Does fear within the patriarchal society of Afghanistan result in women being silenced?

Does fear within the patriarchal society of Afghanistan result in women being silenced?

zohal-haidari-1Fifteen year old Zohal Haidari arrived at Woodstock in July from Afghanistan, knowing almost no English and without a sense of what an essay in this foreign language might look like! Less than a year later, Maymester’s independent, interdisciplinary research project gave her space to explore an important question arising out of her own experience and an opportunity to practice the language skills she has been working so hard to master through Woodstock’s ESL Program.  The resulting, elegant essay embodies the new way forward we seek through the Centre for Imagination. This coming Thursday, we await presentations of projects from students across the high school in the annual Festival of Ideas.

“I don’t fear death; I fear remaining silent in the face of injustice.” (Malalai Joya)

The coming of the Taliban was like the coming of winter in Afghanistan; it covered the whole country like a blanket that froze the speech of women, chilled the hearts of men, and blinded everyone’s eyes to the real world, showing only what the Taliban wanted them to see. The whole country darkened. Not a single hope of a star could be seen. Not a single sun shone to melt the frozen speech of women nor to thaw the chilled heart of men, so both remain as they were; men in power and women in silence. In this darkened world, men dominate. There are many women who want to speak out but they are scared of being the center of attention and of being rejected by the society. For these Afghan women, the silence seems due to a fear of retribution from the patriarchal society; for others, the silence comes from their own belief that they are second class citizens. Whatever the reason, silence is wrong, and is against Human Rights. Women should know about their rights and should speak out and defend their rights; this is the time to speak and to make our life better.

The thirty years of war and Taliban authority has had a great effect on the life of Afghan women. The restrictions and suffering of Afghan women did not end with the Taliban period. Afghan women were forced to marry men they did not love. Young Afghan girls were forced to marry much older men, at an age when they don’t understand what love is.  In most families, women are still not allowed to go to school or university. They have to be engaged in order to graduate from school; they have to marry in order to go to university. In February 2015, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission announced that more than 4250 cases of violence against women were recorded in nine months; that includes beheading, executing, gang rape, forced partner swapping, torture, child marriage, sexual abuse, selling women and many other brutalities (Rawa News). The question that no one asked is, Why are women still silent? What are they waiting for?

Afghan women are silent not because they want to be silent but because they are forced to be silent by the violence of patriarchal society, non-implementation of laws, religions, politics, and their cultures (Sima Samar 1). Women are threatened, beheaded, tortured, executed, murdered, abused, sold, and silenced. “Killing of 27‐year‐old Farkhunda in the heart of Kabul who was accused of burning the Quran. In another heart wrenching event 19‐year‐old Rukhshana was brutally stoned to death by the Taliban.” (Malalai Joya 1). Afghan women’s life is not secure. They are not safe in their own nation, in their own home, among their own people; they are scared of their own family, relatives, people, and society. In 2010, Aisha, an Afghan woman’s, nose was cut off by her husband and her father in law.(Hari 1) They are not safe in their own home, and are treated as second class citizens. It is really clear that they are threatened and forced to be silent. Afghan women have a voice, they want to speak out and they are capable of first person speech, however nobody listens. When Negina, my best friend was crying in front of her father and told him, “I want to study, I want to be an educated woman, I want to be an independent woman,”  her father just ignored her speech, and forced her to marry. Nobody cares. When the Taliban asked for money to release Rukhshana, the government didn’t pay money to them, and so  let the Taliban kill her. Nobody asks. Not a single man listened when Farkhunda said she was innocent and being blamed. Nobody asks, nobody cares what women feel and what they think; Afghan men believe that only they have the power, they are the dominant powers over everything.

