afghanistan was now trapped in a nightmare, a nightmare it had to contend with on its own, while the rest of the world watched with mixed feelings of grief and disappointment. 
The news we all were dreading flashed across our television screen: The Afghan president had fled, and the Taliban had taken over the government quarters in the capital, Kabul. Afghanistan was lost. The country we had had so much hope for would now be ruled by the enemy, I thought. An immediate sense of grief and helplessness spread among people around the world, especially among Afghans living safely outside the country. Dagsnytt 18 continued to broadcast images of the chaos unfolding at the airport in Kabul, and it was almost unbearable to watch. The airport was now completely overrun with desperate people trying to board the huge US military planes that were there to evacuate their own. It was as if the whole world was witnessing this heartbreaking scene, straight out of a bleak nightmare. 
But what really struck an emotional chord was the sight of people trying to cling to the planes as they took off. Some were climbing into the wheel wells, others tried to hang onto the fuselage in desperate attempts to escape the inevitable tragedy unfolding around them. They clung to the last scrap of hope of escaping a life that seemed doomed to end in misery. 
My father was in Afghanistan during the Taliban’s takeover and was evacuated by a Norwegian military plane. Although our primary concern at the time was for my father’s safety and return, I could not help also feeling overwrought by what lay ahead for the women of Afghanistan under the brutal and oppressive regime that the Taliban was reinstating: life characterized by a lack of freedom and an unimaginable degree of social control. Amnesty International reports that the Taliban have denied women and girls the right to education, employment and unrestricted movement; they have withheld protection and support for those fleeing domestic violence; and the number of childhood, early and forced marriages in the country has increased significantly (Amnesty International, 2022a). Amnesty’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard has also stated:  
Taken together, these policies form a system of repression that discriminates against women and girls in almost every aspect of their lives. Every daily detail – whether they go to school, if and how they work, if and how they leave the house – is controlled and heavily restricted. (Amnesty International, 2022b)  
This grim reality casts a long shadow over women’s lives in Afghanistan. They are deprived of their most basic human rights and live in constant fear. The oppression they experience is contrary to all cultures and societies’ ideals of equality and freedom. 
In this context, Khaled Hosseini’s novel "A Thousand Splendid Suns" (2007) becomes more relevant than ever. The book is a literary gateway to women’s lives under Taliban rule, told through the powerful and moving stories of Mariam and Laila. It gives us an intensely emotional perspective on how the women of Afghanistan have suffered from violence, forced marriage and the total revocation of their basic rights, and leaves the reader with a shocking impression of how Afghan women have been forced to accept a fate marked by oppression and restriction. 
"There is only one, only one skill a woman like you and me needs in life, and they don't teach it in school. Look at me...Only one skill. And it's this: tahamul. Endure. It’s our lot in life, Mariam. Women like us. We endure. It’s all we have. Do you understand?"(Hosseini, 2007, p. 17) 
To me, quotes like this reveal the depth of women’s resilience and ability to endure under extreme conditions. Tahamul, or patience, is emphasized as the only skill that women like Mariam and Laila have in their lives. This is a strong testimony of how women have been deprived of opportunities for education and independence, and thus have had to develop survival strategies that center around an ability to tolerate the injustices they experience. These women may have been forced to accept this fate, but that does not necessarily mean that they accept or agree with the oppression they are subjected to. It simply underscores their limited agency and the inhumane conditions in which they are trapped.  
Babi tells Laila that educating women is important because “a society has no chance of succeeding if its women are uneducated, Laila. No chance” (Hosseini, 2007, p. 103). Babi’s wise words emphasize the ineffable value of education, especially for women. The quote is a thought-provoking statement about the importance of equality and women’s role in society. It reminds us that knowledge is the cornerstone of any society’s progress and sustainability, and that education is the key to improving women’s quality of life and thus improving society as a whole. It is hard for me to see the Taliban regime’s resolution denying women the right to education as anything other than a deliberate act to prevent women from reaching their full potential, and there are several indicators that point in the direction of this conclusion. First, the Taliban have shown intense determination to limit women’s freedom and rights, including their access to education. This policy also tends to go hand in hand with conservative interpretations of Islamic law and tradition, which are often used to justify such restrictions. Second, education is the source of women’s empowerment, and that can be threatening to a regime that wants to maintain control. Educated women are often better equipped to participate in society, challenge injustice and demand equality, all of which can threaten the Taliban’s established power system.  
"A Thousand Splendid Suns" explores important themes that are relevant not just to Afghan women, but all women, across eras and cultures. “Learn this now and learn it well my daughter: like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always” (Hosseini, 2007, p. 13). The message here is that women are often subjected to unfair criticism and blame, no matter what they do. This is reflected in women’s experiences in many societies where they are judged, criticized and blamed for actions and choices that men are not necessarily held responsible for in quite the same way. It is a sad reality that has persisted for centuries, one that many authors have described and challenged. Henrik Ibsen’s
