I grew up in a family where I was treated the same as my brothers, and sometimes even better. My dad, my hero, always wanted the best things for my siblings and me. But we lived in the north, in Kunduz, in a society that did not accept me. It was hard for me to be a good Afghan girl.
I couldn’t follow the rules, such as wearing a burqa, staying home and doing housework, or skipping school because of a party or guests. In the family I was encouraged to be outspoken, but not in public.
At school I was punished for saying what I knew was right. When I was in eleventh grade, my math teacher used to tell us how women should always be sad and not laugh because if women laugh, then men will hear it, and that is “a big sin.” He used to tell us how to walk in the street. He would say girls should always look at the ground while walking to school and not laugh. They should never wear makeup or bright colors because colors will catch men’s attention.
No equality, no tolerance
Without a doubt, these were Taliban ideas. No one wanted to explain to the teacher that wearing makeup or bright colors is in women’s nature. Even I could not speak up; he already didn’t like me because my sisters were active in the society. He did not believe that women and men are equal. I could not tolerate hearing that from my teacher.
He used to look at me and say, “Give yourself some value, don’t talk with the boys.” He thought that girls should not talk with boys because boys can’t control themselves.
I always wanted to tell him that I was not the one responsible for boys’ actions or emotions. They have to learn that they are not animals and they shouldn’t attack a girl if they see her hair or hands or legs.
Something always held me back from saying this to him. It was fear. I was afraid he would fail me in math. I was tired of listening to his speeches about women. I cried so many times when he humiliated me and implied I was a “bad girl” for working on projects with boys or talking to them.
One day during one of these speeches, I raised my hand. I asked a question about the position of women in Islam, and also where in the holy Qur’an it is written that women are a second-class gender.
I knew what his answer would be. I just wanted to open a conversation, even though I knew it would not have a good ending. When he started to repeat his same old story, I stopped answering him. I nodded my head and said that he was right. Now I wish I had told him that he was wrong. He failed me in that class. He failed me by one point—that is what hurt most.
The road to feminism
It was hard to play by two sets of rules in my life. I could be outspoken in my family but not outside. I did not learn how to be a “good Afghan girl” and I think I will never be able to learn.
Small things, day by day, led me to feminist thinking.
I became a feminist because I could not tolerate seeing my neighbor beat his wife. I could not listen to my teacher call me a “bad girl” for working on a project with boys. I could not tolerate injustice towards women. I could not see women stoned for choosing their future. I could not stand to see a man who raped a young girl walk freely in the street and not even be ashamed.
I could not stand to see friends stop coming to school just because their brothers didn’t want them to attend and I could not tolerate seeing men touch women just because they were walking along the street. I could not see my old grandma put on a burqa and fall down because she couldn’t see.
I am a feminist and I am proud of being one. I want to change the history of women in Afghanistan. I want the next generation of Afghan women never to go through what my Afghan sisters and I have gone through.
I want to fight for their rights and take any kind of risk that is worth taking to bring more changes. I have a long way to go in order to achieve my dreams.
By Zahra A.