Afghanistan – Gender-Based Violence: Afghan Women’s Voices
Date: December 15, 2016
Fighting Gender-Based Violence: Afghan Women’s Voices
Free Women Writers Staff
Gender-based violence is a global problem that continues to stifle women and girls and prevent them from living full lives. In fact, around the world one in three women has faced physical or sexual violence. That is a staggering statistic, but it is also the reality of the lives of women around us. It is a reality each of us has the responsibility to change.
In Afghanistan, 87% of women have faced physical, emotional, or sexual violence. Free Women Writers works to decrease violence against women by highlighting the stories of women who have overcome and those who continue to resist and fight it. We write to say that gender-based violence is not normal or acceptable and that we will no longer silently tolerate it. We write to create a safe space for women to tell their stories and know that they are not alone. On the occasion of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, we asked some of our volunteers to share their messages on overcoming violence.
I was introduced to the terms “feminism” and “women’s rights” in my teen years, but the women in my life had already shown me how strong, resilient, and powerful women are. Because of them, I knew from an early age that we can shape the lives of the next generation. They taught me what I couldn’t have learned from the textbooks.
Now, contributing to the struggle for gender equality and social justice has introduced me to an incredible group of individuals who are an example of the power of true sisterhoods. Through the women at Free Women Writers and the hundreds of bloggers who contribute from around the country, I have learned that speaking up against street harassment, domestic abuse, and sexual and physical violence are not only essential for fighting patriarchy, but it can also bring healing to survivors. I urge everyone to break the silence and stop the cycle of violence and ignorance that has become the norm.
“Why are you harassing me?”
“That is a baseless accusation. Why would I even harass you?”
“You have been staring and gesturing inappropriately.”
“Eyes are like rivers. They go everywhere. You are a woman. You shouldn’t have looked at me or you wouldn’t notice.”
Many of us have experienced an exchange like this or worse on the streets of Afghanistan and around the world. Street harassment gives me and many other women the feeling that our bodies do not belong to ourselves. Street harassers treat women as public property to be touched, yelled and stared at, and discarded. Often if we don’t speak up against street harassment, they interpret it either as consent or fear on our part.
I think this is why it is so important to speak up. Even if the first couple times we speak up it doesn’t make a difference, eventually people will notice.
We have to also teach our young girls to speak up about street harassment and other gendered violence. And we should teach our boys that being violent and harassing women does not make them men. Rather it is shameful. I hope one day we can live lives free of fear and violence.
Recently, I was working on a team project with two male colleagues. Throughout the project, they conversed only with each other and didn’t pay much attention to what I brought to the table. They marginalized me during a conversation on gender. I realized that even though many men consider themselves open-minded and allies in the fight for gender equality, they don’t practice what they preach and don’t value the contributions of the women around them.
My team members did not see me as a useful member of the team because I am female. Gender-based violence is not just physical violence. It can also be marginalizing women and silencing them and it is in no way something that only illiterate or rural men partake in.
Violence against women is deeply rooted in our cultural practices and communities. In fact, we are surrounded by women who have faced violence without realizing or acknowledging it ourselves. I think at the heart of gendered violence lays the idea that women and girls are the property of men and families, instead of being independent human beings. This has allowed even women to overlook violence, think it is a normal part of being female and remain silent. On the other hand, authorities at the rural and local levels makes it hard for women to report violence and seek justice and support. This perpetuates violence.
Often as an alternative to violence, people say “we should treat women with kindness.” That is not enough. Women don’t need kindness or pity because they are perceived weak. They need safety, respect for their basic human rights, and access to justice.
It is important for us women to raise our voices and for men to realize that gender based violence destroys families and our communities. Men and women should work together to end violence and ensure that women have the right to live without fear, and work, study and make their own choices. If we don’t work towards changing the culture of violence against women, we have betrayed not only the women in our communities, but also the future generations.
“Ignore them. Look away. They’re just being boys.” That was the advice and justification I heard after being catcalled. Not once did I hear parents, teachers or older siblings tell their sons, pupils, or brothers not to harass girls on the street.
Even as a little girl I would tug on my aunt and mother’s arms as they pushed past a group of leering teenagers yelling profanities and patting each other on the backs. They behaved like animals with their eyes bulging as they licked their lips. I remember feeling scared when they followed us. I also felt ashamed and guilty, like I had done something to deserve this behavior.
Many years later, I still experience unsolicited comments from time to time, but I think I’ve become numb to it. I have learned to block the harassment out so that I don’t feel the fear and guilt I used to feel, but even now it is jarring to hear explicit comments about myself in public spaces in a city that I call home.
As someone who has survived years of domestic violence, all I can think about right now is that the women of today are not like those of the past. We will not stay at our husbands’ homes and tolerate violence anymore. Women are not weak. We will not spend any more time worrying about what people will say when we leave our abusive marriages. We know our rights and we will fight to get them even if we have to grab them from the lion’s mouth. My faith in my power as a woman is what led me to seek higher education so that I can fight for the rights of my two daughters and other women and girls.
A kind of psychological gender-based violence I’ve been thinking of lately is how motherhood is often used to undermine women. It is appalling how much mothers are blamed, shamed and made to feel inadequate in numerous ways because of the way they parent. While fathers are rarely held accountable, particularly in cases where the children have turned out to be “bad,” mothers are blamed for the failure, moral and otherwise, of their children. However, when children succeed, we are quick to credit their fathers.
No matter what mothers do, we find ways to criticize their parenting. She is either “too loving or possessive” or she is “distant or cold,” “too supportive” or “too pushy.” There is no way the mother can win in this “bad mother archetype,” no matter how hard she tries. There are so many marketed and contradictory messages that it seems overwhelming and impossible to “get it right”. In the meantime, the double standard is that if a man makes any sort of effort with the kids, he must be a wonderful father. And as long as he provides financially, what more can the family expect?