My life as a young girl in a rural village of Afghanistan seemed like a world free of violence. I didn’t feel the threat of harassment, assault and insecurity. I had a number of extraordinary talents. When I was still at an age when religious obligations and other traditional boundaries weren’t imposed on me yet, I was free to take part in any games with the boys of my age, without my gender being a problem. I was treated equally in any competitions with the boys and I showed no weakness. In most team competitions, I was given the leader’s position among the boys and never even thought of any difference between us.
My behavior and my friendships were permissible until I turned nine years old. I was told that under Islamic Sharia law, this was the age when I had some obligations to fulfill. Although I didn’t like to wear a head scarf, I was forced to wear one. Instead of playing outside with my friends, I was forced to stay inside and do household chores. While the boys my age were playing and having fun, I was forbidden to join them because I was told that it might harm my virginity and decency as a girl. These were the unwritten rules and regulations that eliminated my freedom of choice. Finally, the social, physical and mental pressure transformed me into a socially acceptable girl and erased my true identity. Unconsciously, I became embarrassed by my own deeds and actions as a girl. I used to hide my opinions and kept myself in disguise. I used to make sure not to laugh loudly, just to prove that I am the good girl that society expected me to be. While walking, I did not dare to look up and when I faced a man, I tried to cover my face and tried to not look in the eyes of male strangers.
The happy girl in me died long ago and preserving my purity and following the traditional norms of the society became my foremost priority. I realized that even listening to my own views made me feel bad about myself. As time passed, I become more fearful, less confident and quieter. Basically, maintaining the honor of my family and society was all I was concerned about. I believed that the more I stayed submissive and quiet, the more acceptable I would be to my society.
This was one side of the story. I was witnessing my true self being defeated by social norms and traditional boundaries. However, the other side of the story was my internal struggle and resistance. Despite all the unwanted challenges and limitations that society created for me as a girl, my true self didn’t want to fit in the socially constructed norms of society. Instead, I stood against all the odds of society with my firm belief in equality and freedom of choice. I moved from my rural village to the city in an effort to change my pessimistic thoughts into positive ones. My internal conflict seemed insurmountable surrounded by the narrow-thinking people in my village. My negative thoughts were destructive. I challenged myself to overcome my internal conflict, find a reasonable solution to my problems, use the lessons of my past experiences, and, ultimately, I succeeded to overcome the barriers that the society created for me.
The path I have followed is connected to all the strong women who I read about in books. As I am still navigating that path, I can see similar powerful women around me who give me strength and inspire me to continue on my journey. I realized that the growth of humans in a conservative society, particularly the growth of women, is just like trying to grow a tree in a desert with not a single drop of water. Whatever achievements women have earned today were not gained overnight or easily. Woman who have faced and overcome these difficulties have their own unique set of values and characters, their own unique perspectives about life, and their own special attitudes and solutions during hard times. Looking back at history, we rarely find a woman who invented or created weapons of destruction or led an army to fight against another group of humans. If women were given the freedom of choice in the first place, we would have had a different world; a world with more peace and less war.
The world without women would be a dark place. The fate of humanity is shallow and lacks substance without women’s perspective and ideology. The unconscious and conscious pressure from society made women quieter, but we should not forget that there are thoughts and words behind those silent lips. The unspoken words, repressed feelings, unfulfilled demands and unexpressed thoughts of women can be far more damaging than Afghanistan’s frequent terrorist attacks. Our effort should be to pave the way for women to grow, to lift themselves away from their own fears and let them experience their own freedom as human beings. This is more the responsibility of those who firmly believe in humanity and equality.
If women were given the freedom to choose and act free from the confines of the everyday horrors that they struggle with, how differently would they have shaped the fate of the world and their lives? If women weren’t threatened with insecurity, rape and thousands of fearful thoughts, what would we have been doing and how distinctly different would the world have been? Would there still be murders, massacres and two world wars? Would the world still be populated by illiterate, warlike and selfish people destined to destroy the future of humanity?
To answer these questions, we must sit back quietly for a moment and try to forget about the stories of rape, the threats of insecurity, and all the painful memories that Afghan women and thousands of other women in the world experience in a daily basis. Instead, we must take a pen and draw a different world in our imaginations. A world where women are free, where the pre-made rules do not diminish their spirits. A world where women are not forced to cover their hair, no one forbids them from going out in public. A world where women make their own decisions, no one interprets their beauty as their weakness. We must imagine a world in which the birth of a girl is the cause for celebration and evokes a sense of pride.