Recently, a woman from another nonprofit organization and I flew over the highest mountain in Afghanistan to reach Ghōr, a central-northwest province still controlled by Taliban. Everything was nice and quiet as we crossed the mountain, though we had concerns because we were going to a place where many women and children suffer from violence and illiteracy.
Ghōr has ten districts, with its capital in Chaghcharan. People in Ghōr love guests and are very hopeful for their future, but with Taliban controlling the area, women like me cannot work there. To do so would mean losing our lives.
When I reached my destination, the weather was nice. The land was dusty with only a few paved roads, but there is a river with clean water, and I could see dozens of women washing their rugs and carpets.
At the Department of Women’s Affairs, I was meeting with the director when someone knocked on the door. A young woman with a baby girl entered, wearing warm clothes despite the summer heat. One of her hands was injured. She had no medication and was using her other hand to care for her daughter. She sat and shared her story.
“I have a seven-year-old son,” she said. “He threw a stone into my brother-in-law’s house, and my brother-in-law got very angry and beat me. ‘Why did your child do this? It’s your fault,’ he yelled at me.
“He broke my hand and would not let me go to the hospital. I used my scarf to protect my hand from pain, but it gets more painful each day. I asked my father to bring me somewhere to help me, so he brought me here.”
The department sent her to a hospital and provided a letter to police asking them to arrest her brother-in-law.
It pains me that today an Afghan woman has to care for her baby under these conditions, with one injured hand and no one to help her. She must have been doing the cooking and washing clothes as well.
With the violence that has become common in uneducated families, it does not matter if a woman is sick. If an ill woman wants to rest, her in-laws will call her lazy and suggest to their son that he marry again. They will beat her until she gets up to work.
This was my first trip to Ghōr Province and the violence, while it surprised me, was normal to the women there.
The woman’s story gave me strength to work harder. I said to myself, “We always claim we work for women, but what have we done for the women who live under these bad circumstances? They suffer from violence and do not know about their rights.
“All they know is that they are born as women and should live like servants. If they are sick or injured, it does not matter. There is no one to protect them. They live in remote areas that I cannot visit because as a working woman, the Taliban would kill me. The situation is the same for all active women regarding women’s rights. So who can bring changes for these women?”
All these thoughts made me feel crazy and helpless. I realized I had to start one step at a time.
I recently went to a course held by the Women’s Affairs Department where I met about fifteen women from all over.
“What are you studying here?” I asked. They told me that they were learning about journalism.
“We want to be journalists and be a voice for Afghan women, but we do not have anything. We do not know where we should broadcast or how. We do not have computers and we do not have access to the Internet.”
I told them that the Afghan Women’s Writing Project is a place to broadcast your stories and share the woman’s voice, and that I would do my best to get them a computer. I talked to them about AWWP and shared my experience with them.
Six were very interested and gave me their biographies. “I will try to help but I am not sure what will happen,” I told them. “I’m not sure when I can get you a computer and Internet access.” I told them I would try to come to see them for a week and work with them and help them understand women’s basic rights in Afghanistan.
My time in Ghōr passed too quickly. When it was time to say goodbye, several women came with me to the airport gate and shook my hand. “Please do not forget us,” they said. “We are waiting for you.”
I wanted to stay. But I had just five minutes until departure time. I passed through check-in and got to the airplane.
Up in the air, I passed over the mountain again. But it did not appear as the same mountain. It was still the tallest mountain, and I was still awe-inspired. However, that awe was tinged with sadness. Each time I glanced out the window and saw the enormous lovely peaks, I remembered the young woman with the broken hand and weak voice.
I also remembered the others who had similar stories about their inability to complain when forced into arranged marriages, when beaten by their husbands, when sick with no one to care for them. I thought of the thousands of other acts of violence. I saw this mountain as the challenges women of Ghōr suffer. They had a long way to climb. I would be back again to help them climb this mountain.
Photo of a family in Ghōr Province by Vilius Džiavečka