Nilofar Rahmani, a celebrated Afghan female pilot who was awarded the annual “Women of Courage” prize by the US State Department, has applied for asylum in the US, to the scorn of the government in Kabul.
After 15 months of training in the US, and on the eve of her return to Afghanistan, she announced that she would not be returning home because she fears for her life, according to interviews with the New York Times and Wall Street Journal at the end of last week.
As the first female fixed-wing pilot in the war-torn and deeply conservative country, Rahmani became a face of female empowerment.
“Things are not changing” for the better in Afghanistan, Rahmani told New York Times. “Things are getting worse and worse,” citing the killing of female workers at an airport in southern Afghanistan earlier this month.
Rahmani told the New York Times that her family was threatened by extended family members shortly after she received her wings in 2013, and that she felt unsafe because her male colleagues held her in contempt.
The Afghan government on Monday described her decision as “shameful.”
“The threats that she talks about are only an excuse and it is shameful for those that are meant to stand for their country,” Mohammad Radmanish, a Ministry of Defence spokesman, told dpa.
“If we don’t fight the challenges that we face, if officers in the military don’t show bravery in the face of threats and live their dreams, then we don’t deserve to fight for this country.”
Afghans on social media have shown a mixed reaction towards Rahmani’s request for asylum, with some saying she had misused her privileged status and opportunity, and others urging a national debate on the position of women in Afghanistan.