Now that I am growing older, I find myself questioning the unquestionable and strongly held beliefs of my culture. I struggle with the beliefs and logic of the society I grew up in; I struggle with the mindset I am “supposed” to have.
At times, I raise my voice and try to question. Sometimes the roots of my culture send me into despair. They seem too strong to be changed.
In my country we have peace in many of the provinces, yet there is still bloodshed. We have freedom, yet many are slaves. We have security, yet many live insecure lives. We have equality, yet many are accepted as unequal beings.
I belong to that “slave” category. On the surface I have equal rights, yet beneath I am an unequal creature.
I am a woman, whose mere existence is questionable, whose birth goes uncelebrated, whose existence is treated like a crime, if it is acknowledged at all. In some places, a girl is not even counted in the number of children one has.
If I look through the prism of my religion going back 1400 years, little has changed. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) came to give us our rights. Time passed, civilizations rose and fell, governments changed, climates, culture, people changed, but in our part of the world, ideas about women went unchanged.
When I compare the situation for women in our country with that in neighboring countries, it seems that discrimination and injustice have been ingrained as part of our fate. The form changes. In places like India, the practice of female infanticide goes on, while in other places girls are kept alive to use in future business deals.
Women have been traded like goats or cattle for many years in this land. I would take the liberty of calling it a goat business and myself a goat too.
A girl child is raised, given water, food and shelter, much as a goat is raised until it has put on a sufficient amount of meat. A girl is raised until she reaches puberty. Then, as the goat is sold, so is the girl.
A Kandhari girl rate is 4 lakh (400,000 Afg). In Badakhshan girls fetch 7 lakh. For a Kabuli, the rate may be even higher.
This goat selling culture has different names among different ethnicities.
Hazara call it gala, Uzbek qalein, Pashtun walwar, Tajik sheer baha or tuyana. Other ethnicities use other names.
I sometimes wonder how it is that all these various ethnic groups managed to sustain their grievances against one another in fights that lasted thirty years, yet when it comes to discrimination against women they are unified in following the same archaic culture.
Sheer baha basically means that the boy’s family has to pay for the amount of milk that a girl has drunk as a child.
Alas, I live in a country where I don’t even have rights to my mother’s milk: even that is a liability that my would-be groom’s family has to pay back.
So here I am in this land, in this goat market, among a thousand other goats. I, too, am a goat awaiting an unknown fate.
By Freshta K.
Photo: Ali Yussef
This essay was reprinted in the Winter 2014 issue of Tethered By Letters.