05/21/2013 06:58 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2013

To Be Free Like Malala: The Dreams and Fears of Afghanistan's Teen Girls

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On Saturday, lawmakers in Afghanistan's parliament refused to vote on the Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. When enforced, the law protects girls from child marriages, wives from abusive husbands and rape victims from being charged with adultery. The law also bans women and girls from being traded among families to settle debts and disputes. These protections have been law since 2009, but only by presidential decree.

Unfortunately, enforcement has been rare. And now, with the parliament vote blocked, women's rights in Afghanistan are as endangered as ever. There is progress, but when a lawmaker claims men's rights are infringed upon when they face punishment for beating their wives, you know that the women and girls of Afghanistan face steep obstacles when it comes to securing equal protection under the law -- and rights within the family.

Yet, read any of the poems or stories on the Afghan Women's Writing Project website, and you will be filled with hope. There, you will encounter women and girls who are strong, who are full of dreams, who see the world clearly around them and have in no way given up or declared change impossible.

Right now, AWWP is showcasing the teen writers in their workshops. I don't think I can overstate how rare it is for Afghan girls in Afghanistan to be encouraged to write about and share their dreams and fears with outsiders. But here they are, and they shine. Shahida, 13, writes about her dreams, loves and pain in her poem "First Daughter":

I dream that I am a professor teaching mathematics/ I want to be a cancer doctor/ I worry about being a good student/ I am Shahida/I feel if my grandmother and grandfather are fine, I will be happy/ I cried when my father was sick/ I try to understand and help my friends when they are sad/ I am Shahida/ I dream that I can touch the sky/ and fly like Harry Potter/ I hope to be a leader in the future/ I am Shahida

Asma, age 13, writes of the jail sentence that the burqa can be:

I am a woman under burqa/I can't breathe/I can't catch my breath/Its color looks blue, but actually it is dark/ It is darker than the darkness of night./ If I take it off people will throw stones on me.

Near the end of the poem, Asma writes of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot just for wanting to learn, for being a role model for other girls who want to learn. She writes:

I just want to go outside of this cage and/breathe as deeply as Malala./ I want to be free like Malala/ I hope all women can be like Malala/ I love freedom and I want to create it/ for myself and for my people.

Alia, 14, writes about the fear she and other students have just by trying to go to school. In "Explosions at School" she writes of a terrifying bomb experience:

I was getting out of English class on a snowy winter day, there was an explosion. All the windows in the building shattered, and students were frightened. Our teachers thought that it was the Taliban coming to kill us.

As they shouted at the guard to close the door. I waited inside near the door for my sister. I saw the explosion; the man who exploded himself changed to pieces.

I saw a piece of his body full of blood, and when I focused on it in the dust, I could tell it was an ear, which shocked me. After that I got out of the center.

I hate waiting for my sister, but it kept me from death. I thank God for saving me in that shocking explosion, but you never know -- what if I had been there?

I encourage you to click through and leave comments and encouragement for the writers. They are doing the hard work of telling their stories and imagining the future that they hope to build. We hope that all of these girls may be "free like Malala" -- free to learn, free to write, free to be known by their names, free to show their uncovered and beautiful faces to the world. We work for a future where rights for half of Afghan society are not stymied, but instead are the embraced and enforced laws of the land.