21 year old Nel was born in Afghanistan, but has lived – since the age of six – in London, and the focal point of this film was her return to her birthplace.
Nel stated early on in the film that she wanted to see what her life might have been like had her family not left Afghanistan, and what she found was a draconian regime that ensures women are treated like cattle – often worse – and one in which little has changed for women in hundreds of years.
Afghanistan, with or without Taliban rule, is a patriarchal society where, as Nel saw, women can be imprisoned indefinitely simply for leaving their homes without their husband’s permission.
And during a trip to a hospital, Nel met one 15 year old girl who’d suffered such dreadful abuse at the hands of her in-laws, she set herself on fire in a suicide bid. She wasn’t alone in opting for death over living a miserable existence, and arguably sadly, those who didn’t succeed could now expect only yet more misery.
Nel began this film – I felt – with a rather smug naivety, but that was short-lived as she saw for herself just how fortunate she was to have such liberal and forward thinking parents.
Arguably the first eye opener for her was when she and her bodyguard were stuck in traffic, right next to a truck full of Afghan military personnel. Nel was told that she needn’t worry too much about her own personal safety as those most ‘at risk’ were the Afghan military…
But there she was, stuck uncomfortably close to a potential target, and collateral damage in the form of civilians is – by both sides of this conflict – not given a great deal of thought.
Her parents meanwhile were understandably desperately worried about Nel, and they had every reason to be. In a country where women are chattels and have few rights, other than on paper, she was not a welcome ‘tourist’.
But she did find some potential for optimism in that she met with one family who encourage their daughter to get an education and she also met with young girls who risk becoming victims of Taliban bombers just to get to school.
Nel’s ultimate conclusion was that her England home was indeed a much better proposition than any place her birthplace could offer her. She said of Afghanistan, “This country has been in the grip of stupid men for years, and they’ve never been able to let that go.”
It seems that letting go isn’t likely to happen any time soon, but at least – as Nel discovered – the first green shoots are there. Let’s hope they’re nurtured rather than rooted out.
This was a moving and insightful film, which if you missed, you can watch here, on BBC’s iPlayer.