Gender violence plagues Afghanistan and my family is no exception. The patriarchal structure of our culture makes it rampant. The pervasive silence makes it everlasting. The pain of gender violence is a nightmare that haunts many Afghan families. My most tragic childhood memories are ignited every time my dad raises his voice in a violent way. The fear of seeing my mom beaten in front of my eyes incites panic. I was raised in a culture of violence – war was only part of it.

However, I wasn’t only the son of a victim and an abuser. I became an abuser. The cycle of abuse continued as I began to beat my sisters and harass girls in the street. I used to restrict my sisters’ mobility, their appearance, their associations and more. Afghan customs taught me that the honor of my family was more important than the physical and psychological well-being of my sisters. I made vulgar comments and gazed salaciously at random girls in the street. I was following accepted cultural norms without shame.

During the same time, my younger sister, Soraya, was forced to abandon school and marry against her will. She became another victim of domestic violence in her wretched and abusive marriage. Living in Iran, her life was a silent prison of suffering and pain. Her husband beat her during her pregnancy, threatened their infant son with a knife and tortured her on a regular basis. His drug addiction fueled his rage. The scars on her hands and her drastic weight loss were the only things that spoke of her horror. Like my mom and many other Afghan women, Soraya quietly and dutifully accepted her fate.

When we learned about the five years of Soraya’s suffering, we immediately took action. To rescue her, we were confronted with torrents of challenges – financial difficulties, distance, laws that maintain gender norms, social stigma and relatives who opposed and condemned us. These obstacles made me realize how wrong and devastating our culture was. It was the first time I studied about women’s rights. I had to fight with Mullahs and our elders. I had to struggle with practices, beliefs and values that filled my life since birth. When Soraya’s husband discovered our plans, the intensity of his violence escalated. Concerns about Soraya’s safety filled my thoughts at work, at home, and during my studies. Her life was in danger and I was her ONLY hope.

I doubled my efforts, saved more money, learned more about women’s rights and gained the assistance of more friends. Finally, we brought Soraya and her baby home. She was safe… and my world view had changed forever.

Reading and studying more about the plight of Afghan women, I realized that gender discrimination and inequality are wrongly ingrained in our culture. Everywhere I went I saw women like Soraya – women quietly accepting their fate. I knew I had a responsibility to fight for their rights and rescue them from their prisons. All women should have the same freedom as my sisters. Women should not be viewed as servants, property or sexual commodities. Men are blind and need to be healed. Women’s mouths are sealed and those seals must be broken. Violence is not a woman’s fate.

I am strongly involved in advocacy work and fighting for women’s rights. I am a vocal opponent of violence against women. I actively support victims and encourage people to talk about violence. Through speeches, global digital action campaigns, public awareness events, community discussions and more, I am encouraging people to break the cycle of violence. Step-by-step, I am removing barricades and changing men’s views towards women. Through tears and determination, my sisters and I changed our fate. We broke the cycle of abuse in our family. Together, men and women will stand hand-in-hand, raise their voices and challenge the dominant and parochial beliefs of our culture. Together we will end violence against women.

Take action! This post was submitted in response to Ending Gender-Based Violence 2012.

Comment on this Post



It is with hope that I read your post. Women must stand up and demand their rights, but so many times it is only through the support of families and individuals such as yourself that they have the chance. Thank you for sharing your story of your awakening to a new way of thinking. Behavioural and cultural changes are the most difficult.

As you write, violence is not a woman's fate. My hope is in partnership with both our brother's and sister's all women, and thus families and communities, can look to a safer, brighter fate.


It is really easy to pint finger to others for doing the violence against women, but i really appreciate your courage of speaking about your self. Revealing that once you were the part of it, and how you become successful to overcome and now advocating for women rights.

Keep continue your good work!

best wishes,

I appreciate your kind words. It takes a touch of courage to break silence and speak out, and to challenge a prevalent culture. We all need to cultivate that sense of courage into those whose mouths are sealed.

