“When a woman walks her path alone,
She will rise and meet the stars,
Yet, live in darkness,
But when a woman walks with her sisters,
Hand in hand in their togetherness,
She will feel light all around her,
Have you seen a love this pure?
A love this powerful?” – Mejgan Lashkari
Certain women empower and lift each other through their acts of kindness and words of courage, instead of pulling each other down. Mejgan Lashkari is one of them. We talked to Mejgan Lashkari, on her journey towards living as an Afghan woman in a world of diaspora, to the weekly taboo talks she conducts that covers a wide range of topics from mental health, relationships, identity, and heartbreak. You can find her on Instagram at @mejgan.writes.
1. Can you give us a brief introduction about the job you do, your degree, where you live, etc.
Every Afghan parent wants their child to become either a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, for financial security and also for status. I, however, knew that these professions were not my true calling, and I was not about to sacrifice my sanity and happiness, studying and working for something I didn’t believe in. I wanted to be a university professor, where I would have the privilege of conducting my own research and writing academic articles on topics of my own choosing. As an Afghan woman of color, I felt it was vital that we speak for ourselves and tell our own stories. I was tired of reading about people like me from the perspectives and voices of Western academics.
I have a Master’s degree in Sociology, in which I wrote my thesis on the dynamics and marriage choices of Afghan Canadian women. I hope to one day obtain my Ph.D. However, I am currently pressing pause on going back to school. Academia has taken its toll on me, and I definitely experienced burnout. I’ve spent close to a decade in school, studying, writing, reading, teaching, presenting at both local and international conferences, and while I am ambitious, I also knew I needed a break from it all. This isn’t me quitting; I am merely realigning my focus and figuring out the next step I want to take.
As of now, I am a research analyst for a small private company where I conduct research projects for various companies. I am fascinated by data and my days consist of conducting, transcribing, and analyzing both qualitative and quantitative data. Although the work can be a little dry sometimes, I motivate myself by using the complex data to ultimately tell stories to our clients. One day, I hope to become a well reputable and accomplished author. Seeing my books in bookshelves would be a dream come true.
2. Social media has a profound impact on the overall thinking of an individual. Since the majority of social media users are youngsters, do you think that social media can be used as a platform for creating social change and shedding light upon the critical issues that are considered taboo in our society?
Can social media be used as a tool for educating the youth regarding specific social problems?
Absolutely, and anyone who says otherwise must not be utilizing social media properly. Social media has helped me in numerous ways. From learning how to love myself to unlearning harmful biases I once held.
It took me a long time to share my work with anyone, so the thought of sharing it online for strangers to read never even crossed my mind. It felt too vulnerable. It took me many years to learn how to accept myself. And through self-acceptance, I decided to do something bold and share my writing on social media. I later found out that I wasn’t as alone as I thought. Those people had the same fears as I did, they just had not found their boldness yet to also be open. Through accepting myself, I said goodbye to doubts and insecurities constantly filling my mind and instead opened myself to be more open. Being open about myself, being open to change, and being open to new opportunities. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
3. Being a woman of color, do you believe that the media often portrays a false image of women like us? If yes, then what do you think we, as a community, should do to change that?
Yes. Challenge, resist and speak up. It’s tough work but it needs to be done.
4. You conducted an event “Soraya-2k18.” – was there a specific inspiration behind that event? Do you plan on doing more events as such in the near future?
The event was inspired by my weekly taboo talks. I wanted to celebrate the creative self-expression of Afghan women and empower them to reclaim their own narratives.
When it comes to the bodies and identities of Afghan women, there is no shortage of opinions. From feminists to politicians and academics, it seems as though everyone has something to say about Afghan women’s lack of agency. Afghan women are thought to be a part of the “mystical backward Orient” where women are subservient and oppressed, and men are violent and repressive. However, one group is left completely out of the conversation-Afghan women themselves.
The noticeable lack of Afghan women’s voices is something that I have always picked up on. Whether it was in classrooms, during political debates, and even within our own communities and homes. We are always being discussed. But very rarely, are we given the space to speak for ourselves. Too often, our voices have been silenced and spoken over. And while our stories need to be told they need to be told by us.
Growing up as an Afghan, Muslim woman of color wasn’t easy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Existing at these particular and specific intersections shaped me and shaped the way I viewed the world. It enabled me to see gaps in representation, rhetoric, and policy, which forced me to dream. It forced me to imagine those gaps are filled, a world where women like us are no longer disposable but centered.
Soraya2k18 was born to serve as a safe space where Afghan women are the central focus. Afghan women were the organizers. They were the leaders making the decisions. They were the ones taking up space. They were the entrepreneurs. They were the ones being heard. And they were the ones telling their narratives. They were the ones being recognized and honored. I wanted Afghan women to know that if people are not making space for us, then we make our own.
5. Can you tell us about the weekly taboo talks you conduct on your Instagram account? What was your motive or inspiration in starting the session of taboo talks?
