THE BLOG
11/19/2014 04:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Tolerance for Women and Girls in Afghanistan, Not Silence

There was an assassination attempt in Kabul last week.

Shukria Barakzai, Afghan feminist leader, member of parliament, and outspoken politician who was critical of Taliban, was targeted for assassination this week. She survived. But three bystanders, including a young girl, did not. Shukria was hunted to be silenced because she had a voice.

Shukria Barakzai founded a weekly women's newspaper and ran a clandestine girls school during the Taliban years. As one of the longest standing MP's in Afghan Parliament, she has been an outward critic of Taliban values and an impediment to a peace that would incorporate their brand of governance, as related to the rights and status of women throughout Afghanistan. She is a woman who by the sheer force of will was able to fight for an education, rise in the ranks and reach the upper chambers of Afghan politics where women are an anomaly, and back room deals are the purview of men. She stood firm with a resolute voice, against the pacts that would knock back the gains of women and girls in post Taliban Afghanistan -- and for that she was targeted.

It was the prominence of her voice and the influence it held that brought her into the range of a would be assassin's bomb. It is that plentiful voice huddled in the jugular of hundreds of women and girls across Afghanistan that the Afghan Women's Writing Project seeks to nurture.

In this The Huffington Post series, in conjunction with Womenfound, we publish their writings and promote their voices for all to hear. The women of Afghanistan have been held silent for generations, and now they are ready to be heard. Each series will be dedicated to a different theme. This month, we highlight the need for girls to be educated, out of the home, so that they can aspire to grow into women who can help lead Afghanistan to a better place. In the spirit of the International day of Tolerance and the elimination of violence against women this month, we present the following series of writings from Afghan women and girls.

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BEING A GIRL IN AFGHANISTAN
Opinion By Shogofa Az;
Shogofa began her education at age five during the Taliban era by studying at a neighbor's house in Kandahar. She is one of seven children. She finished high school in 2012 and is preparing for university studies at a private program in Kabul.

I am an 18-year-old girl from Kandahar province. I want to study and be an obstetrician in the future because a woman can understand other women in ways that a man cannot. However, becoming a doctor in my country is a difficult path for a girl.

Every morning when I get ready to go to my studies, I hear many words from people, which make me feel bad. Every day I walk for one hour to arrive at my center by 4 or 5 a.m. to study. My feet hurt but that doesn't bother me. My heart is remembering the unkind words of people and that is more painful.

When you are doing something from your heart and doing it honestly you want to hear "Thank you!" They are just two words but they are so strong. Instead, we hear "You are not supposed to get an education. Women are not supposed to be educated."

I am not scared. I am going forward even though there are hours when I do not believe that I will come back home and see my parents again. I say goodbye to my family in the morning knowing I may not return. I am doing this hard work for the next generation because I believe that I can do it. I don't want the next generation to suffer as I have. I want to bring change, but first I should be the change that I want to bring to my country. I am moving towards my goal and I am lucky because my mother is always there for me. She makes me feel better when I am discouraged. She says, "Never give up because giving up is another name for death. Go ahead even if you fall down a hundred times as well, wipe your tears and go ahead because falling down is part of learning to how to stand."

It is difficult when people do not acknowledge or understand me but judge me. Instead of encouraging me, the enemies of education for girls burn our books. Why is it like this? They are destroying and burning schools. Why? I am trying to build my country. I am working so hard, but instead of a smile they are throwing acid in girls' faces. Why is it like this? Don't they understand that by hurting girls they are hurting everyone?

I want to leave a message to the new generation that they should never give up. Keep the violence of your enemies as an experience in your mind and don't let that change you. Keep going. Never stop. Every day you are alive, fight against the violence. My dream is that in the future my granddaughter will never see or feel sadness or be bothered by people who say she should not be educated. She will never hear explosions, but hear instead the sound of bird songs. She will never see blood on her hands instead of henna. I will work towards that goal and try my best even when people are saying that it is impossible.

YESTERDAY, TODAY, TOMORROW
Poem By Masooma;
Masooma was born in a small village in 1994 and moved to the capital city a few years ago to experience modern conveniences for the first time. Living in the village, she dreamed of going to school and being surrounded by books. She says: "Education and knowledge will give me enough power to fight the hardships of life and ignorance of my society. I will be a doctor or engineer or a sociologist who can help her society."

Yesterday my sister was afraid of going outside,
Today my sisters are going to school,
And tomorrow they will work outside of the home.
Yesterday my sister was stoned.
Today she is studying to be a doctor,
And tomorrow she will save a life.
Yesterday my sister's dream was to have a book.
Now she is in the library,
And tomorrow she will write the book.
Yesterday my sister looked at the world through a small window.
Today she sees the world through her camera,|
And tomorrow the world will see everything through her documentaries.
Yesterday my country's women had no rights.
Now they are fighting for their rights,
And tomorrow they will have the same rights as men.
Yesterday my country was a desert.
Now my brothers and sisters are planting trees,
And tomorrow, in this garden together, we will live in peace.

