For a long time, the history books tell us, the birth of a female brought shame and sorrow to her family. Although the world has progressed in terms of education and technology, in some countries the birth of a girl is still considered a shame, a sorrow, and bad luck.
Let me share a story about the birth of a girl in my neighbor’s family. It was family of five brothers, all married with children.
The eldest son had six daughters. With the birth of each daughter, his wife was threatened with separation and divorce. She was beaten and sent away to stay with her mother’s family. Her husband wanted a son. A male child is a source of pride.
But again his wife gave birth to a girl. The family grieved. The baby’s father did not come to visit his newborn daughter. His wife was brought home by her brother. She was not welcomed nor asked about her health. Her husband was angry. He told his wife and family he would marry a second wife. His wife cried. His father had a heart attack because his daughter-in-law was also his niece.
Shocked by his father’s reaction, the husband came up with a plan.
“Nobody knows about the birth of this child,” he told his wife, “so why shouldn’t I tell everyone the child is a boy, until everything settles down? I can’t face any other nonsense from people. It is a shame. You know it better than I do.”
His wife couldn’t say a word. So the man told everyone his wife had given birth to a boy and the child was given a boy’s name: Khalid. Everyone came and the family played out the lie quite beautifully. The baby grew day by day.
By the time Khalid was seven years old, the child’s world was becoming very small. She went to school in disguise and was taught to behave like a boy. She was not allowed to play with other children. She was miserable.
At twelve, she played with boys, wore boys’ clothes, and could only look on as the girls in the family wore beautiful clothes, adorned their arms with bangles, and colored their lips and nails.
Khalid cried with jealousy at not being able to enjoy such girlish pleasures.
One day she became very sick. Her parents decided to allow her to wear girls’ clothing and accessories, but only after 10 p.m. when she would not be seen.
This was welcome news for Khalid. She wore colorful clothes and painted her nails. She sat in front of the mirror and talked to herself for hours because the other children were asleep. She wore a wig because she loved having long hair. Her mother suffered over the lie every second of her daughter’s life.
But this story of an unwelcome girl is not unique. It repeats itself every day in Afghanistan, where the women are mothers, sisters, and devoted wives—but also unwelcome, unwanted, and born in shame.
Photo: Mehran Rafaat, six, left, and her twin sisters, Benafsha, center and Beheshta, near their home in Badghis Province, Afghanistan. By Adam Ferguson.