My friend, whom I will call Marya, was born into an educated family, but the family was poor so she tried hard to study and get enough knowledge so she could have good job opportunities.
She graduated from high school and applied for different jobs in her town and finally found a job in a good organization that paid her a high salary. Marya gave her salary to her family. She supported her brother by using her savings to pay his marriage expenses.
No one thought about how she had her own dreams and goals. The marriage age in Afghanistan is between 18 and 27 or 28. If a girl does not get married by then, people say bad things about her. But no one in Marya’s family even thought about finding a husband for her.
Marya kept working. Her family forgot that she wanted to attend university and some day be married. All her friends were getting married. At first, when marriage seekers came to her house to ask for her, her father said that while they were good men, the family still needed Marya’s help.
“Please think about us,” her father said to Marya. “If you agree, your little sister can marry that boy.”
Marya was a good, polite daughter and above all she was an Afghan woman, so she agreed and her little sister married first. Marya was upset, but no one realized how she felt.
Day after day she saw how her younger sister was happy and enjoying her life. But Marya had no chance for happiness. All she did was work. She went to her job and then came home. She decided that if she left her province her life might improve and so she moved to Kabul, found a new job, and lived with her father.
After three years of this, a young man started visiting her office. He was a brother of Marya’s colleague and he asked his brother to introduce him to Marya. The young man was interested in marriage with Marya. At first she worried about what his family would think of her and told her work colleague she wasn’t interested. But a few days later, Marya’s family told her they had received a marriage proposal for her from the same young man.
Marya respected her parents and she accepted their decision for her to marry the young man. She was now thirty. The engagement date was set and Marya was happy to be engaged.
At first the man, whom I will call Ahmad, gave her money. Marya was very happy that someone was willing to give money to her. But then he began asking her for money for his university expenses. She gave it to him and she hoped her husband-to-be would become a university graduate and give her family a brighter future.
The day Ahmad graduated was the best day of Marya’s life; she had not been able to attend university because her family could not afford it. She was so proud of Ahmad, jumping for joy, and giving sweets to all of her colleagues.
But in addition to helping her fiancé graduate and paying his expenses, Marya was also still taking care of her father’s family expenses. She had a good job that paid her a high salary.
Finally the couple was married and they made a new home together in Kabul. Marya was now thirty-four. She knew the value of her own home and she decorated it in a modern fashion and was happy. But her in-laws didn’t join the wedding party. Marya didn’t realize it until later, but they hated her. They had wanted Ahmad to marry a niece. Still she was happy that Ahmad loved her and would take care of her.
As time passed, Marya became pregnant. She believed that with the new baby, her in-laws would change. But when scans revealed that Marya’s baby would be a girl, they made it clear they did not want a girl and the abuse began.
Marya worried so much that she became sick. Her husband took care of her, and finally the baby was born. But by then her husband was not coming home often. She occasionally saw a woman’s messages on his cell phone. She tried to find out about the woman. Soon Ahmad was coming home only once a week.
Then Ahmad married again. He took his cousin—the niece his parents had wanted him to marry—as a second wife.
This has been Marya’s story since 2008. She now has a second child and she is pregnant with a third. The second wife and in-laws want Marya’s children.
She left Kabul with her children to return to her family in the province, but the in-law family kept warning her they will take her children. Marya does not know what to do.
When I talk with her, she asks me, “Why is all this happening to me? What did I do wrong? Am I guilty for being a woman?”
She says, “I want my children and don’t want to give them to the stepmother because she will not take care of my children. I will die if they take my children.”
But I have no solution and don’t know what to tell Marya.