The internet set up in our house is fantastic – but only when it works – hence the rather sporadic nature of these posts!

So finally I have come to meet the women writers here in Afghanistan – and I have been blown away by their stories

 

I left for the offices of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project http://awwproject.org/our-writers/ and sped through the packed streets of Kabul, our car, as usual, missing every other vehicle by inches. I watched the streets go by, and was so delighted to see very few women wearing the burka . Instead, there seemed to be groups of giggling school girls everywhere, smart in their black uniforms and white head scarves, carrying satchels and rucksacks.

Finding anywhere in Kabul is never easy. The streets generally don’t have names, and although they have numbers, it will depend on which direction you approach them from, whether you want the right street or the left. So addresses tend to be things like: House 5, Street 9, Kart-i-parwan, just across from the Good Rest Guesthouse. But even then you will generally still need a mobile phone conversation with whoever you are going to meet before you can find the place – or in my case, you will need to find someone to speak to the driver for you!

Although many of the streets have been tarmaced, the road we were going to was still a rocky, dusty track where the waste from each house empties into the street, like many of the smaller roads in the city. In winter, when the ever prevalent dust becomes mud, these roads are almost impassable on foot.

I gingerly stepped out of the car, avoiding a puddle of filth, but then a metal door in the side of one of the buildings opened and there stood my host, the AWWP’s representative in Kabul. She is a tall slim young woman, and she tells me the first amazing story of many I am to hear over the next few days.

When she left school at 18 she decided she wanted to a journalist. At that time she was living in Fayrab province, in the North-west of Afghanistan, and there was no further education available for women there. She perservered and joined an ISAF project to write (in English) for a magazine. But the Taliban came to hear about her work, and she and her family were threatened. Men visited her home and took the names of her mother and her uncle’s. But she refused to be stopped, and simply began wearing a burka to do her work.

Now her family live in Herat, in the west of Afghanistan, and she lives with her journalist husband and an adorable one-year-old son here in Kabul.

Next I interviewed a 22 year old woman who works at an NGO here and is studying at university. Her salary supports her family.

She tells me how writing literally changed her life.

She was engaged to a cousin at the age of 13, but longed to continue her education. She began writing anonymously for the AWWP website and received support from women all over the world. Eventually she felt strong enough to tell her family she didn’t want to get married. They told her she would have to support herself if she didn’t marry. Now, these few years later, she is a successful young career woman who has won a scholarship to a prestigious Canadian university.

But the story is not over, even for her. One of her pieces of writing talks about the constant pressure on women in Afghanistan not to work, the gossip and snide comments that follow them everywhere, and she calls on women to ignore it and stand up for themselves.

I am frankly humbled by all of this.

Someone said to me before I left that I was very brave to come here. But this is real bravery – standing up to the Taliban, challenging society. And there’s more, much more to come…

« »