Through Writing, Afghan Women Find Freedom

From Voice of America

Faiza Elmasry
January 16, 2013

In the virtual space created by The Afghan Women’s Writing Project ( AWWP), women have the freedom to write about whatever they want and they can receive mentoring by a volunteer team of teachers and authors.

​​Zahra A., who is in her 20s, is excited about telling her story through the project’s web site.

“She’s a daughter of uneducated farmers who place a high value on education for their children in the face of community and extended family disapproval,” says American novelist Naomi Benaron, who is Zahra’s mentor. “She puts despair on the page, but she’s eternally hopeful.”

Zahra teaches English at an orphanage and writes about Afghan girls’ life experiences and aspirations.

Masha Hamilton, an American journalist and novelist, founded The Afghan Women’s Writing Project in 2009, ten years after her first visit to Kabul.

She was inspired, she says, by all the strong, smart Afghan women she encountered, who are eager to learn and express themselves.

“It’s important for a certain kind of survival to tell your own story, to tell it out loud. When you tell your story, you see it in different ways, and then you make changes that are right for you,” Hamilton says. “We don’t teach English. They write in English as the best they can. We fix it up. We work with them on their creative story-telling abilities.”

Over the past three years, the number of women taking part in the project has grown steadily, as the women share their experiences with their friends and family.

“We have about 100 writers now,” says journalist Susan Postlewaite, who edits their stories and poetry. “We’re adding more writers. Our oldest writer is 45, our youngest writer is about 14.”

These women often face enormous risks to write their stories. Postlewaite says some of them hide laptops under their burqas while walking through Taliban-controlled territory.

“They do write in secret to some extent. Their families may not necessarily be supportive of them expressing their opinions to the world,” she says. “We had one writer who did write in secret. She had to walk four hours to get to an Internet [cafe], she was accompanied by a young male relative.”

Recently, AWWP moved out of cyberspace into an actual building in the capital city, Kabul, where women can come, use the Internet and inspire one another.

“I feel I’m not alone and there’s a need for change,” says Mahnaz, 20, who joined the group three years ago.

In her poem “Legitimizing Inequality,” she explores how women become victims of cultural and religious beliefs.

Mahnaz wants to continue writing and dreams of becoming a novelist. She says The Afghan Women’s Writing Project opened the door for her and other writers to have a voice and be a force for change.


  1. I am AWWP write and a coordinator for AWWP in Balkh province of Afghanistan.
    I appreciated and thanks from all member of AWWP and especially volunteer members.
    AWWP is a window for thinking and sharing idea of Afghan women around the world, AWWP is a courage, making and showing Afghan women’s idea, talent and movement.
    when I was a child I write something but I had a unknown fear and did not shared my piece with anyone. But when i start my writing with AWWP I find that courage and feeling to share my piece and idea.
    thanks from AWWP again
    Friba, Maza-e-Sharif city

  2. liz titus says:

    Dearest Friba,
    I am a mentor for AWWP. Thank you for writing about your writing and AWWP!
    I consider this to be the most important work I have ever done — and I am 60 and have worked for many years, in many careers. But nothing is as real, immediate, and rewarding as working with all of you!

  3. i am the lead programmer for a group of afghan women refugees in india
    i am trying to help all afghan women around the world to start getting busy in writing about their cooking talents.

    i and these hopeless women would really appreciate if you could share this status in your facebook page so we could find more afghan mothers to write about their cookings and teach our culture and cooking to the world.

    the message is

    Hello every one!

    its about time to interduce and teach the world how cooking is done the afghan way.

    we have created a page
    for a website

    where you can freely write your own recipe and we will make sure to deliver your recipe to the world.
    some of afghans has already started writing some home made recipes.

    its not really hard whatever you cook at home just take a few photos and write the ingredients down and give instruction on how to cook that recipe and publish it to the world with a one click.

    if you go to our site you will see some recipes there already you can get the concept and become an author and write about your own recipe.

    Lets teach the world how does the food really tastes by the afghan way.

    a simple recipe submitted by an afghan mother

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