“It’s time that we, the women of Afghanistan, get a chance to bring peace and change.”

Tamana Ayazi is a SI Leader Lab alumna and director of the movie In Her Hands that launches on Netflix today 16 November. We asked her about the background of the movie, and what SI Leader Lab has meant to her.
Two women in a discussion.

Filmed in Afghanistan over two years, In Her Hands tells the story of Zarifa Ghafari, one of the country’s first female mayors and the youngest person, at 26, to hold the position. The film documents her fight to survive and narrow escape against the backdrop of her nation’s accelerated unraveling.  

Congratulations on your new movie, In Her Hands, that launched on Netflix today! As the director of the movie, please tell us the story behind it and how it has been to work on this movie.
Thank you so much! This is a film about my beautiful country, where an endless spiral of violence has left deep wounds for more than 40 years. In Afghanistan, men have been ruling for far too long, and all they have brought is a never-ending cycle of war. I believe that it’s time that we, the women of Afghanistan, get a chance to bring peace and change. 

We started making this film in the midst of uncertainty for millions of Afghans, including our main characters Zarifa and Massoum, as the US and Taliban were discussing an exit of the Western forces in the country. We wanted to chronicle the journey of Afghanistan and its people, full of hopes and dreams on the verge of being shattered. 

I was born and raised in Afghanistan. I’ve been living in exile since August 2021. Working on In Her Hands has been an overwhelming, eye-opening, and rewarding experience for me as a woman and filmmaker. The lessons I learned while making this film have definitely changed the way I see the world around me. 

You are an alumni of SI Leader Lab. What has the programme meant for you?
The SI Leader Lab community has always been my safe circle. I remember being on the streets of Kabul on August 15, 2021, filming people in fear, police and army vehicles fleeing, and the Taliban taking over. The SI Leader Lab community was one of the first to reach out to ask about the situation and my safety. In times like that, you realize how important it is to have a support system like that, even two years after the program. 

On a professional level, SI Leader Lab helped me explore deeper gender equality, inclusion, and the challenges we face in an unjust society like Afghanistan. We started filming In Her Hands a few months after the SI Leader Lab programme. It helped me use the tools and the elements in the film. We tried to highlight in our film how Afghan women deal with gender inequality and gender apartheid on a daily basis. What you see in the film is not abstract; it’s real, everyday life in my country under the Taliban. 

The programme also taught me how to use my platform and the power of storytelling to raise awareness and advocate for gender equality and human rights. It’s our mission to use the film to restart an international conversation on the situation in Afghanistan post-US-retreat, and to drive public pressure to prioritise action to protect the human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. 

The Swedish Institute has an increasing focus on Sustainable Development Goal 16 and promoting peaceful and inclusive societies. What does the concept of inclusive societies mean to you?
As an Afghan woman who has struggled her entire life to fully fulfill her rights, the concept of an inclusive society means that all individuals in the society enjoy freedoms and equal opportunities regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, class, religion, age, or any other differences. What we see in Afghanistan today is the opposite of an inclusive society; there is no other country in the world systematically denying girls education based on gender and denying women the right to work. What’s happening in my country right now is the most serious women’s rights crisis in the world. 

What are your plans for the future?
I want to continue making films and advocating for equality, justice, freedom, and inclusion. It’s so important to have women in front of and behind the camera in documentary filmmaking, and we need to hear more uncensored voices like Zarifa, and all women who are fighting for freedom of expression. My next film is focused on gender, sexuality, and women’s rights. I am currently developing a few film ideas and am very excited about it. And I really hope the situation changes in my homeland so I can return and reunite with my loved ones. 

Note: The call for applications to SI Leader Lab 2023 is open 1 to 30 November.  

Find out more about SI Leader Lab and submit your application here