Afghan-born German presenter and documentary-filmmaker, Arzu Qaderi, reflects on how women across the globe face the same challenges and, in many cases, overcome extraordinary barriers to realise their dreams.
I was born in the vibrant city of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. I left with my family just after the civil war and settled in Germany. Growing up with two cultures was exciting but it also had its cultural differences and challenges.
Once I started going to school, I struggled to learn the German language as we were mainly speaking Farsi at home. It took me a while to build my confidence and get over my fear of making mistakes. But soon I found myself in a better place growing up and in the end speaking both languages fluently. Having a good understanding of both German and Afghan culture, gave me the confidence and courage to move to London after completing my A-Levels.
I didn’t know anyone when I moved to London nor could I speak English, but I had a dream of wanting to work in the media and entertainment industry, and doing something with my life. I therefore felt that only London could open doors for me especially once I learned to speak English which is such an international language. After many years of hard work and struggle, I was determined to work as a presenter in the fashion industry. Yet, after starting my career in radio, I began to return to my long-held dream of working in the female rights sector as I felt that women were not supporting each other enough. Having worked as a transcriber on both episodes of the award-winning BBC documentary Exodus: Our Journey to Europe, I decided to work on my debut documentary to focus on issues of female empowerment.
In September 2017, I returned to Afghanistan for the first time since my childhood to film my documentary, My Afghan Diary. The documentary is based on confidential and controversial interviews with Afghan women who are succeeding in the entertainment and media sectors, despite challenging circumstances. Although I had lived away from Afghanistan for much of my life and had grown up in different countries, during filming, I was struck by the feeling that we as women, wherever we come from, share the same essential values.
We try to balance everything in life, both family and career, even when the outside world thinks differently. As I interviewed these women, I realised that they are as passionate about their dreams as we are in the Western world, while I marvelled at how they keep their dreams alive. I couldn’t help asking myself as I talked to artists, singers, and actresses, what motivates them to wake up every morning and pursue their chosen careers despite the suffering Afghanistan has been through for over a decade? I came to the conclusion that when it’s a dream, you just don’t want to think about ‘what if’ but you see that dream in front of you every morning when you wake up. I shall call this process ‘determination, discipline and passion’.
Indeed, I had to draw on my own determination, discipline and passion to face the many challenges of filming my documentary as it was not safe to do so. Just by being a woman and wanting to interview other women in order to empower and encourage them and give them the opportunity to find their voices, I pose a threat to the established order.
It is for this very reason that I hope my documentary will help change the spirit in Afghanistan and hope it will inspire women worldwide to achieve their dreams despite the daily challenges that we face and, in turn, to inspire future generations to do so! It is already showing that female empowerment is heading in the right direction.
As the saying goes: where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Arzu Qaderi is an Afghan-born German presenter and documentary-filmmaker. She has worked extensively in the fashion and media industry, hosting a variety of shows. She is fluent in German, Farsi, and English, as well as being proficient in Hindi, making her a powerful communicator across cultural boundaries. She is fearless in her determination to tell the truth about women’s lives and, at great personal risk, interviewed women in Afghanistan for her debut documentary, My Afghan Diary. The documentary has recently been screened in Italy, London, and India. Arzu has won much recognition as a passionate campaigner for women’s rights, and has given speeches on female health issues in Afghanistan. She hosted the IVHES Awards during the Miss Commonwealth International & Empowerment Event in London. She is also the recipient of a Citation from the Federal Government of Ottawa, Canada, and an honorary award at the Women Appreciating Women Awards 2018.