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.