On December 19, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170 to declare October 11th as the “International Day of the Girl Child”, in an effort to bring stark recognition to the universal truth that girl’s rights are commonly withheld around the globe, and the challenges they face are unique to their gender.
This year the theme of the International Day of the Girl Child (#DayoftheGirl, #IDG, #EducateGirls, #EmpowerWomen) is empowering adolescent girls. Every year, nearly 10 million girls succumb to child marriage, and are given away as brides before the age of 18, with no say in the matter. They are rarely schooled, and are the first to be pulled out if there are chores to be done or work to undertake to feed an ever growing family. They are often assaulted, physically and sexually, while performing chores like fetching water or wood, or worse – while at home, caring for children or younger siblings or just finding respite in a refuge they never can find. From the modern metropolises of the western world to the traditional alleyways of villages and borderlands, girls are exploited simply because they are young and female.
IDGC is intended to draw attention to the uncontested fact that everywhere in the world girls face some sort of discrimination. To be free from violence, to have access to education, to be able to work or own land, to gain in inheritance or to decide when and whether to marry are rights many girls and women do not enjoy. It is all too common for girls to be denied agency over their bodies, denied the freedom to think and learn, denied the choice to marry or to procreate when they are ready in body and mind. Yet these are rights that all people deserve, and a modern civilization must invest the resources and energy to ensure that an entire gender is not systemically denied basic human rights, including the right to be heard.
The freedom to write is empowering. When girls are empowered, they thrive. So it is in the spirit of empowerment, and in a bid to amplify the voice of the girl child, that Womenfound is partnering with the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (AWWP) from this month to publish the works of Afghan women and adolescent girls in the Huffington Post. The AWWP works on the ground in Afghanistan to empower women and girls with the mighty pen. In 1839 an English author famously said, the pen is mightier than the sword. Nowhere is this more true than in its application to girls around the world today, who risk life and limb for an education and the power to speak their mind. The aim of this monthly blog is to give girls a platform through which to say their piece and be heard.
Today, to mark International Day of the Girl, what will you do? How will you empower an entire gender left behind in our 21st century world of unsurpassed advancement, luxury and digital connectivity? You can begin by reading. Read these selected pieces by young female Afghan writers, and join the IDGC in empowering adolescent girls by giving them voice.
Read, Like and Share, if nothing else.
WHEN WE WERE KINGS AND QUEENS
Poem by: Mahnaz — Mahnaz was born in western Afghanistan to a Shia family that placed high value on education. When she was eight years old, the Taliban came to power. Fear and poverty forced the family to flee to Iran, where they faced economic and educational discrimination. After the fall of the Taliban, the family returned to Afghanistan, where Mahnaz studied hard and won a scholarship to continue her education abroad.
When I think of my childhood, I remember the old days
when I was a little girl, with black braided hair like goat horns.
In summer, my five siblings and I would sit on a wooden bed,
the huge bed my father made in the middle of the yard.
First, we threw little rugs on the bed, then fought to get
the best corner. The breeze was our playmate;
she brushed our faces, cooled our hearts,
slapped the mosquitoes and flies.
Like a scented friend, it carried the aroma of
flowers and wheat from farther fields.
Our house, in a vast meadow with a few other houses,
was a little flower in a bare garden, but we didn’t
feel alone; God was also our neighbor.
We laughed on the wooden bed, drank black tea,
and played with marbles as our white dog jumped happily,
circling the bed like a sacred shrine. Rolling on the dusty ground
like it was a sheet of velvet, I loved her small puppies.
I played with them, swirling them around by
their little paws and bursting into laughter.
They were like balls of cotton and I kissed their paws and
caressed them with love.
Some neighbors said, “Dogs are Najis, filthy.”
But I treasured them.
They played with us, they protected our house,
barking at strangers and enemies,
their yelps small and screechy, but their will was strong.
How could anyone call them “unclean”?
They were little angels. God wouldn’t create filthy things.
Sometimes we didn’t have bread in the house,
I was hungry, so mother gave me a piece of dried bread, and said
“Share it with the dog. She is also hungry.”
Her kindness reminds me of when she cooked okra with Kichiri,
We sat on the wooden bed and we ate in the moonlight.
We didn’t have electricity, but our hearts were bright and happy.
