To Laugh

Women in Afghanistan usually don’t have smiles on their faces. They are taught not to laugh; they are told laughing is not right for women. Society says you are not a good woman if you laugh loudly or even smile. You will bring disrespect onto your family, your father and brothers. Society will not respect your father because people will say of him, “you cannot control your wife or daughter.”

Also, Afghan women cannot find many opportunities to laugh. Many Afghan women are still affected by wars. Some have lost their fathers, brothers, husbands and other relatives; in some cases, they don’t know if their relatives or alive or not. How can they laugh?

During happy events that we celebrate in Afghanistan, like Eid or a wedding, instead of smiles on every face, there are tears in every eye. Women wish that their fathers and brothers could be with them at this happy occasion.

And when Afghan women see one another after many years of migration, instead of smiling, their eyes are tear-filled because they feel lucky to see each other after many years. They feel lucky to be alive and to have found an opportunity to be together.

And when they arrive at a new environment, instead of being happy, they cry, because how can they be happy when their families are in danger and not safe?

And when they marry, instead of smiling because they are beginning a new life, they cry since they are leaving the home of their parents, and they don’t know if they will be happy with this person who they must marry by arrangement, and they have no idea how to start a new family. They are fully afraid of their future.

When an Afghan woman laughs, it is not from the heart. When she smiles, it is always with tears in her eyes. An Afghan woman even celebrates with tears. When something happens to her that is good, even then she cannot laugh, because the wings of her flight have been already cut.

By Sabira

photo by Lana Selzik


  1. This is a beautiful essa, Sabira. We take laughter and smiling for granted here. I wish you a future full of joy, not sadness.

  2. Of course, I meant essay! (the “y” fell off…)

  3. Beautiful, Sabira and I thank you deeply for sharing your thoughts. Blessings to you. And I wish you joy and happiness as well.

  4. Erica D says:

    Sariba, this is a beautiful passage. Especially the last line, “When something happens to her that is good, even then she cannot laugh, because the wings of her flight have been already cut.” I wish you all the happiness for your future.

  5. Kathleen D. says:

    Sabira, I loved the way you described how tears are the way in which women in Afghanistan express their emotions. Even if a woman is happy, she smiles with her tears. It seems a crime that laughter is looked down upon in Afghanistan. I hope that one day you and other women in Afghanistan are able to freely express your emotions, rather than having to bottle them up inside.

  6. Maureen D says:

    Sabira, this was a beautiful story. I agree with Suzanne in that we take laughing for granted here. I hope that you may always have inner happiness and joy, and that you may freely be able to express those emotions someday.

  7. Crystal G. says:

    I had no idea that woman weren’t able to smile and laugh. I am glad I know now, this is something very powerful and sad, many more people should know about this. I thank you for writing this and I will tell many people I know about this. I know after a long day of feeling like things will just always turn out wrong and feel a deep sadness; I find a way to laugh, it burns up the ice cold sadness. Imagining that Afghani women cannot do the same brings me a sense of sadness. Smiling brings out the beauty in women. Sabira, I truly hope, with all my heart that your future will hold many times to laugh and to smile so you can enjoy it to its fullest. I hope that your wings of flight are repairable if they have been cut. Have you ever gotten the smallest chance to smile to yourself? Do you see a future where the hard times of the Afghanistan War will pass and women will be able to feel happiness again?

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