The Woman Behind the Green Eyes

Leah Tharian, Editor-in-Chief

One of the most iconic National Geographic covers featured the piercing green eyes of twelve year old Sharbat Gula, an Afghan refugee living in a camp in Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of the 1980s. Gula’s brilliant green eyes were noticed by war photographer Steve McCurry, who captured a portrait of her which was eventually published in the June 1985 issue under the headline “Along Afghanistan’s War-torn Frontier.The image soon garnered widespread attention, as the portrait depicted the haunting toll war took, not only on a country, but on its people, specifically an innocent child.

As Afghanistan plunged into the turmoil of Taliban occupation, Gula sought refugee status in Pakistan once again. However, due to complications regarding identification, Gula was detained and eventually deported back to Afghanistan. With the permission of the Afghan government, Sharbat Gula and her family sought asylum in Italy. The Italian government approved her and her family’s application, and has made efforts to help them adjust to living in the Italian capital of Rome.

The biggest victims of Taliban rule are women, who are subjugated to the Taliban’s oppressive interpretation of Sharia law. Women are forbidden to pursue education or even to be in public without a male guardian. Efforts have been made to shut down women’s schools and clinics as a means of enforcing the ideology. There has been a surge in under-age marriages, maternal deaths, murder, rape, and the burning of girls’ schools. The fates of millions of Afghan women are marked with uncertainty and oppression.

Gula is now forty-nine years old, mother to six children and grandmother to one girl. Gula was married at the age of thirteen, yet was later widowed, leaving her to solely support her family. Unfortunately, the turmoil in Gula’s native land, which she was victim to when she was just twelve, has yet to cease almost four decades later. Time, imprisonment, displacement, loss, and the consequences of Taliban rule have greatly changed the girl featured on the cover of the 1985 National Geographic magazine, but Sharbat Gula’s piercing green eyes remain unchanged.