Maryam Dreamed of a Simple Life

girl in hospital

Today my heart goes out for a friend I used to meet each weekend, before her marriage last year. Maryam loved beautiful dresses with blue colors, and she longed to live a fancy, peaceful life. She would often ask me to decorate her skinny hands with henna. She had a dream to be loved by her family.

Maryam was thirteen. She grew up with no real mother; she was married last year to a twenty-year-old soldier who spends most of his time in the mountains fighting against the Taliban.

Maryam was happy to marry at an early age because her stepmother behaved cruelly with her. She did not allow her go to school and always made her do the housework. At one point we all thought marriage might be the best hope for Maryam. Her future husband had promised to let her go to school and get an education. But the situation came out differently after the marriage.

Her mother-in-law didn’t let Maryam go to school. Maryam became a slave for her in-laws. Her other friends and I were no longer allowed by her in-laws to meet her on the weekends.

While Maryam’s husband was away, her mother-in-law used to treat Maryam like an animal. Maryam was tortured almost to death in front of the neighbors. Nobody objected or said anything against Maryam’s mother-in-law.

Maryam couldn’t decide what to do. She tried hard to influence her husband to live a separate life, but he wasn’t ready to leave his parents and rent a house.

Maryam found herself in the middle with no way out. She hated her life. If she went back to her parents’ home, her stepmother would treat her badly, and if she stayed with her mother-in-law’s family, she could not tolerate the violence.

She decided to end her life by eating rat poison. She was alive for hours and threw up blood and pieces of meat, which were from her stomach. She died in the hospital, a few hours after eating the poison.

Maryam left us as someone alone who had all her dreams of living a simple life. Maryam left forever uneducated.

While people make different statements about male-dominated society of Afghanistan, the real culprits of Maryam’s death are women themselves, her stepmother and mother-in-law. Their deeds led her to decide to end her life.

Maryam’s life is a grim example of lack of education. Uneducated Maryam became prey to her uneducated stepmother and mother-in-law.

I want this example to widen my people’s thoughts about what can happen to their daughters if they don’t let them get education and become independent so they can defend their rights.

By Gullafroz

Photo by Elyas Wahdat/Reuters


  1. Sandra Rogers says:

    My heart goes out to Maryam’s true family, you and all the friends that truly loved her. She will live in my memory now too because you cared enough to write about her. It is a terrible injustice and a terrible choice. Thank you for reminding me how precious daughters and education are to a society.

  2. Ellen Hauptli says:

    I am so sorry for this situation, Gullafroz. You are right, it is a tragedy for all the women when their education is swept away by stubborn ignorance. Thank you for telling Maryam’s story, it breaks my heart.

  3. Dearest Gullafroz: Thank you for writing and sharing this deeply tragic story. I wish that we could be writing to Maryam here and encouraging her and asking her to share her poems and stories and dreams with us. Instead, she thought there was no way out. I pray for her spirit. I pray for the girls and women who feel as hopeless as she did. I hope that all of us in our daily lives can work towards peace, towards justice that allows for equal opportunity and protection. Thank you for allowing me to imagine you painting her slim hands with henna. What a happy, loving gesture. Thank you for memorializing her. A loving, blessed act.


  4. barbara barnard says:

    Dear Gullafroz,
    Your essay speaks equally of your tenderness toward this gentle young woman and your determination to bear witness on her behalf. This story honors her. Thank you for writing and sharing it.

  5. Alexandra says:

    Dear Gullafroz,

    You are right to emphasize the cruelty of women that led Maryam to end her life. I wonder if her mother-in-law or step-mother feel guilty? Do they feel remorse for treating Maryam with such cruelty?
    Life is hard. Reaching out to others with love sometimes seems so difficult. LIke the
    neighbors, who could have reached out with love, but didn’t because of their own burdens, cares, and hardships.
    Even now, if the step-mother or mother-in-law feel remorse, Maryam’s life could produce happy changes in their hearts and in their lives.
    Does the husband continue to live with his parents? Does he feel remorse or sorrow?

  6. Gullafroz says:

    Dear all,

    Let me pass my heartfelt gratitude to you all for reading Maryam’s story. But this is not the end; If she would be educated, she would definitely share her story with you all. My goal of writing her story is giving justice to Maryam, sharing her story worldwide so her in-laws wouldn’t live happily ending an innocent’s life.

    Dear Alexandra,
    Maryam’s in-laws didn’t let her dead body into the home for funeral ceremony for two days with the belief that she has killed herself so she isn’t among those Muslims who will go to paradise, how would they feel guilty? Still they think that Maryam has put them down by killing herself instead of thinking that what caused her end her life.

    Hopefully I will share the second part of this story if Maryam gets justice or not.

    Thank you all,

  7. This is a very sad story, but thank you for giving Maryam the voice she never had in life. These stories are important to capture.

  8. Terri Colby says:

    Thanks for writing this sad story. Are the step mother and mother-in-law responsible to no one. No police or anyone will step in?

  9. Renate Callahan says:

    Over the ages it most often were the equally mistreated, uneducated, housebound women all over the world that would pounce on the new-comer to their household to re-establish the hierarchy in this infinitely tragic female pecking order. It is ultimately a human condition to pass on what one experiences oneself. Would schooling or formal education helped Maryam survive in this position? How would literacy have helped her to escape the beatings and cruelty if someone else holds the housekeys and monitors access to the outside world? Her -perceived- superiority might even have inflamed the jealousy and hatred of the other women towards her because of a feeling of inferiority.
    The question is how to appease these feelings of threat, inferiority, and how to block and deflect the venting of bottled-up rage and frustration? And how are young girls to know why they are being treated so shockingly and how to react and reach out?
    Those are powerful stories and there are so many lessons in them to be learned for all of us all over the world. Kindness, Compassion and looking out for one another must be practised in every country on earth, and God knows, we all have plenty of opportunities to do so. Let Maryam’s story and the inertia and failure of her neighbors be a lesson to us.

  10. Dear Gullafroz,
    There is no doubt in my mind that if Maryam’s step-mother and mother-in-law had themselves been educated, none of this would have happened. My heart goes out to you, both because your good friend is lost to you and because you are showing her life and death to the world. It is from your speaking the truth that all families everywhere can understand the need for education and change.
    Thank you for sharing this story.

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