Fatima was just a young teenager when she hired a smuggler to help her and two of her siblings flee their abusive father in Afghanistan. Now 18, Fatima has spent nearly two years in Turkey awaiting resettlement in another country. But even though she managed to escape her father — as well as the marriage he arranged for her in exchange for political influence from her would-be husband’s father — Fatima says that the constant sexual harassment she faces as a young female refugee in Turkey also serves as a cage of its own.
“When we worked in a bakery, there was a Turkish man who lived there. If my sister and I went to wash dishes, he would walk behind us in a way that he could touch us. The next place I went to work was a restaurant. One late night when I was washing the dishes, the supervisor said, ‘Wait, I want to talk to you.’ He said, ‘I want us to be together. Let’s go out tonight,’” she told NBC News. “Everywhere we went we would be propositioned with immoral demands: ‘Come be our girlfriend, have sex with us.’ I had to wear an engagement ring from then on so that no one would think I am single.”
“All the incidents that occured became the reason that we no longer had the courage to leave the house,” she added, explaining that she now only ever leaves the house when she is accompanied by friends.
Despite the harassment, Fatima says she has no second thoughts or regrets about fleeing her home country. Her mother’s decision to divorce and leave her father, she said, initially made things worse for her at home but later inspired her to attempt her own escape.
“My father would hit my mother, insult her. After my mother’s departure, my father became more negative toward me and my sister. More than in the past,” she recalled. “We were always like prisoners at home. We were in school and my father made us drop out and didn’t allow my mother to see us.”
“I cannot blame my mom for leaving. It was the only way for my mom. It was the only thing she could do. If we escaped, it was with the hope to be united with our mom. And maybe it was her running away that gave us the courage to run away and save ourselves,” Fatima continued.
Some time after Fatima escaped to Turkey, and three years after she had last heard from her mother, the two were able to reconnect after the mother managed to track down her teenage daughter’s phone number. That “beautiful” day, Fatima said, served as an answer to her prayers. The two have reconciled, and now talk to each other daily.
The hardships she endured, Fatima told NBC News, had served to forge her into a “stronger person.”
“I feel like I have adopted myself, and I am responsible for myself,” she said. “It is not my duty to live under the banner of cruelty. I have the right to an education. I have the right to a good future. From what I know of myself, I know I can have a good future.”
Watch Fatima’s interview with NBC News below.