They've been warned. They've been told no one will listen, no one will love them if they speak up about what hurts. They've been told they'll be shunned. They may even be killed. This is what an Afghan woman is up against in many families, in many communities, when she wants to assert that she is somebody, that she isn't a mistake because she wasn't born a boy.
We've heard that Afghanistan is the most dangerous country to be female. Yet time and again I am stunned by the power and of the writing of Afghan women and girls who are brave enough to speak the truth about their lives. The Afghan Women's Writing Project works with women and girls who are willing to risk rebuke in their own homes, or in their communities, by telling us and the world about the crimes they suffer on a daily basis, and then, for telling us about their beautiful dreams.
In her stunning essay "Am I a Human or a Goat?" Freshta writes about how dehumanizing it is for women and girls to be reduced to salable creatures, how they are treated no better than goats:
"A girl child is raised, given water, food and shelter, much as a goat is raised until it has put on a sufficient amount of meat. A girl is raised until she reaches puberty. Then, as the goat is sold, so is the girl....Sheer baha basically means that the boy's family has to pay for the amount of milk that a girl has drunk as a child. Alas, I live in a country where I don't even have rights to my mother's milk: even that is a liability that my would-be groom's family has to pay back."
In her heartfelt and affecting poem "The Dark Net" Mina has the courage to call out the Afghan officials who make promises to help women, and take money to do so, but then do nothing of the sort:
Men deal on my name/
They make money by supporting women/
But this support is just words/
They build comfortable buildings/
Maybe commercial buildings/
Maybe huge castles/
With pride they hang pictures of me on the walls of their halls/
Me and my burqa
And then, there is Anonymous. Anonymous speaks directly to one audience in this poem. Anonymous asks the purest questions one can ask:
In the hot summer afternoons/
When my husband sleeps in the shadow of the trees/
I am still hungry/
I am not done with my housework/
I have a baby on my shoulder/
I am eight months pregnant/
My four-year-old is dead from fever/
My husband is under the tree/
Daydreaming of the money he will make/
Selling my little 13-year-old Marwa,/
Mariam for more, because she can knit carpets/
God! If you were me/
How would you feel?/
How could you help a helpless mother?/
God! It is you who gave them power/
It is you who call them Sir!
But then, on September 10, 2013, came a small miracle in Afghanistan. Their national soccer team won the South Asian Games in India. And for one glorious night, there was palpable peace, pleasure, and unity throughout the country. Several AWWP writers wrote about the spontaneous celebrations--the first time many of them enjoyed a night like this. Arifa, one of the AWWP teen writers, described the night and the hopes the win inspired:
"People were inviting each other to pray together. When the team scored and we won the game, people were inviting each other to celebrate. They came together without discrimination. I saw people hand-in-hand like brothers. I saw friendships, love, and happiness among my people that I have not seen before.
It made people think the country can improve and that we can stand on our own feet even after 2014 when the American soldiers leave. Now people want to do something better for a better future: build more buildings, make more products.
I believe that we will have more of this kind of success in the near future and we will have better September 11ths from now on, with hope for ending darkness and starting a new morning.
Tonight I will close
The story of war and darkness
I will open a story of
Love and forgiveness."
From "Hope Is Alive Again".
There is so much uncertainty ahead for the Afghan people. But if we can continue to listen to the Afghan women, and find ways to offer helping hands, we know that there is great hope. To learn and read more, please visit here.
Join AWWP on Oct 17 in Washington, DC for an evening rich in Afghan culture. There will be poetry, dance, a short documentary, and so much more. For ticket information, please visit here.