When we bring the three words Violence Against Women into the conversation in Afghanistan, people immediately think we mean physical violence—the kind that mostly happens in the day-to-day life of uneducated Afghan women. Meanwhile educated Afghan women with good jobs at NGOs or in government offices are considered a fortunate part of the society because they are not being beaten by husbands, brothers, and fathers who are in a bad mood. Why? Because their education and jobs are their salvation.
Today I want to take a few minutes to write about what these “fortunate” Afghan women are going through to earn and feed their families. I work for an international NGO where my position is critical. It is crucial because I supervise Afghan male colleagues who are older than I am and for reasons of their own egos, don’t like having a woman as boss. It doesn’t suit the dignity and pride of being an Afghan man and it makes them impatient and angry so that they constantly spread gossip and make judgments about me or my personality. Listening to them, you would think I was having endless sexual relationships. Thinking about this and hearing this from my colleagues makes me feel very sad. Hopeless and helpless.
I am not being beaten to death like so many Afghan women, but I feel so tortured it could take years to heal and ages before my colleagues accept who I am, and years before I recover from the psychological torture. Managing men in a male-dominated society, fighting the egos, is far more challenging than I anticipated when I took this job.
You might have heard of Afghan women being stoned to death for committing adultery, but let me tell you the bitter truth—these men are not watching women being stoned to death, but they think the same way. They are being governed by wrong thinking about women. They turn life to chaos for women. That is where the main problem lies.
Women who are being physically abused can go to a shelter, but where can I go? Someone told me, “File a complaint.” I tried that. I made many complaints, but my superiors don’t understand how poisonous this gossip-filled work environment can be. It’s a bitter fact that they think these men are needed to implement the program even if they are perverts. They can’t just fire them, so instead they tell me to be more patient and be silent.
I have been patient for months. But how can I spend all my days being humiliated at work. One friend suggested I quit. I can’t lose my job. First, I want to prove that women are strong—I want these men to change their behavior so that the next time they are working with a female colleague, they will treat her fairly. And second, my job is the only thing that enabled me to avoid a forced marriage and live a life of my choice.
I feel proud that my good skills are threatening to my Afghan male colleagues who torture their wives and sisters at home and think that all Afghan women are powerless. Fighting forced marriage, fighting harassment inside and outside work, fighting for my education—all of this on top of the fears that Taliban and ISIS could attack anytime and rule over the city—has been manageable. But either I will survive the traps created by my male colleagues, or I will give up at some point. This is my dilemma. I can guarantee that the day I lose my job, I will lose the power of making decisions for myself. My job and my education are my only sword to fight for my rights.
Photo: Fardin Waezi / UNAMA
It is sad to say this, but what you are talking about, seems to be quite epidemic. Also here in western Europe (except in the Nordic countries, they are truly ahead of all the rest in these issues!) in the heads of many males (not in all, thank God) this kind of thinking is deeply ingrained. Sometimes so deeply hidden, that they themselves don’t realise it is in them, but instead think of themselves as progressive! It is the story of opressor and opressed since centuries if not millenias, and as they always have gained from our losses, it is so much harder for them to let go of these thinkings, I suppose.
So there is still a long way to go, and from Afghan traditions even longer. I know how discouraging it can be, and also how difficult to even addres the issue, as many people don’t feel it to be an issue! Everywhere were somebody thinks he (mostly the case) or she has the right to decide for another the oppressed ones are not really heard, as the opressors feel they know what is best for the opressed, so why listen at all! It is the same thing with disabled persons, physical or mental. Not many people even think of asking them what they feel or want.
What can we women do who excpect to be treated as fellow human beings, instead of just reduced to the female sex? These men are stuck in conventions, don’t excpect too much change in them. Go your way with your head high knowing of your worth and don’t let them force you to behave as they think you ought to behave. Please don’t quit your job because of them! I am sure there must be some sensitive people in this NGO that can strengthen you every now and then. Are there some males that are less affected by thes old thinkings that could back you up? If you are the boss of those stuck men, can’t you suggest one or two of the worst ones to be replaced by better ones? The company can’t they employ a second independant female, so that the balance male-female were more even perhaps?
Don’t give up the work of raising humanitys standards slowly and unerringly. I wish you only the best!
You are speaking up for MILLIONS of women all over the world who feel bullied and pressed but unable to leave the situation, not without great sacrifice or pain. Women everywhere will understand this essay immediately. Men will, too. This is an important piece. Thank you for writing it. Wishing you strength and love and clear sight as you navigate the jungle known as the workplace.