Being an Afghan woman living in the diaspora is complicated, to say the least, what with having to navigate and negotiate between multiple identities, as an immigrant, as a Muslim, as an Afghan, as a woman of color, and so on. There are particular issues we go through that very few will understand: they range from unresolved trauma, mental illnesses, toxic relationships, racism and sexism outside and within our very own communities, and so on.
To make matters worse, we come from cultures where speaking out is considered to be taboo. We are constantly silenced. A woman who speaks her truth, and lives her life authentically is not met with praise, but with death threats, harassment, and shame. Who then, do we turn to in times of need? Who can we trust to share our deepest struggles with? How can we heal if our communities refuse to acknowledge and address our problems? How can we stop the cycle of trauma and generational pain?
These recurring thoughts prompted me to start #TabooTalks, a social media initiative that offers guidance and unconditional support to fellow youth members in our community, particularly women, as they are the most vulnerable and neglected members of our community. Too often, our voices have been silenced and spoken over. I wanted to create a safe space where everyone feels welcome, where everyone feels heard, and where everyone’s feelings are considered valid. #TabooTalks is a movement of resistance, acceptance, and healing.
Everyone defines success differently. I don’t look at numbers or views. I remember stories. Like the women who left toxic relationships. The mother of 2 who finally filed for divorce from her abusive husband. The couple who got their own home because their in-laws were causing too many problems. Hazaras who felt proud of their identity. People gaining the courage to discuss taboo talks for the first time. I remember those moments, and it fuels my passion for continuing to serve my community.
Every week, I had the privilege to listen to the rawest and honest stories and then share them with thousands of individuals. I’ve had many people share that #tabootalks has helped them far more than years of therapy. That speaks volumes, and it shows that our communities are suffering in silence-and suffering alone. I’d like for us to end that—one story at a time.
6. Often, women of color are underrepresented in the world of media. They are not given equal job opportunities, and their ideas are often ignored, what’s your opinion on that?
The answer is very obvious, bad.
7. Have you always taught that you’d be a social media influencer one day? At present, do you believe that we have very few such social media influencers who speak on taboo topics and shed light upon real-world issues?
I don’t consider myself a social media influencer or anything for that matter. I don’t like labels. I’m not an activist, feminist, or influencer. I’m just me. When you or others attach labels on you, you become confined to that label. People expect and demand you to act a certain way, and if you step outside of the constraints they’ve placed on you, even your most loyal supporters will be quick to turn on you. I am guided by my values, which include knowledge and truth, and I will not allow anyone to come in the way of that.
This is a journey that is the only mine, and so I intend to take it alone. We all have our own paths we need to take, so we shouldn’t look to others to speak for us. Everyone has a responsibility to do their part. The fact that some people sit idly by and demand influencers to speak on their behalf is absurd for me. You don’t need a large platform to speak up and do what is right; standing up for injustice is all of our moral responsibility.
8. In your opinion, what should be the true duty of a social media influencer?
Be real and authentic. Authenticity is easy to spot but hard to emulate. So don’t follow the crowd and society’s never-ending trends. That is why I am a firm believer that we should not be driven by money or admiration, but by our values and beliefs. When value-oriented goals drive you, your character will remain consistent, and your audience will reflect that. They may hold you to higher standards, but they will recognize that at the end of the day, you are a complex, multifaceted individual with flaws just like them.
9. Many people love the words you inscribe. Is there something or someone who is an inspiration behind the words you write? What message do you prefer to give out to your audience through your writings?
Inspiration is all around us, but I think I am most inspired when I am at my most vulnerable. There are a few people who have played a large role in my writing. My father, for teaching me the importance of education and writing our own narratives. My mother, for being my constant source of inspiration. Everything I do is for you, for you are the most important person in my life. Myself, thank you for never giving up on us and always believing in us.
I hope my writing makes people feel accepted, validated, and understood. I hope it makes people question everything they were so headstrong about. But most importantly, I hope my writing gives hope to people who feel alone, that there are so many souls just like them who feel the same way they do.
10. Do you plan on publishing a book of your own one day? If so, what topics would you like to highlight or cover in your upcoming book?
I am currently compiling stories for my upcoming book, based on my taboo talks. It will cover a wide range of topics from mental health, relationships, identity, and heartbreak. I spend every day interviewing Afghan women in the diaspora, and I am honored to be sharing our stories with the world.
11. In your ongoing journey of being a social media influencer, what was one of the most important things that you had learned? Can just anyone be a social media influencer?
Growing thick skin and accepting the fact that you could be a gift sent from God. However, people will still find reasons to dislike you. It doesn’t help that I am easily irritated. And unfortunately, when you expose yourself to thousands of strangers and discuss controversial topics, you will become a target for scrutiny, harassment, and violent threats. I used to react to all the mean comments I would get, but now I’ve found blocking is so much easier and better for my mental health.
No, you need talent, drive, and most importantly the ability to connect with others. People need to be able to resonate with your brand and your message.
12. What advice would you like to give to those girls who are struggling to get their voices heard?
The best thing I can tell you is that if you don’t speak up for yourself, someone else will speak for you. In order to overcome the constraints society has placed on you, you must raise your voice. So be authentic, be honest, and be you. The world needs more of that.