Afghan Women’s Rights Advocate Escapes Taliban Rule, Restarts Career in U.S. Philanthropy

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Farzana, an Afghan women's rights advocate

Empowered by Upwardly Global, Farzana reignites a cause-driven career in New York City nonprofits

As a young woman in Afghanistan, 27-year-old Farzana stood out.

“I was one of those strange girls,” she says. Throughout her upbringing, she pushed her conservative family to support her educational pursuits, which Afghan women had limited access to. Her young adult life was colored by ambition — after earning a bachelor’s degree in economics at Kabul University, she seized an opportunity to attend a life-changing MBA program funded by USAID. Out of a thousand applicants, she was one of four women selected for the 25-slot program.

During the MBA program, Farzana saw her career blossom. She began an internship at the largest USAID women’s empowerment program in the world, eventually being hired on as an HR Assistant and later an HR Officer. She then transitioned into a role as an Administrative Officer at Afghanistan’s Presidential Palace.

Fleeing Afghanistan for the U.S.

Nearly five years into a thriving career, in August of 2021, the ground shifted beneath her feet as the Taliban regained control of the country. With Farzana and her husband both working in the political sphere, they were no longer safe. 

“I had no idea that I [had] to leave until ten minutes before I left,” she says. “My father-in-law called and said, ‘I’m sending a taxi … be prepared and come to the airport.’”

Farzana and her husband eventually landed on U.S. soil, joining nearly 90,000 other Afghan evacuees. They spent four months at a military camp in Wisconsin, their future uncertain.

“It was the most horrible experience of my life,” Farzana reflects. “You had to wait in line for hours for food. I [had] left with no clothes — just what I was wearing. You had no privacy. You had nothing.”

Starting over in the United States

Farzana, an Afghan women's rights advocate, in front of the White House

By the following summer, Farzana regained her footing in New York City. After learning about Upwardly Global while doing volunteer work, Farzana spent four months in their Career Coaching Program, hoping to secure a professional role that matched her prior experience.

“All the other Afghans that came before us, they had the mindset that you can’t have an office job in the U.S. — you have to struggle,” Farzana says. She didn’t buy it.

In fact, Afghan refugees earn an average starting salary of nearly $60,000 after working with Upwardly Global. Over 10,000 Afghan refugees bring this kind of professional expertise — many just need support in adjusting to a new job market.

“It was a different experience here — the way you have to present yourself is quite different,” explains Farzana. “[Upwardly Global’s] amazing courses make you feel ready for the job — how to do networking, how to market yourself.”

While navigating the U.S. job market from scratch, Upwardly Global helped her reshape her job applications to fit the U.S. criteria. Nearly every day prior to big interviews, she practiced mock interviews with her career coach in preparation.

“Those mock interviews with Upwardly Global were amazing. I think those helped me a lot to pass my interviews,” she says.

In July of 2022, she began her first U.S. job as a Senior Development Associate at UJA-Federation New York, one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world. It supports a plethora of causes Farzana has a deep connection with, from combating poverty to global crises response.

Women’s rights under Taliban rule

As Farzana restarts her own life and career, her thoughts linger with her family, now scattered across the globe. One of Farzana’s sisters remains in Afghanistan, and she hopes to one day bring her to the U.S. 

“I was living in the brightest years of Afghanistan because I was able to work. There were restrictions — nothing was very open for us — but at least we had basic human rights,” Farzana remembers. “Now, girls are not allowed to go to school … to go to work … to be in public without being accompanied by a man. You’re a woman, and society’s definition for women is that they should be in the house. Women are [just] that.”

While much remains uncertain for Afghans both at home and abroad, Farzana is hopeful. With support from organizations like Upwardly Global, she has found the strength to push forward.

“I’m always recommending [Upwardly Global] to friends of mine who are coming to the U.S.,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Go to Upwardly Global. That’s the best thing you can do.'”

Find out more about Upwardly Global’s career resources for immigrants and refugees here.

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