Until recently, most Afghan women remained silent because they believed that they were second-class citizens. Afghan women follow their religion strictly; for them, obeying their husband is part of their duty and to be silent in front of strange men is part of sharia (Islamic rules) according to the interpretation of Hadith (the sayings of Prophet Muhammad) by a mullah (muslim priest). Most Afghan women are illiterate. They are not aware of their rights. They practice the culture of society, and accept that culture without knowing that they are being victimized. The society brought up the women to believe that women should be the second class citizens. I was an eyewitness of my 10 year old friend’s wedding with a 35 year old man. She had no idea what  it meant to be married, but she was happy to have new clothes. Neither did I know what it meant to marry, but I wasn’t happy, because she didn’t come to school again. Women are being married off very young, even before they understand themselves, about their rights, about their life. My 16 year old friend, whose name is Basmina, was engaged with a man of her father’s age in order to graduate from school. She wasn’t the only one who was crying but the whole class, because every one of us had this issue, out of 45 students in a class, I and 10 of my friends were single.  Afghan women are being told in their young age that they are like a white veil, they should be careful not to make it dirty. In order not to make it dirty, girls have to be modest, and silent. The Afghan women are silent because they have been taught to think that they should be silent.

Afghan women are victims of culture, society, and government. They are silent because they don’t have any other choice; they are scared of their own father, their own brother, own relatives. Afghan women are silent. There is no doubt that spring comes every year. The sun will shine one day and it is not risen yet, but the flower will bloom again, and each and every single flower will have its own beautiful smell; the different mountains with different colors will be the home for everyone, with no intention to dull them again. Maybe this is the dawn, and the sun is about to rise. The women start to raise their voice and are trying to participate in different positions such as doctor, lawyer, judge, parliament attorney, teacher, professor, journalist, government, politics and in many other spheres. But this seems to be paying lip service to women and not actually bringing changes to the situation for Afghan women. There is hope one day Afghan women realize the value of their voice and dare to speak to empower themselves.

“They will kill me but they will not kill my voice, because it will be the voice  of all Afghan women. You can cut the flowers but you can not stop the coming of spring” (Malalai Joya).


Have you heard about Woodstock’s ‘English as a second language’ program? Find out more here 

Works Cited:

Hart, A. “Interview with Malalai Joya.” Web. 23/06/2016. Accessed 10 May 2017.

Hari, Johann. Malalai Joya: “The women who will not be be silenced.” Independent News. Web. 27/07/2009:1. Accessed 8 May 2017.

J Rukbin, Alissa. “Suspect in Mutilation of an Afghan Woman Is Freed” New York Times. Web. 11/07/2011. Accessed 9 May 2017.

Soadat, Saleha. “4250 Cases of Violence Against Women in Nine Months: AIHRC” Rawa News. Web. 15/02/2016. Accessed 6 May 2017.

Malalai, Joya. “Keep Your Eyes on This Afghan Woman Warrior” Women space press. Web. 02/10/2006. Accessed 4 May 2017.

Sima, Samar. “Violence against women” Tolo News. Web. 09/11/2016. Accessed 3 May 2017.

Find out more about Woodstock’s Scholarship for Peace Program. 

  • Sachin Solanki
    Posted at 12:38h, 15 May Reply

    Very well written….!! Keep at it!!

    • zohal
      Posted at 13:03h, 18 May Reply

      thank you

  • Nasima haidari
    Posted at 17:05h, 22 May Reply

    so attractive

  • Ekta Dhawan
    Posted at 11:50h, 16 June Reply

    Very absorbing!

  • Dr Leishiwon Kumrah
    Posted at 12:26h, 25 July Reply

    so encouraging and inspiring that Woodstock school is part of the change happening amongst the Afghan women though it may be small – starting from 1 single individual and yet will have, I believe, far reaching effects!

  • Helen Arnott
    Posted at 04:24h, 01 August Reply

    This essay breaks my heart. The English after less than a year is outstanding. I fear for what will happen to Zohal when and if she goes back to Afghanistan, and she has so much potential. She will need so much courage to be brave in the face of so much adversity. Thank you for posting. .

  • Dheeman Rajkhowa
    Posted at 21:05h, 31 August Reply

    It is with a heavy heart I see the events unfold in Afghanistan, knowing that the precarious freedom that Afghan women had gained the past two decades is in danger of being undone by the brutal Taliban regime. In these dark times, it is the hopes and voices of the youth of Afghanistan that will keep the future of Afghanistan alive. I pray your family and friends remain safe. Stay strong- for you and for Afghanistan’s sake., you are worthy and your time will surely come. I wish you all the success in your life!

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