Legitimizing Inequality

I write this poem for women who are victims of wrong cultural and religious beliefs. —Mahnaz

We were cooked.
They made us raw,
burned us and buried us. Those
men and women who carry the
stick in their hands,
gaze of blame in their eyes,
sting of insult from their tongues, they
set fire to our wisdom, then
called us ignorant!
        Siasar !
        Naqisul Aql !
They use our love for others as an
excuse to tell us we are
weak in faith, too emotional for
a prophet, imam, judge, or leader. They
betray us by twisting our nature to use against us,
then call us Najis. Nasty. Unclean.
They make a hammer from religion,
pound us in the head,
fool us with hell. We question
injustice and they tell us we
breach the quality of life so we are
infidel. We ask for equality and they
call us impious, deviant.

They use our body, then
mock our beauty and call us weak.
They use our fairness to sell our soul, to
crush our dignity. They are individual
men and women who hold
tight to their ways by telling us we are
unequal. This is how they enforce
wrong cultural beliefs.

They are wrong.
We are not infidel.
We are different but equal.
We are women
Strong in our faith and ability.

By Mahnaz


Siasar: Black head. Men say this to undermine women, to make them an object of pity.
Naqisul Aql: It means someone who has incomplete wisdom. An Arabic word used mostly for women.
Najis: Ritually impure or unclean. For example, blood and urine are najis.

AWWP’s writing is being shared with Bell Bajao’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign in 2013.


  1. My Lord, this is beautiful. Here in America, we often call out “tell it!” or “preach!” when someone is telling the truth in as clear-voiced, beautiful, and powerful a way as you are here. Tell it, Mahnaz, tell it. Well done.

  2. Elizabeth Titus says:

    Dear Mahnaz,
    This leaves me speechless!
    Your opening lines are especially wrenching and vivid.
    Thank you for writing this difficult but necessary poem,

  3. Christine McCary says:

    A proud defiance so eloquent and direct, it can only emanate from one who is rich in spirit and knows the meaning of real faith. You are the host of your own salvation, and not diminished by the indignities forced upon you. Mahnaz, revel in your strength as we are all in solidarity with your justified anger. You and your sisters have suffered unfairly, and the world embraces your fighting words, as we honor your courage to write them. You are in the same realm as Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, a pantheon of sisters who fought their way to change the civil rights and treatment of women. We pray for global success to achieve this for the girls and women of Afghanistan, and the rest of the world. Thank you for sharing with us your gift.

  4. “They make a hammer from religion, pound us in the head”

    This is an incredible image, and sadly as true here in the US as anywhere. How perverse and tragic to use a tool that should be for building things up to tear people down.

  5. Beautiful work, Mahnaz. Powerful stuff.

  6. Peter Markus says:

    Wow! Powerful! They might “make a hammer” but your words, in great defiance, make a fist!

  7. Philip Levitt says:

    Humans are all fallible. Anyone who says he is holier than thou is in error. Only you say it much better than I can.

  8. Gloria Nixon-John says:

    Dear Mahnaz:
    Your words are powerful, they are like a fist pounding on a table or a drum. You make me believe that things will change for you and for other women in your country. We cannot lose sight of our united effort toward equality for all women both there and here. The first three lines… We were cooked, they made us raw, burned us and buried us… POWERFUL in that I can see, and feel the agony you express for your sisters. If you just want comments on content, that is what I would tell you. If you want comments on craft, let me know. We could hone this poem a bit and give it even stronger wings. Be well. Stay strong.

    Gloria: Glonj@aol.com

  9. Dear Mahnaz,
    I absolutely love this poem, it’s so powerful and moving. I use to be made fun of a lot when I was a child because I’m white, blonde and Catholic. But it was just by other children and they were only saying hurtful things. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to deal with what you deal with. I love the last stanza of the poem when you say that they are wrong and you say how strong you women are. You all are so incredibly strong and brave How often do you have to deal with situations like this? I am really grateful for you and all of the other women writers who share their stories with the rest of the world. I think it is important that people hear what you go through and it must be a great feeling to be able to talk about exactly how you feel. My prayers go out to you and all of the other women. Keep staying strong and keep writing.
    – Casey

  10. Tilden J Le Melle says:

    Dear Mahnaz, Those who would persecute you under the guise of cultural purity only reflect their own insecurity and fear of your equality which would reveal their insecurity. They can declare their assumed superiority only by trying to diminish your equality. They are pitiful.

  11. Albert George Thomas, MD, MS says:

    Greetings Mahnaz
    You are never alone when you speak the truth!

  12. Cabrilla McGinn says:


    Historically, practically every society tried to diminish inquisitive minds- really, people whose intelligence and willingness to express themselves threatened the “security” that rulers and oppressors were afraid to lose. You are so brave to fight through art. Know that people in the U.S. are reading your poems and care about your situation with sincerity. The line, “they use our body, then mock our beauty and call us weak” resonates with me. This is because of the fact that although women in the western world have many liberties, many men still have ideas of “how a woman should look” and often times they control and dominate the way women feel about themselves. This is not to the extent of some countries. However, this subjugation still exists. We must fight for better treatment of women across all borders and hemispheres. Thank you for fighting.


  13. Terry Blackhawk says:

    Your wisdom is your strength, and you powerfully unmask the perpetrators of injustice and hatred. Please keep making your voice heard.

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