“Women are like a jar of honey, the jar should be always closed; otherwise men, who are like flies, will gather around the honey,” the man tells me. 

He is trying to convince me of the necessity of women dressing in hijab. Who can argue with a man whose self-worth is so low he would compare himself to a fly? I feel sorry for him in his ignorance. In Afghanistan there are men who use such logic to justify violence against women and their imprisonment.

In recent years, violence against women has increased in every form, from domestic violence to harassment in the streets.

After the fall of the Taliban, Afghan women gained new opportunities to participate in the society. As their freedom and visibility grew, men became more violent. They began to push back by oppressing women even more. Women’s growing freedom is seen as a threat to their patriarchal sovereignty. They have constructed new ways to limit the role of women.

When I was growing up in Afghanistan, I was taught that men could not be expected to control their powerful sex drives. Cultural and religious beliefs and traditions were used as a tool to suppress women’s sexuality. Women were blamed for everything from arousing men with their hair or dress color to provoking rape. Men took advantage of these beliefs to harass women in the streets and accuse them of immodesty. The culture of street harassment became common. 

When I went to listen to the sermons of mullahs or atoons (female mullahs), I heard them blame women for society’s immorality: “Be careful what your women and daughters wear when they are outside; if one hair is visible to other men, a woman will go to hell. Her father and husband will also be damned.”

The mullahs never said, “What kind of men are you if you lose your faith as the result of seeing a woman’s hair? Behave yourself. Control your eyes and desires. You have a mind. Behave like a human being, not like an animal. Provide a safe place for women so they can work, study, and be part of the society. If a woman can control her sexual desires, why can’t you?”

Instead, they focused on ridiculous restrictions like requiring women to obtain their husband’s permission to pluck their eyebrows, prohibiting women from traveling without a male companion, or wearing nail polish, bright colored, tight-fitting, or delicate clothing. A woman’s life was stripped of color along with her human rights.

These mullahs were promoting violence against women and perpetuating the patriarchal culture. People frightened of hell and beguiled by the promise of heaven accepted whatever the mullahs said.

What hurts me is that such beliefs are instilled in women who grow up believing they are inferior to men. And in men who grow up believing they are superior to women. It hurts to see a woman crying after giving birth to a girl— not out of happiness but sadness. The fathers too, are sad—and sometimes angry at their wives for not bearing a son. 

Violence grows from the roots of our beliefs. If we believe we are superior, we justify crushing those inferior to us. If we believe we are inferior, we justify the tyranny of our so-called superiors. This is what is happening in Afghanistan. Men believe they are smarter, more rational, and more powerful. They believe they are entitled to decide what women can and cannot do. Women see themselves as weaker and more emotional; they allow men to tell them what to do.

We need women who are willing to stand up for their rights and reject inequality. As long as we have women who live with their eyes full of tears and their hearts full of hatred but who believe their difficulties are the result of God’s will or bad luck, we cannot achieve anything in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan needs women who are willing to assert control over their lives. We need women who believe they are neither superior nor inferior to men. Women must recognize themselves as equal. Rights are not given; they must be taken. When women take control of their lives and change their beliefs, they can stand up against against violence with more confidence. 

Women are not honey. Men are not flies.

By Mahnaz