Her eldest brother finally won permission from their father to let her return to school, and later to take all his siblings to Kabul to finish high school, because schools there were better. Sharif went on to Kabul University, where she earned a master's degree in education. She became a member of the elite Academy of Sciences. At the time, Afghanistan was a Soviet satellite and many women were attending university and becoming professionals.
At the university, she met the man who became her husband, Mohammed Sharif Zadran, a Khowst native who also holds an advanced degree in education. In his own way, he is no less remarkable.
From the beginning of their courtship, he helped her to advance. When she was required to submit two copies of her 300-page master's thesis, he copied the second one by hand because Afghanistan had no copy machines.
But then the Taliban took over. She and her husband were forced to quit their jobs. Zadran had to do manual labor to help the family get by. After two years, they fled to Pakistan, where Sharif started a magazine for women, organized classes for Afghan refugee girls and trained female teachers who she hoped would go back to Afghanistan after the Taliban fell.
Within days of their return to Khowst when the rule of the mullahs was over, Sharif took off her burka and walked down the main street.
"Everybody was watching her as if they thought something terrible would happen -- they were leaning out of doors, staring out of windows," recalled Naquibullah, the deputy director of Khowst's main radio station.
Despite ridicule from other men, Zadran stood by his wife when she decided to plunge into politics, even though it meant doing something unheard of for a woman here: going door-to-door in remote villages and introducing herself to strangers.
"People would say to me, 'How can you let your wife do that?' " recalled Zadran. He shrugged. "I said, 'What do you want me to do? Lock her in the house?' "
The answer for many Afghan men would have been 'yes.'
Sharif and Zadran have four children; both are devoted to caring for their youngest daughter, Zala, 3, who has Down syndrome.
And Sharif has tried to address the problems of young people in her legislative work.
She successfully fought legislation that would have allowed children as young as 13 to be punished as adults if they were found guilty of crimes.
She has been less successful fighting the corruption that permeates public and private life, or getting the central government to respond to her district's needs.
The agriculture minister gave Sharif barely 15 minutes of his time and flatly refused her request for subsidized fertilizer for farmers in her district. He didn't even respond to her complaints that most of the 40 goats that were designated for needy Khowst women ended up going to families who had connections to Agriculture Ministry officials.
More than once Sharif has joined with other reform-minded legislators to urge Karzai to replace corrupt police chiefs and governors connected with the opium trade.
"I told Karzai, 'You are just playing chess, taking the same person and moving him from one job to another,' " she said. "Then Karzai said, 'Give me men, give me names.' And we gave him names and he said, 'No, he's a Communist, no, he's this, he's that.' And he took almost none of them."
Afghan and international observers say Karzai's weak government relies on such local strongmen.
When she does overcome barriers to helping her constituents, Sharif finds it difficult to get credit.
She persuaded a rich Kabul resident to donate uniforms, sneakers, nets and balls to the Khowst volleyball and soccer teams, and she brought them when she returned from Kabul for the summer. But when she invited team members to her home to hand out the equipment, her husband and the coaches did most of the talking, and her resourcefulness went largely unappreciated by her constituents.
Where Sharif really shines is in her interaction with women, her original inspiration for entering politics. Women cast 45% of the votes in Khowst, and though some voted for men, analysts in Kabul believe that the vast majority voted for Sharif.
When she entered the high-walled compound that surrounds the Khowst women's center and the school for girls, she had hardly stepped out of her car before the women surged around her. There were young girls in their school uniforms clutching notebooks and pencils, older women who worked as cleaners, some still carrying their brooms. Teachers, middle-aged women with worn faces, reached over their students to touch her shoulder or hand.
As she handed out books and information about Women's Ministry programs from two huge sacks of supplies she had brought from Kabul, it was possible to believe Sharif could achieve her dream of "taking all the women with me" on her way forward.