The 100 Most Influential People of 2021
Rahmat Gul—AP
By Roya Mahboob
September 15, 2021 7:15 AM EDT

There are so many things to admire about Mahbouba Seraj. In 2003, she left a comfortable life in the U.S. to return to her native Afghanistan. There, she fought for the rights of women at a time when fewer than 10% of girls were enrolled in elementary school. The founder of the nonprofit Afghan Women’s Network, she has dedicated herself to championing children’s health, battling corruption and empowering victims of domestic violence.

When the Taliban returned to power this August, she headed not to the airport but to work. She decided to remain in Kabul to test the claims of the new rulers that, this time, they will not sideline and demean half the population of a country that needs every one of its citizens to realize their potential. Her uncompromising clarity may be what I most admire about Mahbouba Seraj. Asked “Are you O.K.?” she will reply, “No, I’m not O.K.” She says the thing all of us feel. And then she acts.

Mahboob is an Afghan tech entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of the Afghan Citadel Software Co.

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