Editor’s note: This piece was written for the Teenage Writers Workshop feature package coming this week.
On my way home from school, I often stop at a bakery to buy bread. I’ve always been curious about the woman who makes the bread. She looks about thirty-seven and I wonder how she does this job, working from six in the morning to seven or eight at night, baking through the hottest days of the summer, and also cooking for her family.
One day I asked her. She told me that she has worked as a baker for fifteen years and that she is the only person in her home with a job. When she was seventeen, her father gave her to the man who is now her husband. He does not work. The woman said that her husband would force her out of their home if she did not work.
In contrast to this story, I see many things about working women that make me proud to support the cause of women’s rights in Afghanistan. I see women in our schools, from teachers up to the principal. These are educated women working to create more educated women.
In Afghanistan today, we have well known women’s rights advocates like Sima Samar, who is now Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commissioner, and presidential candidate Fawzia Koofi. But still, Koofi is insulted by people who don’t believe that a woman can serve as president, and Samar has been threatened with death and harassed for her work. For every woman treated with respect by the government, there are ten women rejected just because they are women.
A country in which half of the population is allowed to diminish the other half is like a body where disease in one part destroys the rest.
Women are still the most vulnerable in our country. When the Taliban came to Afghanistan, they wanted to control people’s knowledge so they broadcast propaganda and put policies in place that kept children out of school. Now, everything that is said by those in power—about religion, politics, and society—goes unquestioned by a population of illiterate people.
Many girls are still forbidden from going to school. They are locked in their homes and forced at a young age into abusive marriages. Sometimes they are killed by their in-laws.
When a girl is born, people say it is a sad occasion. When a girl goes to school, people say they make society dirty and that girls are a source of corruption. Violence is directed at girls who attend school.
How can we expect our country to move forward when half of its society is suppressed and silent? There will be no progress in Afghanistan until women are a part of Afghanistan. We must wake up and change this backward country into a developing country.
By Arifa, age 13