Three years ago a close friend and I decided to publish a book of women’s writings in Kabul, Afghanistan. The book, which included more than thirty poems, narratives and essays in Persian was a hit, but we never imagined it would grow to become a living platform for Afghan girls and women who are students, writers, aspiring journalists and poets.
Today, our book, Daughters of Rabia, has grown into a social media blog with more than 50 thousand readers every week and an English website, Free Women Writers, where we translate and share our stories with the world. Our book has gone to six provinces in Afghanistan and more than 125 women and a few men have written for us about issues that impact women’s lives.
This year, we were finally able to launch a scholarship program to support one Afghan woman’s higher education and offer professional guidance to women in Kabul and around the country using the internet. We also began working with a local radio station and two local newspapers to reach people who don’t have internet access.While writing as a form of protest has existed in Afghanistan and other parts of the world for centuries, more than once contributors to Free Women Writers have used pen names or have asked me to remove a story they wrote for security reasons. On one occasion, a writer who had written about the atrocities of Taliban against women was threatened with death. In another, the relatives of one of the contributors launched character-assassination attacks against her on social media because she had dared to write about gender-based violence in her family. On numerous occasions our blog and social media outlets have been hacked, we’ve been threatened, sent demeaning pornographic images, as many have tried to discourage us from writing.
From their homes to the streets to social media, Afghan women and girls are threatened for simply raising their voices and telling their stories because it is assumed that by discussing the issues they face, they bring shame and dishonor to their communities and to Afghanistan as a whole.
What is still incredible to me is that nearly all our contributors have written for us more than once. Even the women who write with pen names or have been threatened return and write more when they feel ready. They write about the obstacles they face in going to school, about early marriage, about street harassment and sexual violence, and many other forms of discrimination that continue to impact our lives as women and girls. This is a small testimony to the tremendous resilience of women and girls in Afghanistan and around the world.
When we write, we say loud and clear that we won’t be silenced or shunned. In a world where femininity and being female is seen as inferior and shameful and in communities where the most natural parts of our bodies are treated as taboo and a woman’s voice is considered sinful, it is an act of conscious protest when we decide to tell our stories.
Our stories are also a tool for speaking with one another. Patriarchy sustains itself by isolating women and teaching them that the struggles they face are either their own fault or isolated incidents- not a result of existing sexism and patriarchy. When we write our stories, whether they are about violence or any other topic that has shaped us, we build bridges with other women. Together we slowly deconstruct the walls of isolation, competition, and rivalries built to divide us as women.
Afghan women, and women around the world, have realized the power that our stories and our voices have in changing the world. We have decided that the days of silence in the face of injustice and violence are over.
By: Noorajan Akbar, Free Women Writers