The woman once known around the world as “The Afghan Girl,” who was on the cover of National Geographic Magazine back in 1985, has now reached Italy and is staying there in safety after fearing for her life after the Taliban takeover of her country.
Sharbat Gula, whose arresting image taken when she was only ten years of age rocked the world three decades ago, served as the tragic face of her embattled country for many years.
At the time not even feeling free enough to give her first name to the man who took her picture, Gula was known only as “The Afghan Girl” for decades, until photographer Steve McCurry searched for her, miraculously finding her in the mountains of Afghanistan in 2002.
“The Afghan Girl” survived decades as refugee in Pakistan
With a tradition of females being strictly forbidden to smile for cameras lest it be seen as an invitation to men, Gula’s stony face and expression wordlessly told the story of the tragedy of her country, in which women once — and now again — had to cover themselves and mask their emotions out of fear.
Now a mother of several children, Gula was only eight when she was made a refugee, and was only ten when the NG photographer took her picture in a refugee camp in Pakistan; her piercing, thousand-yard-long stare soon was seen around the world, and everyone wanted to not only know who she was but to help the young woman and her family in their plight.
After living as a refugee in Pakistan for years, Gula was invited back to her native country by the Afghan government in 2016 after she was accused of having falsified her identity papers — a common necessity in Pakistan for Afghan refugees. She was given an apartment by the government and lived there in peace for years as she raised her family.
Now, fearing what might happen to her under the new rule of the Taliban, Gula fled to Rome and is now there, according to Italian authorities.
Sharbat Gul at risk as a prominent Afghan woman
As soon as the US pulled its troops out of Afghanistan in August of this year, organizations and individuals working for Afghan women appealed for help in getting her out of the country, according to a statement released by the Italian government.
Italy has by now evacuated more than 5,000 people from Kabul, the government stated, while the US has resettled more than 22,500 Afghan refugees — including an astounding 3,500 in one week in October alone, according to the New York Times. Approximately 42,500 more Afghans are still living in temporary housing on eight military bases around the country while they await permanent housing.
“The prime minister’s office has brought about and organized her transfer to Italy,” the statement announced. It is not known at this time if Gula intends on staying in Italy or exactly what she intends to do in the future. She is currently in her late 40s.
The 2002 National Geographic article on the rediscovery of Gula stated: “The geometry of her jaw has softened. The eyes still glare; that has not softened.”
Gula’s protectors singled her out for help since she had served in many ways as the face of Afghan women for the rest of the world for decades. Despite their statements to the contrary, the Taliban are now going door-to-door in some neighborhoods looking for anyone who supported the US, and women have demonstrated in the streets, fearing their lives and freedoms are once again in danger, just as they had been during the first rule of the Islamic group.
Heather Barr, who works as the associate director for women’s rights for the organization Human Rights Watch, told the Times that it is now an extremely dangerous time to be a well-known woman in Afghanistan.
She stated there have already been cases of prominent women being threatened or intimidated; some, including former television presenters, remain in hiding and change their locations constantly as they endeavor to escape the attention of the Islamic regime.
Barr told interviewers “The Taliban don’t want women to be visible, and she’s an extremely visible Afghan woman.”