Ali Shahidy

I commend you for recognizing your own complicity in violence against women, and your realization that just because your culture condones it, that doesn't make it right. It will be very difficult to change the status of girls and women unless men are willing to stand up and speak out against the violence and oppression. It is time to end child marriage, forced marriage, the tolerance of domestic abuse, and the blaming of women and girls for the violence that has been done to them--especially rape. Thank you for your courage and commitment.

Thank you for your kind reply. I believe that a solid attempt to end gender violence takes place when we first recognize it as a wrong and damaging practice. Since it harms both genders and humanity, both genders, men and women, must be involved in advocacy and fight against gender inequality. You are so right!!! I was a perpetrator, and becoming an advocate was a huge transformation for me.

Ali Shahidy

I have a huge amount of respect for you, Ali. Lending your voice to this cause is of great value. You have witnessed and experienced the devastating consequences of gender violence and you were able to overcome the temptation to follow in the footsteps of generations of men in your culture. That is not an easy task. Your advocacy will make that task easier for other men. Your advocacy will validate the pain and suffering of Afghan women and will help them to raise their voices and stand on their own to fight this battle. As more Afghan women know men like you, they will recognize that brutality is not valued by all men. Your efforts will encourage women to find their strength.

Thank you for being a part of this initiative and for promoting the rights of my sisters in Afghanistan.

Peace and blessings, ~Kara-Amena


Thank you, dear Amena, for your understanding and kind words. Witnessing the domestic violence for most of my life has never constituted a happy part of my life. The heart breaking story of my sister added even more to the tragedy I have had in my life due to gender violence. The wrong practices of our culture always kept me blind from seeing the right image of my sisters and other girls/women. It wasn't a humane life at all, but vicious. It was all tears and pains - suffering and nightmares.

I am glad to know that my awakening and advocacy will make it easier for other men to stand against this wrong culture. Men should realize their roles.


Ali Shahidy

Thank you for posting your story here, and I hope it will help others see that men can be and are part of the solution. Men's supportive voices and actions are so important. I am really curious to know what it was that opened your eyes and made you change your views and actions so radically? Was it something more than your sister's situation (although this would seem enough, it appears you had been accustomed to such cultural norms)? I ask not to pry into a personal situation but in the interest that your story will help others move from acceptance to resistance and action. I am also curious about the reaction you might get from traditionalists in your society as you press on for what you know to be right and humane. I hope you can share these thoughts far ad wide. Thank you for your courage and keep your voice strong! Susa

Dear Susan, many thanks for your comment. I am impressed by your question and it is admirable. You are right. I have been accustomed with those cultural norms and practices. I was raised with them and the culture had taught me to be violent and blind to the rights of our women and girls. A radical change wasn't an easy process at all. There were several factors that made such a transformation happen. My sister's predicament, in fact, was an accelerator to an earlier awareness. I was already susceptible to such a change. I have been a peace advocate and supported equal rights for all. But the tendency toward feminism or women's rights activism largely came through Soraya's story. Another experience that paved the way for such a change was my other sister's non-conformity to our predominant culture of patriarchy. Freshta, my younger sister, challenged my [male] dominance at home. She raised her voice and stood against me when I attempted to beat her. It was during her first year of college - empowerment and awareness. She was educated and had recognized her rights. Her awareness and reaction to my violent behavior provoked thoughts and challenged my thinking style; and that was the power of awareness. I feel happy to share these stories and I hope my stories can help others initiate a change too. Although that was a shameful act, I am happy to have that courage to bring those stories to a public audience. I know if I start talking about myself and my stories, it encourages others to share theirs... and eventually to break the silence. However, hailing from such a conservative and violent history doesn't make it easy for one to change so instantly. Although I have extensively and profoundly changed, I am still struggling with a patriarchal life. I am still struggling to eliminate the patriarchal attributes of my character. I am still struggling to catch up with a truly civilized and humane life. The transformation had its own challenges and didn't come just easily. I still have a long way to go.

Thank you Susan for your wonderful comment and curiosity about my story.

