Achieving literacy among girls and women remains one of the big development challenges for Afghanistan today, but also one that many believe holds the most promise. In this section, the tenth in our Oral Story Series begun in 2012, we bring you stories from illiterate women about their views on women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Because the women cannot write their own stories, AWWP writers in four provinces conducted interviews in August with illiterate women in Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, and Nangarhar.  These are women whose parents denied them an education, whose husbands do not permit them to go outside alone, whose faces are covered.

In I Had a Dream of Becoming Literate, 50-year-old Hejera in Mazar-e-Sharif tells us: “I stay home all the time, cooking, baking, laundering, and doing all the house chores. I cannot do anything else because I am an illiterate woman. My parents would not allow me to go to school. They worried about me getting killed or raped. I was not allowed to go outside alone. I am still not allowed to go out alone.”

Listen to Paikar, 45, in Kabul. In My Husband Follows Taliban Rules, she tells our interviewer that women’s rights are not necessarily improving, even in the capital city. “I used to wear the burqa. Now I wear a black covering… Afghanistan is full of Taliban and ISIS and they do not allow people to live a happy life.”

Shajan, 47, a mother and housewife in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, shares her disillusionment with talk about women’s rights in I Regret Forcing My Daughter to Marry at Sixteen. “I have heard a lot about women’s rights in theory, but I never saw it being practiced… I wear the blue burqa and I am not allowed to go alone outside the house. Everyone is illiterate in our house… I always had a dream of being a literate woman, a teacher, to be like a man without fear of doing what is right for me, to be bold, to help the poor and be an example for my children.” 

Our writers transcribed and translated these stories into English. All stories have been edited for clarity and length.

To read more click on the links below.

Susan Postlewaite
Editor-in-Chief, Afghan Women’s Writing Project 

To read more Oral Stories by AWWP writers, click here.

Founded in 2009, AWWP is staffed by dozens of volunteers and financially sponsored by donors. Please click the button to donate now.

Photo: Canada in Afghanistan/Zakarya Gulistani. Graphics by Blatman Design.