Review: Documentary ‘In Her Hands’ Tells Story of Afghanistan’s Youngest Female Mayor, Leaves Holes About Her Life

After watching In Her Hands, a Netflix documentary executive produced by Hillary and Chelsea Clinton and about Zarifa Ghafari, Afghanistan’s youngest female mayor of Maidan Wardak, I immediately started Googling what I consider major holes in her story such as what did she do before she became a mayor in 2018? Where is she today and what is she doing? In Her Hands successfully imparts the dangerous nature of her life’s work as a woman in politics living in an ultra male-dominated society. Her driver and bodyguards are always heavily armed and alert. However the documentary feels disjointed and scattered unnecessarily. Perhaps this is because Afghanistan was on the brink of the United States leaving the country after nearly 20 years at war and it was dangerous to adequately tell her story. 

That said, I would have liked to know about Ghafari from the beginning to the end in a linear fashion and not with a lot of dots and dashes. In fact, the documentary’s title is In Her Hands, but the filmmakers never tackle how her often-shown hands became so severely scarred. Her story comes off as entirely one-dimensional. She has this dangerous job as a mayor in a Taliban heavy area, but how did she get there? Does she face more male opposition than what is shown by one shopkeeper and, of course, Taliban threats? And I wonder why we get an in-depth profile of a Taliban commander when the story should arguably be more about the documentary’s focus, Ghafari.

There is no doubt that Ghafari is akin to many freedom fighters the world over, past and present. The documentary effectively shows how selfless Ghalfari is with the weight of Afghani women on her shoulders. She attempts to convince men in community meetings to allow girls to attend school. Her pleas fall on deaf ears not only because of the Afghani culture, but because it seems the abject poverty keeps boys from years of schooling as well. She helps women who have been living on the streets for years, but beyond that we don’t get to see a full picture of how she fights for girls’ education which she argues will singularly bring Afghanistan together and pull it out of poverty. 

Towards the end of the documentary Ghafari looks to be singularly focused on a new job with the Afghan Department of Defense that will help families whose sons died during military service. It observedly takes its toll on her well-being. She is also forced to leave her loyal bodyguard behind who arguably does not take it well. Ghalfani matter of factly says the DOD doesn’t hire civilians and that was that. 

Events between the Taliban and the United States escalate quickly and the next thing we see is Ghafari frantically packing and sobbing. The documentary shows her making one phone call and then getting on the plane with her husband and family out of their homeland. This flies in the face of the countless stories about how difficult it was to escape the country if you worked against the Taliban. If it was harder for Ghalfani to get her entire family safely out of Afghanistan, we’ll never know. 

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