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