Dear President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and members of Congress,
Two years ago, I was like a silkworm that depends on the tree’s leaves, that is busy whole nights and days knitting its silk.
Now I am a watchful butterfly. I am studying at the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh. I am working for a better life—for myself and for the women of Afghanistan.
I am Parwana Fayyaz, from Ghazni Province, known as the home of the Taliban. I have horrible memories of war in Afghanistan and still I see the same situation in my country. My Afghanistan is a broken ship. I want the world to know that, although we are sometimes invisible, women too are traveling in this broken ship, and we are part of this land.
I care about my fellow sisters. I care about the 5-year-old girls who fall victim to rapists. I care about the young girls who are kidnapped, whose bodies are found later, soaked in blood or burned with acid. I care about the wives with oppressive husbands. I want to raise my voice and let the world know that the situation for Afghan women is getting worse.
A man once asked me where I was from. When I answered, he said, “Do not joke with me, you are not an Afghan woman.”
I said, “Why not? Do Afghan women have a natural golden crown on their head, or do they look like monsters?”
“No,” he said. “I mean, I am shocked to see that being an Afghan woman, you are alive and walking on Bangladesh streets.”
I found his assumption both annoying and inspiring. I was part of this wilderness when the Taliban were shooting at us. I am still alive and I will make sure that every Afghan woman has a chance to live her life too, Inshallah.
Part of me is pleased that I am no longer among the women in Afghanistan who experience every kind of misery. I feel lucky that I don’t have to witness dead bodies of women on the streets of Kabul after an explosion.
Another part of me is worried that I am not there beside the women who kill themselves because they were raped, abused, or because they disobeyed the Taliban tradition. Why isn’t anyone there to take the oil and the lighter from their hands?
I have always feared revealing Afghan women’s secrets in a society where no one would understand or help me. Here in my school in Bangladesh I no longer feel fear or discouragement. I talk on behalf of Afghan women; I am their voice. I walk the path ahead of them and I watch the bright future of Afghanistan shine through their eyes.
My life changed as soon as I removed the dark curtain from my own wisdom. I am now working to change the situation for Afghan women. I am working to change my grandmothers’ fearful lives, my mother’s colorless life, my aunts’ unjust lives, and my cousins’ uneducated lives. It is time to walk past the male guards and free Afghan women from the cage of Old Afghanistan.
There is hope for Afghan women, but we will need help from other women around the world. We also need to hold on to our identity. We want the world to hear us that we are not ashamed to be Afghan women.
Today, I am like a butterfly opening my own wings. I feel the pure wind of the honest morning touching my whole body with joy and I can say the words of my mind and heart because I am no longer caged. I am free. I want every Afghan Woman to feel the same way I do. I want every Afghan woman to be empowered, to live her life, to work for her betterment, and to imagine a present and future life under the sky of Afghanistan.
Sincerely, Parwana Fayyaz Ghazni Province, Afghanistan