Ali Shahidy

Thank you Ali, for recognizing the truth, for gathering so much courage to speak about yourself. I respect you for that. At first Amena referred me your story. When I read your story, I was a bit petrified but I was so touched also that you realized it and brought your sister out of that hell. I was touched by the line "Through tears and determination, my sisters and I changed our fate. We broke the cycle of abuse in our family."I found you are so brave. Recognizing ones mistake and accepting it in this open forum and now advocating against domestic violence is indeed commendable. May God bless you for that. I always saw muslim men associate with religion and validate 'brutality towards women'. It is great that you have raised voice against it. As Amena writes, Your efforts will encourage women to find their strength. Your advocacy proves that brutality is not valued by all men. Thank you for being part of this campaign and sharing your story to plead on behalf of us. I hope it leads to become an eye opener for more and more men and we destroy the virus of 'gender violence' from our society. regards Nusrat

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. ..........Hellen Keller

Thanks a lot for your encouraging words. It's true that Muslim men validate gender brutality. However, such ideologies and practices are mostly characteristics of religious radicals - which is broadly common in Muslim societies. A woman gets violently raped, and as a result pregnant, but for the sake of the family's honor, she must remain silent, risk her health or life, and her baby's life. In my country, I believe, many women get raped in a daily basis. But the so-called family honor puts a mask over the painful reality to protect itself. So this practice makes that phenomenon furtively rampant, survive, not to be spoken and not to be fought.

Nusrat, I am really glad to know that you believe brutality against women is NOT valued by all men. Although the history of masculinity well illustrates its brutality and the desire for dominance, there are men who fight against it. Even for me, in most cases, it is seriously hard to rely on men. To trust them. Or, to believe in them. But I am sure there are men who have realized the damaging consequences of gender violence. There are strong men who advocate for women's rights. Men who believe in equal rights. Rape, violence, restricting women's rights, undervaluing women's power and their human values are all a weak man does. Gender violence is harmful to both genders, so it must be addressed by the both.

By the way, I LOVED the quote you posted in your comment. That means a lot to me. Thanks for that too. Be happy and be strong,

Ali Shahidy

Your article was fascinating! I am pleased to have such men beside us raising their vioce against violence, and for change. i really love this sentence "Together, men and women will stand hand-in-hand, raise their voices and challenge the dominant and parochial beliefs of our culture. " I really believe that change cannot be brought only by women being concern on these issues rather, men and women should work together in solidarity. Keep it up Best Marvah


Dear Brother, I really appreciate with your words and your work. Your writing really made me cry because the same cases happen everywhere particularly in Islamic communities, where women are treated as slaves. Neverthless, let's raise our voices for the sake of womens' rights because we are the leaders of Today. Best, Aaliya

I really appreciate your comment. And yes, the imprisonment that women endure is painful and heartbreaking. It makes any aware individual, who can feel the confinement, shed tears. But as you said, let's raise our voices and challenge this predominant brutality.

Ali Shahidy

Hi Ali,

Your article is so powerful I got chills. Thanks so much for sharing your personal and inspiring story!

I really love this quote: "I was raised in a culture of violence – war was only part of it." Short, but so powerful!

I also read your other submission about street violence and I was thinking about that when I was reading this. I love how everything ties together.

Thanks for joining our community, Ali.

Kind regards,

Jennifer World Pulse Online Community Coordinator

Men's support is the speed-wheel to equality, I respect your stand.some culture need to be dealt with, some norms has outlived their existence.Men are not lords, that's the first step to this fight,I believe.

Dear Ali,

Thank you very much for sharing such a thought-provoking and thoughtful piece. You have shown that it is possible to break the cycle of gender violence and to become aware of the pain and suffering that you are inflicting onto another person. You had been brought up to believe that abusing a women was an acceptable, in fact "normal" thing to do and you didn't question it. How could you have? You, yourself, had witnessed your own father mistreating your mother and so, you were led to believe that this is the kind of relationship that exists between men and women. It took strength and immense courage on your part to see beyond the violence and to empathize with your sister. For that, I applaud and commend you. By taking a stand against gender violence, becoming an advocate for women's rights, and encouraging men and women to come together, you have become a true role model, one whom we should support and praise for his determination and his humanity. Despite the many challenges you have faced in becoming an advocate for women's rights, you never gave up. Thank you for everything that you do!