Nameless in Afghanistan

Everybody wants to be respected while alive and to have people remember their good name once they are gone. Unfortunately, in Afghanistan women don’t have the right to have a name in society. From the moment an Afghan girl is born up until she closes her eyes forever and dies, no one other than her family ever knows her by her name.

I live in a society where the men are very zealous about holding on to their power. If they hear someone refer to their mother, wife, or daughter by name their blood boils. For this reason there have been lots of fights, especially in the villages of the Herat region. Families have fought with each other just because someone referred to a woman by her name.

This practice has unfortunately spread to the city and the more literate families, too. Even urban families don’t call their own mothers by their names, but rather refer to them by the name of their eldest son. If his name is, say, Ahmed, then his mother is known only as “mother of Ahmed.”

Family members may refer to a daughter by her given name, but never an outsider. And the practice goes on even after the woman dies. Death notices are never issued for women, nor is anyone ever invited to a woman’s funeral. Her name will never appear on her tombstone. Yet men in Afghanistan have many details about them etched onto their own graves.

In fact, this practice of rendering women as nameless is nothing short of outright prejudice for which there is no logical or rational reason.

Two months ago a favorite aunt of mine died. She was 40 years old, and she had been a beloved teacher at the high school in Herat for about twelve years. She was so dedicated that she gave lessons to young women at her own home during the period of the Taliban regime when girls were barred from attending school. Despite how popular my aunt was, her family didn’t write her name on her grave. This seems very wrong to me because she was a good woman who ought to be remembered.

By Zahra M.

Photograph of tombstones in Herat Province by Robert Lankenau.


  1. This post made me cry. Every woman deserves a good name.

  2. Your beloved aunt will now be remembered because you have written about her. Thank you for this and keep writing, you are very good at telling your story.

  3. That’s ridiculous! What a way to keep women down. I second Linda’s comment; I know your aunt existed just because you wrote about her. And you know, even if you had written down her name, what I would have remembered is that you said she was beloved. Thats something no one can take from you.

  4. Melanie says:

    Thank you Zahra for educating me on this demeaning practice. Your aunt will be remembered by me.

    • Hi dear friends,
      Thank you very much from your feelings and understanding me and other women in my country and your good ideas show your kindness.
      Zahra Mosaiby -Herat- Afghanistan

  5. Tears came to my eyes, Zahra, when I read your story. The more you and other women write and work to take your place in society, the closer you will be to ending this practice. And men must be educated, too. I agree wholeheartedly with the other comment that your aunt will be remembered because you have written about her. All of the women are remembered in each other’s hearts.

  6. Thank you Zahra for this shocking piece. My thoughts and love are with the girls and women of Afghanistan.

  7. You have knocked me off my feet, Zahra. I am speechless. All I can say right now is thank you for writing this and educating me and others. I had no idea. Names are so vital. They are so personal. They are us. They represent us in the world. They live, they breathe. The idea that one’s name wouldn’t go on the headstone… or that no one would know your name outside of your family, and barely within the family… the erasure is just stunning…just stunning…it is hard for me to even contemplate it for long because it is so hurtful for me. Thank you for writing this, Zahra. I have the desire to sing your name, to say your name wherever I go tomorrow, and to say the name of your fellow writers so that the world can hear that you exist, you are beautiful, you cannot be hidden or erased.

  8. Therese says:

    Zahra, here is your chance! Please tell all of us your aunt’s name. I am sure the fact that she was a teacher had a profound influence on you. You have memorialized her in the abstract, please, now memorialize her by letting the Afghan Women’s Writing Project and its writers and volunteers and all who read this page read her name, say it out loud, and remember your aunt for all time.


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