As we laughed, our teeth shined with the stars. We
named the stars to own them. With my eyes like a basket,
I picked them and then they escaped from my eyes and entered my heart.
In my best childhood memory we were all together,
me, my siblings, mother and father,
when we weren’t broken by war, or separated,
each thrown to a corner of the earth.
I was happiest then. With free minds and happy hearts,
we laughed together and adored simple things.
On the wooden bed we were kings and queens.
HOW MANY CHILDREN IS A WOMAN’S RIGHT
Personal Story by: Asma — has been writing for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (AWWP) since 2001
I am not a mother yet but I can sense what my mother went through when she gave birth to each of her children. Although it was years ago that my mother was giving birth, and people may assume there were no doctors or access to hospitals, in fact my mother had all these things when my sisters and brothers and I were born.
But what she lacked, and she still sometimes wishes she had, was the right to decide whether she wanted to have a baby or not and how many children she wanted to have. I feel regret for her. My mother was born in an educated family and she had one brother so there were just the two children. When she got married, she wanted to have only two children. It didn’t matter to her whether she had a baby boy or a baby girl. Before she was married, her wish was only that her children grow up to be the best they could be.
But after marriage she didn’t have this right. Her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law were the ones to decide how many children my mother should have. She had four daughters and two sons. Here in Afghanistan, the pressure on mothers does not really come from health concerns or poor health conditions. There are other problems that can affect their health, their feelings, and their decisions. Some families believe that giving birth to a baby is a blessing and a gift. But sometimes that’s not true at all. In Afghanistan, many women don’t even think about giving birth to a baby; it is external factors such as pressure from family, husband, and in-laws that often force women into pregnancy.
As a young woman who does not yet have any children, I believe — and I also learned this from my mother — that it is a woman’s right to decide when to have a baby and how many children she will have. In the end, the mother is the person who suffers and may feel regrets forever; therefore, we must respect mothers and give them their rights.
THE MARRIAGE TRADEOFF
True story by: Basira — Basira was born in 1997 in Kabul and is a high school student. She learned English in school and she wants to express the views of Afghan women who cannot do it themselves. “My happiest moment is when I can be their voice.”
In the Daykundi province in the center of Afghanistan lived a woman named Rahima who had three sons and a beautiful daughter. Each day she kneaded bread in the early morning for fifteen people in the family, then went out to feed grass to the animals before coming back to cook the bread before the others awakened. While the family was rising, she milked the cow and worked in the home until lunch. In the afternoon she carried grass from the mountains to feed the animals, and then worked alone into the night.
She lived like sheep sent out to the wolves every day, punished without reason by her husband, Qurban, and by the elders of the family. After the farming, with no energy left to defend herself, she was beaten by her husband and elders of the family. The pain of the events transferred to her mind and in later years she lost her mind and became crazy. But losing her mind was not the end of Rahima’s story. Her husband gave her beautiful 13-year-old daughter named Feroza in marriage to a boy named Reza who had a cleft mouth. In return, Qurban received Reza’s sister to be his new wife.
Qurban’s sisters favored the new wife for Qurban so they could push Rahima off the roof where she sometimes sat, taking in the view. Rahima died. Although it was rumored that her husband’s family killed her, there was no clear evidence. Young Feroza’s life was even worse. By age thirty she had given birth to two daughters with the same birth deformity as their father. Pregnant for a third time, she worked till 10 o’clock in the mountains alone and then died in childbirth that day.
Now Feroza’s daughters are giving birth to children with the birth defect. This means that after one or two children, they will be rejected by their new husbands and sent to live in their fathers’ homes. Rahima, Feroza, and Feroza’s daughters and granddaughters are blameless. Yet they are locked in a cursed life with no way out. They are angels, but for them, they have no feathers to fly, no feet to escape.
HELLO MY DEAR PRESIDENT
Opinion by: Massoma — was born in Urozgan Province. She graduated from university in 2005. She works for a NATO organization and helps the children of Herat. Massoma is happy to be a part of AWWP as both a writer and photographer.
I am Massoma from Herat, a woman who was too shy and scared in 2001 and 2002 to even leave my home. But now I go out with no fear because I have seen the development of women day by day, and year by year. Now I know that I have a role in building my society and helping Afghanistan to develop. Although I am a drop in the sea, I know how drops make up the sea and my role is an important one.