IS MY LIFE MY RIGHT?
Perspective By Zahra M.;
Zahra M. finished high school in 2009 and works in Herat. She plans to continue her education. She wants to help Afghan women by writing about the problems they face every day.

I want to talk about the grief and sorrow of my heart, the grief that with each day grows heavier on my heart.

I am 23 years old and for most of my life, I have lived in the dreams of my childhood, in a life where everything is good. There is no pain, no grief, no sorrow. I've spent my whole life playing with dolls and toys, with things that bring happiness and put a smile on my face. But now as I get older, as I get to know the people in my society and see their real habits, my nice life has started to crumble. Nothing is normal. Nothing is okay. The castle of my beliefs is ruined and when I see these ruins, the world loses its value for me. Observing the people around me has created this question in my mind: Is this life my "right" or is my life to be determined as others feel privileged to decide?

I know that life is a gift of Allah to all humans and all creatures. But today "woman" means a man's slave; men are owners of women in my country. Men decide a woman's destiny. But I believe all humanity are God's creatures and there is no difference among people, except in their faith and honesty, nothing else. We people divided ourselves into tribes and divided men from women. Everyone is so proud to be from a certain tribe or proud to be a man.

When I want to complain or ask for something, people say to me, "Breathing is enough for you. You should be grateful that you are alive, so don't ask anything more." When I think about these things, my heart fills with hot anger. It is the greatest pain and I don't know how to resolve it.

A LETTER TO MY PARENTS
Personal Story By Marzia;
Marzia grew up in Herat. She feels her life did not begin until after the fall of the Taliban. She is currently a student, and after her studies, hopes to be a lawyer working for women's rights in Afghanistan.

When I was twelve years old, I had my first marriage proposal. The person was my aunt's sixteen-year-old grandson. My parents were furious at the boy's family because I was a child who didn't know the meaning of marriage. In addition, I had three older sisters who were single and I was supposed to be the last in line.

When I was fourteen, another person asked my parents' permission to propose to me. He was a rich twenty-four-year-old man. At that time, two of my sisters were married, although an older sister was still single.

At first, I was not concerned about this proposal because I thought my parents would deny this person the same way that they had denied the other one. However, I was wrong. This time, my parents not only liked the guy--they were also pleased by his wealth. As a result, I became worried my parents would accept the offer and I started to plan how to tell them I did not want to marry the person. In my family, it is disrespectful for a child to stand against the parents' decisions. I was too shy to talk to my parents face-to-face. Instead, I decided to write the following letter:

My dear parents, please accept that I am not prepared to get married. I am fourteen years old and I need to find my life's way. In order to do this, I must become educated. I need to have new experiences to become independent and to help my country's women.

First, I know that you both want the best for me. You helped me to walk, talk, and eat, and while I was sick you stayed awake with me all night. I just want you to know that I don't need a partner to take care of me. I can be independent and take care of myself.

Second, this is the best time for me to get a better education and learn new skills. You know that in Afghanistan we don't have enough educated people. I feel this as my responsibility to get an education and help my people. For almost six years during the Taliban regime, the schools were closed for the girls. Now that I have the opportunity to get my education, I want to use this opportunity. I want to travel to the other countries and study in a better system. I am like a bird in a cage, I want to fly to other countries and see new people with new cultures.

Third, today the women in Afghanistan are the poorest women in the world. They don't have any rights, but in other countries, women have the same rights as men. The women in Afghanistan don't have the right to choose, to work outside of their homes or to get an education. Most women in Afghanistan are punished and hit by their husbands or brothers if they don't obey them. Dear parents, you know that women in Afghanistan need help to understand their rights. So I want to become a lawyer to know and understand their rights, and to fight this injustice. I don't want to be one of these women; I want to help them.

My dear parents, you are angry with me because you think if I become a lawyer, I would be killed. But I cannot stop trying because of this. It is very important for me to finish my education successfully and help my country's poor women.

At the end, I promise you that I will be an independent person and I will try my best to become an honest lawyer to fight for women's rights. I will make you happy and proud if you let me do this.
Your daughter always,
Marzia

After writing the letter, I placed it on my parents' bed. That night I slept poorly; I was worried about my parents' reactions and I was thinking about what other ways I might be able to change their minds if they rejected my letter. My sisters said nothing to me, but I felt they were not happy with me for writing the letter. Even though I was eager to know my parents' reaction, I decided to go to school early and wait until after school when my father would be at work and I would see only my mother, since I am more open with my mom. When I returned from school, my mother's smile showed she was proud of me. She told me she and my father would try their best to help me accomplish my goals.

As a result, after that I entered a program to study in the United States for one year and then I worked for women's rights for two years. Now I am in college and getting closer to achieving my goals of receiving an education to help women in Afghanistan, and I'm becoming more independent every day. Until today, my father still talks about me writing that letter. I think he is proud and happy for what I did.

--The Afghan Women's Writing Project was founded in 2009 in defense of the human right to voice one's story. These poems & essays by Afghan women are published online at awwproject.org.--

#EducateGirls
#EmpowerWomen

All entries in their original form can be seen at http://awwproject.org/
See more from Afghan women and girls at www.AWWProject.org