On the Streets of Kabul

young women for change 2

One of the worst experiences women in Kabul have to deal with every day is harassment on the street.

Every day when I go to work I see men touching, insulting, and cursing women. Men will say things that even thinking about is embarrassing, but every time I feel bad about it, I tell myself: “Do not blame yourself, this street is yours too.”

In the past few years the harassment has become worse because thousands of women and girls are now working and studying outside of the home. Many conservative Afghans cannot tolerate seeing women become independent; they prefer to see women in the house only. So men use the situation to insult and bother women, and most of the families just blame the girls for provoking street harassment.

This harms women’s self-confidence and self-esteem. It discourages both educated and non-literate women from engaging in public and social activities. The victims think there is something wrong with them and they don’t want to go out and participate socially.

Street harassment will not go away until women stand up for themselves. Most Afghan women prefer to stay silent and ignore the harassment. That gives men the perspective that women cannot protect themselves: it seems easy to bother women when there is no consequence. 

Noorjahan Akbar, an Afghan women’s rights activist, identified this as a problem in one of her articles. “I did not then, and do not now, understand why women are always asked to keep quiet and exercise patience when they are violated. Patience is an overrated virtue. When I was eleven I learned to not be patient and silent in the face of injustice,” she said.

Although every Afghan is aware of street harassment, no media paid serious attention to it until June 2011 when almost one hundred women and men marched to protest against street harassment. Young Women for Change, an organization that advocates for women rights, managed this walk. After that, media and politicians took this issue much more seriously.

Afghan women need to learn how to stand up for themselves. Women need to keep fighting.

We must raise our voices because nobody else will stand up for us except ourselves.

If street harassment had consequences in our country, it would decrease. Afghan feminists should teach women how to talk back instead of being silent when somebody harasses them. In this way people will understand women are not victims; they do not need a man to stand for them when they can do it themselves.

By Fatima H. 

Members of the group Afghan Young Women for Change take part in a protest denouncing violence against women in Kabul, Afghanistan on April 14, 2012. Massoud Hossaini / AFP – Getty Images


Comments

  1. Dear Fatima: When it comes to street harassment, I agree: “Patience is an overrated virtue.” I aslo agree that the streets are every bit as much yours as they are any man’s. Unfortunately, women all over the world have to fight for their fair share of public space. I wish I could tell you that women here in NYC don’t face street harassment, for they do, but these days many men know they are in the wrong when they do it, and I think there is less of it now than there used to be–so there is hope! I am proud of you for speaking up for yourself, and for working hard not to blame yourself for bringing this upon yourself. You deserve to be able to walk in peace. I hope and pray that you will always walk in peace. All best, Stacy

  2. Fatima,
    You are so articulate — and so right! It is hard for even the strongest, most confident woman to hear men insult and curse her without feeling bad and afraid. But we must call attention to it and fight it, because no one else will. Please know that women around the world support you in your fight against this inhumane treatment of women.

  3. We are all in this battle, Fatima. I remember years ago that someone suggested a curfew for women to curb the violence against women and to make us safer. The women said, Have a curfew for men. We are not the problem.
    Harassment and violence against women still goes on here, and everywhere, but do not despair. Continue to speak up. Your words and actions inspire me. They will inspire other women to be brave and to speak up. Together, we will prevail.
    Gabrielle

  4. As I was reading this I thought “how terrible” but then I also thought, as Stacy pointed out, that this still happens here too. And you are absolutely right that silence is not the answer. The photograph above made me very proud of all the strong women and men who were brave enough to march in the protest against street harassment. A well written article too! Thank you for writing it!

  5. liz titus says:

    Thank you, Fatima, for this enlightening article! You are correct in all that you write, and you are brave to speak out so the world will know of this situation. It exists everywhere, of course, but nowhere is it as brutal as in your country.
    Liz

  6. Fatima H. says:

    Thank you very much for your comments and kind words. I am so proud to have all of you understand me. Street harassment is one of the things I hate more than the explosions in Kabul, they just make me feel uncomfortable walking on the streets. However, your comments are just enough to make me smile, and stronger.
    All the best,
    Fatima H.

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