I voted in the election and I have waited five months for the results. Now you have won and I will tell you my heart’s pains and happiness and my requests as a woman and mother with hopes for her children’s futures.
My President, I suffered a lot as a refugee outside Afghanistan. I heard many taboo words there. After the fall of the Taliban I thought my mental suffering would never end. My family returned to Afghanistan and I began studying at university while wearing the burqa. In 2005 I seized the moment and began working. My worries and problems and security challenges began to pass. I voted on the 14th of June and the signs of ink were on my finger. I ask you, now that you are in the Presidential chair, what will you do for me, and for all the daughters of Afghanistan who want to live in the modern world like others?
My President, please let women and girls attend better universities by reforming the education and higher education system to improve the quality. Please eradicate discrimination and help us take control of our rights and put into society the idea that men and women are equal. I voted and this means that I have the right to ask you to consider the security of women and young girls so they do not have to be afraid just to go out for shopping. All women should feel safe in Afghanistan and not live in fear of men.
Please open your eyes and see why women burn themselves and look for a solution at the root of this problem. If I can’t ask you, if I can’t trust you to listen to my ideas, who can I ask?
Mr. President, I hope that my children will never see war and terror again, and that they can grow up with good morals by living in a peaceful country. I am sure future generations will expect more from the government than we did. This is a great time, my President, for you to become a hero for the next five years.
NOTE: As of September 2014, after elections in the Spring with contested results, Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s new president-elect, and his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, have agreed to form a national unity government in which they will share power.
WHAT I LEARNED GOING HOME
Perspective by Fatima H. — Fatima is a high school student in ninth grade. She has a Farsi blog, studies English, plays piano, and likes movies and skating. She would like to bring skating to Afghan schools and she hopes to visit “the entire world someday.”
Over the past two years spent in the United States, I have realized media has a huge influence on how people view Afghanistan. Although some media channels cover the positive side of Afghanistan, most of the news highlights the explosions, deaths, and poverty in my country. I am fortunate to know there is so much more to Afghan life than blood and horror.
Recently, I was making my way back home from Washington DC to Kabul and I had a stop in Dubai’s international airport. I had dressed comfortably and forgot I would be going to Kabul where I need to respect the way of dressing, which means I had to cover my head and hair and wear a long piece of cloth. But I was just being me and ignored being an obedient young Afghan girl.
I was late and there was a long line of people waiting to board. In the line, I saw many Afghan men with long beards and long white traditional Afghan clothes. To be honest, I was a little bit scared. I felt like they were giving me looks. I mean what kind of Afghan man would like to see an Afghan girl with a shirt and pants and a scarf that barely covers her head who has sunglasses on her head and Starbucks in her hand?
After a minute, I heard them whispering and I was about to freak out. I was preparing myself by coming up with defensive sentences and gestures in case they said something to me. I told myself in the worst scenario, I would just call security. Suddenly, one of the men turned to me. I was so ready to make a scene. And he said: “It is a very long line, but you can go in front of the line. We can wait.”
Suddenly all my aggressive feelings were replaced with simple shame and regret. What do I think of myself? A girl who goes to the United States for education and now judges my own people by the common prejudices of the news or held by foreigners. That day those Afghan men taught me something that I never learned in a classroom. They taught me not to judge a book by its cover.
It can be easy to judge people of a country by their corrupt government and poverty, and ignore what they have gone through and what their real values are. It is very important for our generation around the world to understand these prejudices and be critical about them. Many of our judgments are based in haste on common stereotypes and labels put on a race or nationality. Raising awareness is the key to using our good judgment.
Last month, with the help of one of our school officials, Ms. Harrison, I created a blog called “High Schoolers’ Cultural Exchange.” This blog tries to raise awareness among teenagers about different cultures. It only covers teenagers in Afghanistan and United States, but we hope to expand it to more countries. These past few weeks, fourteen girls in Afghanistan and the United States talked over Skype about cultural differences. Now fourteen girls have altered the way they look at the other country and expanded their vision beyond common stereotypes.
There are so many other things besides bomb explosions, poverty, and corruption in Afghanistan. People learn to love, respect, and smile and live happily with what they have. Afghans are strong believers, because otherwise it would have been just very hard to live in a country that everybody else thinks is only a birthplace for terrorists.
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. The selections above were printed with the permission of the AWWProject.org.
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