Courtesy of Yale Library

In the eyes of Afghan filmmaker Sahraa Karimi, Afghan women have been left behind. 

Karimi, whose documentaries explore the issues of women’s rights in Afghanistan, showcased her films “Parlika,” “Hava, Maryam, Ayesha” and “Afghan Women Behind the Wheel” in Luce Hall and the Loria Center from March 29 to 31. Karimi was invited to present at Yale by Charles Musser, professor of film and media studies and director of the Yale Summer Film Institute.

“Many people around the world don’t have any idea about Afghanistan,” Karimi said. “If you ask them about women of Afghanistan, they think they are heroes or they are victims, there is no in between, but I believe that there are millions of stories in between, which are gray.”

“Afghan Women Behind the Wheel,” a film Karimi made between 2006 and 2009 in Afghanistan, portrays three women learning to drive a car. Since women driving cars is a practice traditionally frowned upon in Afghanistan, driving is a metaphor for how these women are learning to control their own lives and achieving their dreams. The film is both uplifting and dismaying. Currently, women are no longer permitted to drive in Afghanistan — exemplifying Karimi’s statement that Afghan women are being “left behind.” Today, Karimi says, Afghan women are fighting for their basic rights of education, visibility and respect.

According to Karimi, the return of the Taliban last year has restricted women’s freedoms. 

“Hundreds of hundreds of women that used to work, breadwinners of their families, they cannot go to work and cannot return to their workplaces,” Karimi said. Moreover, the international community’s decision makers ignored Karimi’s generation and the women of Afghanistan — “they left us alone, they left us behind,” she said.

She was forced to flee Afghanistan on Aug. 15 to Ukraine, with the assistance of the Ukrainian president, the Ministry of Foriegn Affairs, the Slovak Film and Television Academy, the Turkish embassy and the Slovakian ambassador.  

“Hava, Maryam, Ayesha” similarly depicts three women partaking in simple acts to fight against injustice and societal limitations. The three women are pregnant and have absent boyfriends or husbands. They each must solve their problems by themselves for the first time, struggling against the many limitations of their society.  

“Parlika,” made from 2011 to 2016, explores the history of violence against women in Afghanistan via the story of Suraya Parlika, an Afghan women who entered Afghan public politics in the 1990s.

When Karimi watched “Parlika” at last Tuesday’s showing, she cried.  

“I filmed that to show how Afghan women try to communicate, try to change their society, try to change the mindset of the society,” Karimi said. “It is very sad, since now my films are kind of archives, but I’m happy that I could make these films so I can show to the world that [Afghan women] were trying, that we were active participants.” 

After watching the screening of “Afghan Women Behind the Wheel,” Aleksa Milojevic ARC ’23 said that documentaries often feel distant to the viewer because they strive to be objective, but with Karimi’s films viewers can “really immerse into and understand what the protagonists are experiencing.” 

Anthropology student Tram Luong GRD ’22, who is from Vietnam, related to the idea of driving as a symbol of emancipation. 

“The interviews were quite incredible, some of the moments she captured on camera were quite affecting,” Luong added. 

Karimi said that filmmaking is above all a responsibility. 

“I look at myself like I am carrying a message of my people through my stories,” Karimi said. “I believe in Afghanistan, I believe in my generation, I believe in using any opportunity to show a different face of Afghanistan. Women of Afghanistan deserve to work, to be active participants in their society.”
Karimi is the first female chairperson of the Afghan Film Organization.

Lukas Nel covers Art Student Life for the Arts Desk. Originally from Stellenbosch in the Republic of South Africa, he is a second semester junior in Davenport College studying EECS and Mathematics, who is passionate about art in all its forms.