Millennials are roughly defined as those born between the years 1980 and 2001. In Afghanistan, this definition carries an added layer of significance, as these years are the bookends of two particularly catastrophic periods of conflict: 1980, the first year of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and 2001, marking the beginning of the U.S. invasion and the War on Terror. Millennials in Afghanistan have only known a time in which their country has been in a constant state of war.
In spite of their chaotic upbringing, or perhaps because of it, many millennials in Afghanistan are extraordinarily resilient, even hopeful, about their country’s future. They are better educated than any past generation: according to the Afghan Central Statistics Organization, public university enrollment jumped from 7,800 to 174,425 between 2001 and 2015 – 21 percent of that enrollment being women. Although many still long to leave Afghanistan in search of opportunities elsewhere, others resolutely remain, choosing to engage with their communities and the outside world through art, music, and activism – from within the country they know and love.
“The future of Afghanistan is going to be very bright,” says Zhala Sarmast, seventeen, a member of a groundbreaking Afghan women’s cycling group that biked across the country to promote female independence and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize this year. “I know the youngsters of my country are strong enough to rebuild Afghanistan, and to show the world that Afghanistan is much more than what they think.”