I was youngest in my family. Everyone loved me a lot when I was child. I talked very cute and because of that, all loved me. But I can remember my mother admonishing my sisters about how they should always behave like good girls, always look down when they go outside, don’t talk with anyone, just go straight there and come straight home. One of my sisters was studying in the college. My mother told her every day, “Don’t talk with boys. Be polite. Wear your veil like a good girl.”
In our family, if we needed to make a big decision, only the boys—meaning my brothers—had the right to speak. We were not allowed to talk whenever we wanted to. They said to us, “Be silent, don’t talk, you don’t have the right to say anything.” Then we had to be silent.
After years passed, I became a young woman and I also followed what my mother said to my sisters about being a good girl, not talking, staying silent. I did whatever my father and mother and brothers said. Then everyone in the family liked me because I was always quiet. But sometimes I asked myself why I was so shy and couldn’t defend myself.
For example, in school, I saw other girls playing, shouting, enjoying themselves, but I couldn’t. It even had a bad effect on my grades. One of my teachers cut my score on an exam even though I was right. When I asked her why, she told my mother, “Your daughter is intelligent but very shy, and so for that I cut her score. I want to know that she can defend herself.”
Once when my brother did something wrong, my father didn’t beat him. He came and beat me, even though it wasn’t my fault. I was silent; that is why.
Step by step, being silent had a bad effect on my life. I went to Kabul to study in college. It was very difficult for me to talk with people. I was just afraid. In class, I knew the entire lesson, but when the teacher asked me something, I didn’t have the courage to explain. I felt really badly when other students were laughing at me. They thought I didn’t know anything. Because I was silent, I failed at the university. I just hated myself. I was too afraid to even tell people I am Hazara.
One day, one of my friends asked me, “Why are you crying?” I didn’t say anything. Then she said, “Cry as much as you can. I didn’t say stop. You have to cry.”
I just looked at her and said, “I am a loser.”
She laughed very loud and said, “No, you’re not a loser. You’re the best. You just have to kill silence. You have to speak up. Say whatever comes in your mind. Don’t be ashamed. Everyone here is the same. No one is better than any other.” After this, she told me one more thing: “No one can give you your rights. You have to grab your rights.”
That night I thought a lot about what she told me. Then I started to change myself day by day. After one year, I went home totally changed. I tried to teach to others: don’t keep your child silent, and don’t punish her, let her grow up naturally. I am not the only victim of this kind of lesson. Most girls are humiliated and kept silent because they are girls. One thing I want to say in the end: as much we women are quiet or keep silent, we are destroying our lives and our future.
Kill silence and take your rights.
An Afghan girl in Deh Rawod, Afghanistan, November of 2008. Photo by John Scott Rafoss.