World Pulse

AFGHANISTAN: Breaking the Cycle

Muhammad Shahidy
Posted February 19, 2013 from Afghanistan

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.

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 wellbeing 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, Roya, 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, Roya quietly and dutifully accepted her fate.

When we learned about the five years of Roya’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 Roya’s husband discovered our plans, the intensity of his violence escalated. Concerns about Roya’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 Roya 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 Roya—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.

Comments 6

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Mar 01, 2013
Mar 01, 2013


Thank you for your honesty. It is difficult to own our poor choices even more difficult to take steps to change. You have taken the steps to change even further by becoming an ally of support for the women in your country and internationally.

Your statement: "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." Is the only way we can change violence against women and gender equality.

It saddens me to realize the beautiful minds wasted because of a lack of opportunity for women to thrive academically, socially and beyond. But it also gives me hope to learn that someone that can candidly divulge that this was in fact part other their cultural upbringing can change their mindset.

Continue changing the mindsets of your brothers and sisters internationally by taking a stand.

Mistelle Montague
Mar 03, 2013
Mar 03, 2013

Thank you for sharing your story. It is with men like you helping to bring voice to the voiceless, that we will begin to see change. Mistelle

Mar 04, 2013
Mar 04, 2013

Hi Ali,

You are an amazingly gifted writer and soul. Thank you for baring your soul in order to make change.

Wendy Stebbins

Fatima Sabri
Mar 09, 2013
Mar 09, 2013

Dear Ali,

Thanks for sharing your story, I must say that you are a source of inspiration for all those women who think that they can never make men understand about their rights. Your life story made me sad, but bravo to you that you did a great job in dealing with the problems. Women suffer alot due to violence, but their suffering can only reach to an end, when men acknowledge their suffering and help the to over come. You are an honest person.

At some point I lose hope that we can never over come this problem; however, when I look at people like you, then I get hope and encouragement.

Keep up your good work,

Apr 17, 2013
Apr 17, 2013

Dear Ali,

It's my proud privilege to be associated with a forum which instills hope in us, making us believe this world has a prospect of better future for the oppressed and neglected half , by bringing up stories from the people like you, who have taken up a cause for us, your sisters. Thank you so much for sharing and inspiring other men towards the plight of a woman. So rightly said, violence is not woman's fate!

Keep going on and enlightening other.

Regards bhavna

Noreen Donohue
May 11, 2013
May 11, 2013

Dear All,

Not only are you brave and couregeous for telling your story to the world, but you seem to be part of the new generation of enlightened men. I know it will take time, for you have thousands of years of culture to overcome, but every time a man such as yourself comes forward into the light, you are one step closer to a solution. Thank you.