"A Doll’s House" (1879) presents a different perspective on this issue. The play deals with a number of complex themes, but foremost among them is the oppression of women in society, as expressed through the main character Nora Helmer. Nora, depicted as a “little lark” in demeanor, is secretly a woman who has learned to adapt to society’s expectations. Her husband Torvald represents the era’s typical attitude toward the role of women. A protective and controlling husband, Torvald has internalized society’s views of women, and he expects Nora to obey his wishes. Nora is thus a living illustration of the woman’s role as a mere “doll” in a patriarchal society. 
Nora realizes this and comes to symbolic accord with the oppression she has experienced.  
"It’s true Torvald. When I lived at home with Papa, he used to tell me his opinion about everything, and so I had the same opinion. If I thought differently, I had to hide it from him, or he wouldn’t have liked it. He called me his doll-child, and he used to play with me just as I played with my dolls. Then I came to live in your house" – (Ibsen, 1879, p. 130) 
This monologue marks the moment Nora becomes aware that she is a puppet controlled by society’s and Torvald’s expectations. She has lived like a “doll-child” according to others’ wishes and constructed her self-image around this false identity. Mariam and Laila in "A Thousand Splendid Suns" and Nora in "A Doll’s House" all face oppression and limitations imposed on them by society. They are trapped in roles that are defined by gender and social expectations, yet all three women display a fierce will to challenge these limitations and fight for their freedom.  
Is this theme as relevant today as it was when Ibsen wrote the play? Women still face expectations and norms that limit their choices and opportunities. Debates about equality and women’s rights continue to shape society – equal pay for equal work, body ideals and abortion are still contentious issues. If we compare our own age with that of "A Doll’s House", society has come a long way in various areas, but there is still far to go to achieve full equality. 
Since April, I have been working, along with two other young people, on creating a communication program for the exhibition “My Life! My Choice?” at the National Museum. It has been a valuable learning experience during which we have developed a deeper understanding of art, among other things, and it has been incredibly fun and exciting to meet the artists and hear their reflections on the exhibition and the works. The exhibition shows a selection of Erik Werenskiold’s drawings for Jonas Lie’s novel "The Family at Gilje" alongside new works by the contemporary artists Hanne Lydia Opøien Figenschou and Gelawesh Waledkhani (National Museum, 2023). 
Figenschou’s artwork titled “Falling Heroes” shows various motifs taken from art history, current events, social media, spam emails and the city’s billboards. Her unique approach is to portray these motifs with colored pencils in grey tones on contrasting black paper, as if to emphasize the dramatic and dark backdrop that surrounds them. What really sets Figenschou’s work apart from the crowd is her decision to turn the pieces upside down, as a symbolic gesture of “renouncing” them. This move challenges us to look at things from a new angle and reflect on what is really important in our complex world. Of these works, the one that made the strongest impression on me is a drawing of a Taliban member’s beard. I can’t help imagining what I would do myself if I had the opportunity. I would, just like Figenschou, “renounce” the Taliban to help the women of Afghanistan. 
Waledkhani’s contribution to the exhibition goes far beyond the realm of art and gets to the heart of an important societal problem. Through her artwork, Waledkhani portrays freedom fighters and activists who have devoted their lives to fighting for the Kurd’s independence and fundamental rights. Her work gives us insight into a world where freedom of expression, human rights and peace cannot be taken for granted, where they are being fought for daily. One of Waledkhani’s most powerful works consists of three sheets of paper embroidered with her own hair. The three sheets bear the simple but poignant words “woman”, “life” and “freedom”. The work is a tribute to the countless women who have sacrificed their lives in the struggle for something as basic as the right to show their hair. Through her art, she gives voice to the voiceless and reminds us of the importance of continuing to fight for equality and freedom. Her artwork is a symbol of hope, courage and strength, while also shedding light on the many challenges that still exist in the world. 
The exhibition “My Life! My Choice?”, the novel "A Thousand Splendid Suns" and the play "A Doll’s House" all lead me to understand that the women in Afghanistan are not alone in their fight for justice. Women have fought for hundreds of years and are still fighting for their freedom. This is the story of mothers, daughters, sisters and friends who have come together to create a better future for generations to come. Their commitment, courage and perseverance are a source of inspiration for us all. That is the art of being a woman.  
Amnesty International. (2022a). Afghanistan: Taliban ødelegger livene til kvinner og jenter. https://amnesty.no/afghanistan-taliban-odelegger-livene-til-kvinner-og-jenter  
Amnesty International. (2022b, 27 July). Afghanistan: Taliban’s ‘suffocating crackdown’ destroying lives of women and girls – new report. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/07/afghanistan-talibans-suffocating-crackdown-destroying-lives-of-women-and-girls-new-report/ 
Bjellås, S. N. (2019, 2. oktober). Ibsen, gått ut på dato? Aftenposten, Meninger. https://www.aftenposten.no/meninger/sid/i/b5dKj5/ibsen-gaatt-ut-paa-dato-sunniva-norendal-bjellaas 
Ekle, L. (2007, 13. juni). Tusen strålende soler. [Anmeldelse av boka Tusen strålende soler, av K. Hosseini]. NRK. https://www.nrk.no/kultur/tusen-stralende-soler-1.2689531  
Figenschou, H. K. O. (2023). Falling Heroes. 
FN. (2022). Afghanistan. https://www.fn.no/konflikter/Asia/afghanistan  
Hosseini, K. (2007). Tusen strålende soler. (E. W. Middelthon, Overs.). Schibsted. 
Ibsen, H. (2005). Et dukkehjem. Gyldendal. 
Jørgensen, S. (2023, 8. mars). Lytt til kvinnene i Afghanistan. Dagsavisen, Debatt. https://www.dagsavisen.no/debatt/2023/03/08/lytt-til-kvinnene-i-afghanistan/  

Nasjonalmuseet. (2023). Mitt liv! Mitt valg? https://www.nasjonalmuseet.no/utstillinger-og-arrangementer/nasjonalmuseet/utstillinger/2023/mitt-liv-mitt-valg/  
Waledkhani, G. (2023). Kvinne, liv, frihet. 

Dunya Mina Yosufzai

Dunya Mina Yosufzai is 18 years old and in her final year at Valle Hovin high school.
In April 2023, she was one of three young adults selected through TrAP's "Nøkkel til byen" project to act as advisors and work on the dissemination program together with the curators of the exhibition "My life! My choice?".