Thanks for coming by the AWWP site. Your involvement in this project—by reading the work of these Afghan women and offering comments of support—is crucial. This project began as a kitchen table idea, but has grown to include passionate and committed and talented people from across the U.S. and abroad, and that collaboration has made AWWP far richer than it would ever have been otherwise.
AWWP is dedicated to Zarmeena, a mother of seven who was executed by the Taliban in the Kabul’s Ghazi Stadium on November 16, 1999, for allegedly killing her husband. A videotape of the execution was smuggled out by RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) and ran on the AP wire, where I happened to see it. Watching the videotape of Zarmeena kneeling on the soccer stadium and then being shot repeatedly was beyond disturbing. Without knowing any particulars, I wondered if in fact her act hadn’t been criminal, but instead had been one of enormous courage. I was determined to find out about her so that I could in some personal way honor her memory.
But few details were available, and this brought home to me that not only were women hidden beneath burqas, but their stories were silenced. After many years as a journalist, I had come to believe that telling our own stories is as important to a certain kind of survival as food and shelter. In response, I began to learn what I could about Afghanistan, reading books and articles, attending lectures. Through this process, I became further convinced that the voices of women were primarily available only through the media or their men; we heard little from them directly.
This interest led to my first visit to Afghanistan in 2004. I visited women in prison in Kabul and Kandahar, interviewed child brides, did shiatsu on women in Wardak, spoke to the matriarch of a family of opium growers outside Kandahar. The mood among women at that time was hopeful. When I returned at the end of 2008, though, I found the mood much more somber; the Taliban, never fully banished, was regaining strength, and women were concerned. This led to the founding of the project in May 2009.
Our mission is to support the voices of women with the belief that to tell one’s story is a human right. Though it sounds simple, I cannot say how important I think this is in a country where women have been told their stories do not matter, and urged to be silent, and warned against honesty.
But why should we care about an essay by a woman from Kandahar, or a poem by a woman from Logar? Because in telling their own stories, we’ve seen these women gather strength, courage, and self-confidence. They become empowered to make change within their homes, their communities, and eventually their country. They also gain computer literacy and skills of language and critical thinking, which increases their job-related skills. A number have used as part of their job or school applications work written for AWWP, shepherded through by our award-winning mentors and editors, and put up on a site updated constantly by our volunteer webmaster. They have become lawyers, journalists, parliament members.
Additionally, the voices of women tend to be moderating influences, and this makes it more important than ever that they become part of the national dialogue and eventually perhaps part of a movement that will speak out on issues important to women, issues of job and educational equality, healthcare, and more.
Thanks for the time you spend on this site, and for your support of these sisters of ours half a world away. I finish with the words of one of our writers, Roya, and with all my thanks.
Warmly, Masha Hamilton
I took my pen to write and at first I was afraid: what to write? about what? But this was a project to write about everything, and I took the pen; I didn’t write from outside of my heart, I began to write about whatever was in my heart… The writing project gave me a voice, the project gave me courage to appear as a woman, to tell about my life, to share my pains and experiences. I wonder how big the change in my destiny is because of your work and this project. Who would trust an online class, a writing project, to change a destiny and a faith? AWWP gave me the power to feel I am not only a woman; it gave me a title, an Afghan woman “writer.” … I took the pen and I wrote and everything changed. I learned if I stand, everyone will stand, other women in my country will stand. —Roya