‘Mother of a thousand children’ Laila Haidari mobilizes women against the Taliban — and the U.S. peace talks

A FILE PHOTO FROM JUNE 25, 2012, SHOWS LAILA HAIDARI, IN HER OFFICE IN KABUL. (QAIS USYAN/AFP/GETTYIMAGES)

Laila Haidari, a 39-year-old Afghan activist known as the “mother of a thousand children” because of the number of addicts she has assisted to recover, is waging war on the U.S.’s ongoing peace talks with the Taliban.

Haidari funds her drug rehabilitation work and center through her popular Taj Begum cafe in Kabul, a rare space where unmarried men and women can sit together over coffee and tea — a practice that has led conservative local media outlets to condemn it as barely more respectable than a brothel. But if the Taliban are allowed to retake control of the country following a U.S. withdrawal, she warns, her cafe and other similar spaces will face not just criticism, but annihilation.

“I hope to find 50 other women who will stand up and say, ‘We don’t want peace,'” she was overheard telling her customers recently, the New York Times reports. “If the Taliban comes back, you will not have a friend like me, and there will be no restaurant like Taj Begum.”

In this photograph taken on June 25, 2012, Laila Haidari stands with an addict at her treatment center ‘The Mother Camp’ in Kabul. Haidari founded the organization Life is Beautiful to help and treat addicted and homeless youths in Kabul. (QAIS USYAN/AFP/GettyImages)

Born to a conservative religious family, Haidari herself was married off to a mullah two decades her senior when she was just 12 years old.

“Ever since age 12, I feel like I’ve been in a boxing ring,” she told The Times. “Back then I didn’t know that child marriage was something unjust, even though I had this feeling I was being raped every night by a full-grown man, and that was wrong.”

Now divorced — under Islamic law, Haidari’s husband kept their three children — she says that she will not stand idly by while future generations are forced to live under the Taliban, whose conservative religious beliefs confine women to their homes and second-class status in society.

“We are face to face with an ideology, not a group of people. They believe that women are defined as the second gender and you can’t change that ideology, so I have no hope for Taliban talks,” she explained. “I should have something to tell my own children and my grandchildren, when they ask, ‘What did you do when the Taliban came?'”

 

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