Behishta Sadaat, MALS '24 and MALS Thesis Award winner

Behishta Sadaat, MALS Thesis Award winner

What do you consider your hometown?  

When I think back on my hometown, a rush of memories floods my mind. It's where I learned to be resilient, facing challenges head-on without backing down. Plus, it's where I first learned the English language. We'd often gather with my friends in our farmhouse, sharing our dreams and aspirations. The smell of freshly baked bread from the local bakery still gets into my mind. My hometown shaped me in profound ways. Even though I've moved away, its influence remains ingrained in me. It's like a comforting embrace, a reminder of my roots where I came from and the journey that led me to where I am today.

My hometown is Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Here, I hold childhood memories, family connections, and a deep sense of belonging. It's where I completed my high school and undergraduate degrees and built a career in women's empowerment and policymaking.

Where did you earn your undergraduate degree and what was it in? 

I earned two undergrad degrees: Kabul Medical University in the health sector and American University of Afghanistan in Political Science.

Tell us about your thesis. 

My thesis explores the impact of war on women's reproductive health, focusing primarily on Afghanistan as a case study from 1980 to 2023. The aim is to study how women's reproductive health changes during different regimes and political transitions, spanning from the Soviet Union's invasion to the democratic republic, civil war, rule of the Mujahidin, Taliban regime, the US invasion post-9/11, and finally, the fall of government control back to the Taliban in 2021 to present.

This research, rooted in my personal experiences as an Afghan woman, activist, and scholar, delves into the intricate interplay between war, socio-political shifts, and women's reproductive rights. Through qualitative data analysis, including in-depth interviews with Afghan women, my thesis examines the physiological and psychological effects of prolonged conflict on reproductive health, as well as the role of culture and religion in women's access to healthcare services.

By contextualizing these findings within the evolving socio-political landscape of the country across different regimes, the thesis seeks to illuminate the challenges faced by Afghan women and inform policy decisions and humanitarian efforts aimed at improving reproductive health outcomes.

What inspired you to pursue this research or scholarship? 

For as long as I can remember, Afghanistan has been a land shrouded in conflict. Growing up as an Afghan woman, the impact of war was a constant undercurrent in my life. Witnessing the struggles of women around me, particularly in accessing basic healthcare for various reasons, ignited a passion within me to understand the complex relationship between war, social structures, and reproductive health.

This inspiration stems from my personal experiences and the desire to address the overlooked aspects of Afghan women's lives. The persistence of conflict and its repercussions on health services for women propelled me to delve into this research.

My goal is to bring attention to these critical issues and contribute to a more comprehensive understanding that goes beyond the dominant narratives of war and conflict about my country, focusing instead on the lived experiences and healthcare challenges of Afghan women.

What does it mean to you to receive the award? 

Receiving the Byam Shaw-Brownstone Thesis Excellence Award is deeply meaningful to me. As an Afghan woman, my life has been shaped by the challenges of living in a country affected by conflict. This award is a recognition of my hard work, dedication, and passion for understanding the complex relationship between war, social structures, and reproductive health.

This award validates the importance of my research, which aims to shed light on the often-overlooked issues of reproductive health and the impact of war on Afghan women. It signifies that the voices and experiences of Afghan women, which are central to my work, are being acknowledged and valued.

The award also motivates me to continue striving for excellence in my field and enhances my credibility as a researcher. I am deeply humbled and grateful for this recognition and am committed to continuing my work with even greater determination.

Why did you choose Dartmouth for your degree?

Ever since I was in high school in my hometown, in Kabul, I dreamed of studying at a prestigious and Ivy League institution in the US. The idea of being part of a community where intelligent individuals come together to learn and grow has motivated my determination. Receiving my acceptance letter from Dartmouth was a dream come true. It felt like the culmination of years of hard work and dedication. My experience at this dream college has been incredible. The campus, with its historic buildings and beautiful nature is marvelous. I've made lifelong friends here, and professors who genuinely care about my success. Dartmouth isn't just a place for education; it's a community that inspired me every day.

What are your post-graduation plans? 

After graduation, I plan to delve deeper into the field of humanistic medicine and reproductive health. I aim to pursue a PhD to gain advanced knowledge and expertise in these areas. My long-term goal is to establish a professional career where I can contribute to advancements in these fields, combining research and practical application to improve patient care and outcomes.

I am particularly passionate about addressing the reproductive health needs of Afghan women. By focusing on this underserved population, I hope to make a meaningful impact on their well-being, ensuring they have access to the care and support they need. This path will allow me to explore and address critical issues related to human well-being and reproductive health, ultimately making a significant difference in individuals' lives and communities.

What do you like best about Dartmouth?

The welcoming community and charming surroundings definitely contribute to the overall experience at the college. Having friendly people around can make a big difference in feeling comfortable and supported, especially in a new environment like college. I found people at Dartmouth community to be incredibly welcoming and friendly, creating a sense of being at home.