TEDWomen Presents: Women leading change, with Tamana Ayazi and Kat Craig

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Filmmaker Tamana Ayazi speaks at TEDWomen Presents. (Photo Courtesy of TED)

If there’s a constant in our lives, it’s change.

The first day of TEDWomen Presents — an online festival featuring interviews with leading women, interactive workshops, specially curated film screenings and more — focused on change and the challenges that come with it, culminating in a moving conversation between filmmaker Tamana Ayazi and human rights lawyer Kat Craig.

Big idea: The women of Afghanistan need solidarity and global support more than anything. Hope for a brighter future remains — despite all odds.

How? One of the good memories Tamana Ayazi has of growing up in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, is playing soccer in the street with friends; another is of participating in a program for documentary filmmaking. Both memories inform who Ayazi is today, what she seeks to capture behind the lens of her camera and her hopes for her country’s future. Interviewed by Kat Craig — who was part of a team that helped to evacuate the women’s national football team from Afghanistan in 2021 — Ayazi discusses her feature-length documentary debut In Her Hands (which premieres on Netflix on November 16), which chronicles the harrowing reality of Afghanistan’s youngest female mayor months before the Taliban’s resurgence. Whether it be on long strips of desert road controlled by the Taliban, standing atop crags of mountainous expanse or nestled in a village room lined with stacks of books, Ayazi reflects the hearts and voices of the Afghan people fighting for their country — those who believe in making right the many wrongs that led to its takeover, even as they are ideologically opposed. (Among the subjects of her film, she threads the perspective of a Taliban commander named Musafer.) “When the government collapsed, it wasn’t just the government. It was the people, full of hopes and dreams,” Ayazi says. “The future collapsed in front of us. My biggest dream is to go back to Afghanistan and live the way I used to live.” Ayazi reaches toward a future where light overwhelms the current shadow that looms over her country, a future where she can once again embrace the loved ones she was forced to leave behind. She believes the way forward is female and calls for solidarity for all women, anywhere in the world. “We are the ones who can make change,” she says.

Q&A: Following the interview, the TEDWomen Presents audience had the opportunity to ask Ayazi questions during a live Q&A, hosted by TEDWomen Editorial Director Pat Mitchell. Ayazi spoke on the current Taliban-enforced gender apartheid in Afghanistan, lamenting how the pathways to knowledge have become restricted for women, as well as the dramatic rise of forced and child marriage due to poverty and lack of education. This taking of basic human rights has spurred protests comprised of brave, resilient and determined women within the country and around the world in solidarity — and Ayazi believes and feels these courageous efforts will lead to something positive. She’s hoping that her film In Her Hands will open a conversation about the situation in Afghanistan, amplify the voices in need of support, change policies and put pressure on the Taliban.

Naturally, however, Ayazi harbors deep concerns. Much has changed since filming, and everything has become more serious. She still has loved ones and colleagues in the country. But speaking with the women and girls still fighting back home gives her hope and drives her to keep going to do the most of what she can in her current position. To her, leaving is as difficult as staying because you lose everything in a single day — your home, job, identity, the certainty of the future. “I cry sometimes,” she admits. “But then I’m like: Tamana, if they can do this, you should be able to do this.”

Filmmaker Tamana Ayazi speaks with human rights lawyer Kat Craig at TEDWomen Presents. (Photo Courtesy of TED)

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