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Empowering Afghan Women Writers—One Blog Post at a Time
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By Masha Hamilton

There is no denying it: the Taliban is regaining and tightening its hold on large parts of Afghanistan, particularly in the south. As the government in Kabul stumbles, Afghan women worry about their future. I remember what it was like in the late 1990s when we in the West heard so little from Afghan women, and what we heard was heartbreaking. Remember the grainy video, smuggled out at great risk, which showed a woman in the burqa being shot to death in the football stadium of Kabul that the Taliban had turned into a site of public executions? That video demonstrated how dangerous it was to simply be female and born in Afghanistan. The Afghan Women's Writing Project began with the idea of offering a way for women to get their voices out, keeping a pipeline open no matter what happens politically in that country. The project is still in its infancy, but already I'm inhaling the blog entries. A few tidbits are below.

Zarlasht describesa shopping trip with her mother during her childhood when the Taliban controlled the country: "Suddenly we saw a big crowd of people running away. My mother grabbed my hand and told me hurry up go fast. I was shocked. I asked, "Mom, why are all of the people running?" With a loud voice she replied, "Didn't I tell you don't come? Now, be fast-" We start running away too. Then I saw the Taliban's car! Their car was moving slowly. Two of them jumped out of car and start beating a girl. She was around my age. They were beating her in foot and head, because she didn't have a burqa. I had heard of, but had not seen such as event before. I started crying. I was not able to run. My mother hid me in her burqa. She was afraid too. Finally their car passed. They didn't beat us, but we completely lost our selves. She told me, ‘Let's sit somewhere. I cannot walk any more. I feel my feet are not mine.'"

Marzia writesabout a picnic near a river: "It was a very nice spring day and the river was roaring. We were looking at the river and enjoying ourselves when suddenly three Taliban appeared. They beat my father, brother, and brother-in-law with whips because the Taliban didn't let men go on picnics with women or listen to music. Since my brother wasn't wearing a jacket, his back became bloody. In that moment I was shaking and was sorry I could do nothing against them. That day I saw the real face of the Taliban."

Meena describesthe start of the 2001 war that led to the ousting of the Taliban from government "I know the start of a war should not be a good memory for anyone," she writes. "But what if the war was also the start of girls going to school, people no longer going to bed empty-stomached , women not being forced into marriage by government officials, people not losing their body parts for minor crimes and finally the renaissance of freedom and happiness for millions of people? My good memory is of a period of time starting from a night to a new day and a new chapter in the lives of my fellow Afghans, and making the world a safer place."

Zarghoona tellsof returning to her home city of Kandahar after the Taliban was ousted in the 2001 U.S. invasion. She was full of hope, but what she discovered often saddened her. "It was unbelievable meeting a 13-year-old girl, one of our relatives, who was recently married to a 45-year-old rich guy who was the owner of poppy fields and already had two other wives. Even though Sharifa was younger than most of her step-children, she seemed to agree with her life, accepting it as her destiny and a practice of her culture. I couldn't stop crying seeing my friend who was going to be married in a week, but unfortunately her dreams never came true when her fiancé and his brother were killed in a bomb explosion in the provincial office in Kandahar. I couldn't believe my eyes seeing a girl who got shot on her way to work, and no one tried to help her, instead saying abusively: "Oh, she got killed because she was working with foreigners."

As the Taliban again regains control over large portions of the country, Afghan women are again called upon to show extraordinary bravery. Many of these women are not permitted by their families to go to an Internet café, because this could draw unwelcome attention. The Afghan Women's Writing Project is working to help raise money for them to get laptops and jumpdrives, so that male relatives can send their work to the blog.

Notes from readers mean a lot to them. Please, if you have a moment, learn more about the Project on Red Room and join the Afghan Women's Writing Project Club. Read the blog,and add your comments. It plays a small role in helping connect us, writer to writer, reader to reader, American to Afghan.

-Masha Hamilton's fourth novel, 31 Steps, will be published by Unbridled Books in September.

 

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