#566 Giving voice to women in Afghanistan

Afghan women wearing burqas

Afghan women wearing burqas when going outside in northern Afghanistan; photo by Steve Evans, via Wikimedia Commons

This writing project guards the anonymity of its authors. They are identified only by a first name, but the stories these women tell give voice to some of the most silenced people in the world, the women of Afghanistan.

The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is dedicated to the memory of Zarmeena, a 35-year-old woman publicly executed by the Taliban for allegedly killing her abusive husband.

Project founder Masha Hamilton writes:

Our mission is to support the voices of women with the belief that to tell one’s story is a human right. Though it sounds simple, I cannot say how important I think this is in a country where women have been told their stories do not matter, and urged to be silent, and warned against honesty.

AWWP offers training to writers through online workshops, mentoring and editing. In Afghanistan they provide safe environments for reading salons and offer training workshops and computer and Internet access. They host outreach programs for women with disabilities and are developing an oral stories component for women who lack literacy skills.

The impact can be profound. Hamilton writes:

But why should we care about an essay by a woman from Kandahar, or a poem by a woman from Logar? Because in telling their own stories, we’ve seen these women gather strength, courage, and self-confidence. They become empowered to make change within their homes, their communities, and eventually their country. They also gain computer literacy and skills of language and critical thinking, which increases their job-related skills. A number have used as part of their job or school applications work written for AWWP, shepherded through by our award-winning mentors and editors, and put up on a site updated constantly by our volunteer webmaster. They have become lawyers, journalists, parliament members.

Their voices cry out to be heard. Here are excerpts from the dozens on AWWP:

When the Taliban made us leave our houses, it was winter. My family and all of our neighbors left Bamiyan with just donkeys, some food, and some blankets. ~ Kamilah

I want to fly from this blue cage.
I want to feel love and peace.
I want to take a pen and write dreams of freedom on the world walls.
~ Arifa

She saw the wooden doors with their two signs: one heavy and long, about 10 centimeters; the other light and circle shaped. The heavy one was for men to knock, and the light one for women. That way the owner of the house could easily know who was knocking, man or woman, by the sound. ~ Rahela

Where is my voice? I cannot look at a barefoot, bewildered child
in the wreckage of my land anymore. I must find for myself
how to raise my voice, how to smile with my high hopes.
~ Hila

Silencing these women is criminal. AWWP gives their stories the attention they deserve, and that gives me hope.

Follow the project on Twitter and Facebook.

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