Since 2009, the Afghan Women’s Writing Project has helped hundreds of Afghan women craft essays and poems and share them with the world. Because of these writings, thousands of readers each month hear directly from Afghan women on issues of great cultural, political, and personal significance.
We now proudly share with you our cooperative project with StoryCenter’s Silence Speaks initiative, launched to further amplify Afghan women’s voices by use of video storytelling. By presenting their personal stories as recordings accompanied by their own imagery, we believe these brave women’s voices will touch viewers deeply. We are also excited to work in a medium more broadly accessible in Afghanistan – video – for only 18% of adult Afghan women read and write (UNESCO).
These videos were created through an online digital storytelling workshop conducted using a series of pre-recorded webinars, Skype sessions, and emails. This innovative methodology was developed by Silence Speaks and shared with a small group of bilingual (Dari-English speaking) Afghan women who have already been writing with AWWP. After composing their stories with support from Silence Speaks, the writers gathered and took photos and video clips to illustrate their work. Those who were not able to create original visual material received assistance on illustration and videography. All identifying information has been kept confidential; “pen” names were used, and faces were blurred in photographs.
The project relied on AWWP partner and well-known Afghan activist Noorjahan Akbar to record the stories as a way of protecting the safety of the digital storytelling workshop participants. We are happy to premiere the stories online with this beautiful introduction from Noorjahan.
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Recently, I had the chance to volunteer with Afghan Women’s Writing Project and StoryCenter’s Silence Speaks initiative to assist with a collaborative digital storytelling project. Because it the policy of AWWP to protect the privacy of its writers in order to ensure their safety in a context where speaking out continues to put Afghan women at risk of harm, I prepared audio recordings for use in the short digital videos presented here. The experience was inspiring and a true example of what women are able to achieve when they decide to stand together and with each other.
As an Afghan woman myself, in these stories I find bits and pieces of my own life and the lives of women I have lived and worked with. Spoken in plain language, the authenticity of these stories is like a breath of fresh air in a world where the diversity of Afghan women’s own voices is often missing from conversations that others have about us.
Whether it is a story about the brutal violence families faced under the Taliban regime, a memory of street harassment, or a retelling of the universal sadness of losing a loved one, the narratives presented here bring to life the every day experiences of Afghan women in a way rarely seen before. They tell not only of the tremendous obstacles Afghan women, and the nation as a whole, face, but also of the resilience that prevents the country from giving up to terror, to war, and to hopelessness.
Perhaps what I love most about these stories is that they are just that. They are real stories, by real women, written without the explicit intention to change the dominant narratives about Afghan women, but doing so nevertheless. Whether in Afghan or Western media, Afghan women are often depicted as voiceless victims of abuse whose only story is oppression, but as much as violence is a reality for most Afghan women- and a reality that literally kills- there is more to us than that.
Perhaps it is because of the incredible amount of violence we face that our accomplishments, our writings, our history, and our voices matter. Perhaps it is because of the silencing impact of gender-based violence that amplifying the multitude of our stories, and experiences- of violence and apart from it- matters. Perhaps it is because of the way “Afghan woman” has become synonymous with the image of a maimed body that it matters so much that we must be the ones telling our stories- even if those stories speak of violence. Perhaps this is why it matters that we are the heroes and the subjects of our own stories. That we are continuing to speak through these stories and many many others, is a bold protest against viocelessness and against the black-and-white picture painted of our lives. We are here to say that we have a voice, and our entire identities should not and will not be reduced to stories of violence and war.
Noorjahan Akbar is a writer and human rights advocate from Afghanistan. She runs freewomenwriters.org.
Who Says I Can’t Ride a Bike? by Raha
I Want to Be a Boy by Freshta B.
Graduation Day by Najwa
My Grandma by Negina
We Must Shine by Marzia
I Will Never Forget by Shokria
My Chance by Sharifa
The Rain by AF