An Afghan woman is born in the cradle of violence. She grows up with it, lives with it, and she dies in the grave of violence.

It starts with our beliefs from the time a mother teaches her children that the boy is praised and the girl is beaten. Instead she could teach that both of them are human and equal. “Paradise is under the feet of mothers.” I grew up hearing this, everyone learned it by heart, but we don’t understand the meaning. We are all women and we deserve to be respected and honored. A man respects his mother, but beats his wife. He may love his mother, but forces his sister to marry. He is ready to die for honor, but not willing to hear the news that his wife has given birth to a girl.

It makes me depressed and sad that Afghan women devote their lives to these traditions which say that “I, a woman, must live so that you, an Afghan man, can be king and leader. I, a woman, stop my education so that you, an Afghan man, can have your pride. I, a woman, become a victim so that you, an Afghan man, may control my life, buy me and sell me.”

It breaks my heart when I see so much violence against women in my country. I ask myself, can we change the situation? Will it ever end? What do we need to do to lessen violence in Afghan society? If violence ends, will there still be a country called Afghanistan? 

In order to end violence, we Afghan women need to build boundaries, not with our tears, but with wisdom and strength. We must protect ourselves and learn to say “No.” No more forced marriages—this phenomenon that ruins the life of so many young Afghan girls. Marriage is a part of life, not all of life. It carries too much importance the way it is now in Afghan society. A girl must have the choice to select her future husband. When the family selects a husband for her, the girl has no voice to defend herself.

She should be able to say, “My dear father, my dear brother, you think that if I have my choice, I will make a mistake. Maybe, but I will pay a higher price if you make a mistake. I will have to live with him in the long run. I must know him. I must choose him. Please trust me. Don’t keep me in the dark. I know how to make my personal decisions. I understand my rights.”

Women should educate themselves to become teachers who teach rights and laws for Afghans to remove the roots of violence from our culture. Women must educate themselves so that we become leaders and politicians and tell those who use violence against women that violence is not acceptable. When we beat a woman we kill her soul. That woman will deliver a child, and how can a dead soul, a destroyed mind, bring up a good child?

I hope a day will come when we won’t read the tragedy of Rabia Balkhi in our literature, but we see successes of Afghan women in all aspects of life. We will not have to rely on our husbands to decide when we are sick and have to go to the doctor.  I hope that a day will come when we write our names, introduce ourselves not as “daughter of a father, wife of a husband, and sister of a brother.” I hope for a day when no woman will go to her office with blurry eyes, beaten face, and a dead smile.

I hope that the day will come when no one will stop us from going to school. No one will attack our personal and private lives. No one will hide us under the burqa. No one will dare to say, “Shut up! Girls are not allowed to talk.” 

We must prove that we Afghan women understand our rights now. We know that we are different from men, but we are still equal. We deserve to live the way we want to live. Afghan women have shown that we are strong and will struggle to overcome violence; we are powerful to keep our voices heard; we are brave not to fear and continue to fight for equality. But this is not enough. We must work harder. The war against violence will be long and bitter. We Afghan women ask the international community to help us to fight for equality in Afghanistan. 

We remove violence by strengthening women. We step toward freedom when many of us—you, my dear sister—join us in the fight. Then my dear country Afghanistan will no longer be the worst place for women, but a good place for Afghan women to live.

By Pari