JUDY WOODRUFF: The brutal murder by a mob in Afghanistan last week of a 27-year-old woman named Farkhunda has sparked worldwide outrage and concern for the plight of all Afghan woman. This week, a delegation of female Afghan leaders accompanied President Ashraf Ghani on his official visit to Washington.
Among them, Kamila Sidiqi, whose story reached the United States in the 2011 bestselling book “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.” It chronicles her bold efforts to create a dressmaking business that supported her neighborhood during years of Taliban rule.
NewsHour special correspondent Gayle Tzemach Lemmon happens to be the author of that book. She brings us an update now on her remarkable subject.
GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: The last time I saw Kamila Sidiqi, she was a successful businesswoman in Kabul with more than a dozen employees. Then she started a dried fruit business and launched a taxi company.
Yet here she is today on the streets of Washington, D.C., having risen to even greater heights. She's now deputy chief of staff to the president of Afghanistan, handling technology, finance, admin and hiring in the office of the president.
Her journey has taken her from a teenager trying to survive during the Taliban years to the presidential palace today.
You always believed that your hard work would pay off, even in those times when there were real regulations and rules against women being out in the public sphere.
KAMILA SIDIQI, Afghan Presidential Deputy Chief of Staff: Yes, I'm very grateful the recognition that I have received from my work today, and work with the office of the president.
It's only and also if someone work very hard and have belief and confidence, I'm sure they can work in the office of president, and they can work any place they want.
GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Sidiqi's journey began in the days of Taliban rule, when women weren't permitted to work or go to school or even to leave the house without a male chaperone. Determined to support her family and with few options left given the Taliban's rules, Sidiqi turned to business.
She learned to make dresses. And from one dress she sewed to help her family survive, she built a living room business that provided jobs and an income to girls and women all around her neighborhood.
And what did those times teach you?
KAMILA SIDIQI: To be more confident, that we can — if we want to work and have commitment, we can bring some change.
GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: That change is not easy in a country where violence against women remains rampant, child marriage is entrenched and female literacy rates remain well below 50 percent. The past decade has brought progress, more than three million girls in school and women as police officers, teachers and lawmakers.
Alongside that progress, however, is the looming uncertainty of insecurity.
Do you ever get worn down by security situation, or by when a big attack happens, or when the headlines are tough, or when you see what's happening right now with protests on the street? Do you ever question your commitment?
KAMILA SIDIQI: Sure. I have a good feeling for my country. I am always concerned about all this accident, and it happen in my country every day.
All Afghan people are concerned, and I'm also very concerned about these things that happen, but I love my country. I have commitment.
GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Sidiqi remains committed to her country, in part because she never really left. Even during the civil war, she stayed in school, despite rockets falling from street-by-street trench warfare all around her.
Like so many other Afghans, she stayed behind to build the best life she could, despite growing up amid three decades of war. At a dinner this week for President Ghani, Secretary of State John Kerry paid tribute to Sidiqi's achievements.
JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: I met her on my first trip to Kabul when I was secretary of state, and she is a very brave entrepreneur who started her own business in her home at a time when the Taliban kept all women off the street.
And I would like to honor her also, if everybody would — where is she?
GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Sidiqi had in fact missed the dinner in order to attend a street vigil in Washington for Farkhunda, the young Afghan woman murdered by the mob in Kabul last week.
Sidiqi's visit to Washington has been a whirlwind of interviews, White House meetings, and conferences, including this one at Georgetown University featuring Afghan women leaders.
KAMILA SIDIQI: Today, we have a lot of opportunity. If someone wants to establish a business, it's very easy to go and register a company and do a business.
GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Your father had nine girls and two boys and made sure that every one of them was educated. Is education a personal issue for you because of that?
KAMILA SIDIQI: Sure.
As you know that, today, I am working in the office of the president. That's all because of my father and my mother, that they gave us a chance and in such difficult times in Afghanistan. And they always focus for the education of their children. In this case, it's not only important in my family. It's important in my country.
GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Is there anything that gives you concern or things that keep you up at night worrying about the future?
KAMILA SIDIQI: Security, security of my country, especially those people that they are living in the very remote area and very different provinces, that there is no good life for a woman. Security is important for us, and I'm concerned about it.
GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Well, we talked years ago. You went on a bus down south to do a presentation wearing your burqa, and you were talking to a mullah, I think, who said, if I knew my daughter would turn out like you…
KAMILA SIDIQI: Yes, you remember that. It was in Kandahar, when I provided training. And in Kandahar, it was a gender training and business. And that was his comment about me. And he say — he promised me that, I will give much and I will give my support for my girl to be like you in the future.
GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Do you think about yourself as a role model?
KAMILA SIDIQI: I hope. Let people judge.
GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: For the NewsHour, I'm Gayle Tzemach Lemmon in Washington.