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Faiza Elmasry – WNN Breaking

Women wearing burqas in Kabul, Afghanistan

Women stand together in a line outside wearing blue burqas in Kabul, Afghanistan. Image: AWWP

(WNN/VOA) Kabul, AFGHANISTAN: In the virtual space created by The Afghan Women’s Writing Project ( AWWP), women have the freedom to write about whatever they want and they can receive mentoring by a volunteer team of teachers and authors. Zahra A., who is in her 20s, is excited about telling her story through the project’s web site.

“She’s a daughter of uneducated farmers who place a high value on education for their children in the face of community and extended family disapproval,” says American novelist Naomi Benaron, who is Zahra’s mentor. “She puts despair on the page, but she’s eternally hopeful.”

Zahra teaches English at an orphanage and writes about Afghan girls’ life experiences and aspirations.

Masha Hamilton, an American journalist and novelist, founded The Afghan Women’s Writing Project in 2009, ten years after her first visit to Kabul. She was inspired, she says, by all the strong, smart Afghan women she encountered, who are eager to learn and express themselves.

“It’s important for a certain kind of survival to tell your own story, to tell it out loud. When you tell your story, you see it in different ways, and then you make changes that are right for you,” Hamilton says. “We don’t teach English. They write in English as the best they can. We fix it up. We work with them on their creative story-telling abilities.”

Over the past three years, the number of women taking part in the project has grown steadily, as the women share their experiences with their friends and family.

“We have about 100 writers now,” says journalist Susan Postlewaite, who edits their stories and poetry. “We’re adding more writers. Our oldest writer is 45, our youngest writer is about 14.”

These women often face enormous risks to write their stories. Postlewaite says some of them hide laptops under their burqas while walking through Taliban-controlled territory.

“They do write in secret to some extent. Their families may not necessarily be supportive of them expressing their opinions to the world,” she says. “We had one writer who did write in secret. She had to walk four hours to get to an Internet [cafe], she was accompanied by a young male relative.”

Recently, AWWP moved out of cyberspace into an actual building in the capital city, Kabul, where women can come, use the Internet and inspire one another.

“I feel I’m not alone and there’s a need for change,” says Mahnaz, 20, who joined the group three years ago.

In her poem “Legitimizing Inequality,” she explores how women become victims of cultural and religious beliefs.

Mahnaz wants to continue writing and dreams of becoming a novelist. She says The Afghan Women’s Writing Project opened the door for her and other writers to have a voice and be a force for change.


Here’s some of the poems published by the AWWP – Afghan Women’s Writing Project:

Daughter of War
by Zahra A.

I am a daughter of war.
When I was born,

The war was going on.
The sky was dark.
The houses were broken.
The weather was dusty.
The trees were seared.
There was no plant,
No awake human,
No tears in the eyes left.
The streets were covered
By dead human bodies;
The blood was like a river
In the street, house and everywhere.
I didn’t consider failure.
I was full of hope;
I could see
Green places, a blue sky,
Smiles on everyone’s face, tall buildings,
A book in my hand,
Sitting under the tree,
Studying with my parents and siblings,
In my dreams.
War never gave this chance.
War took my parents from us.
War took my book
And gave me burqa;
They put me in the jail of burqa.
War forbade me from going outside.
War changed my beautiful land
To the worst place in the world.
War changed our smiles to tears.

War made our dreams
Of going to school,
Freedom of speech,
To be just a dream…

Legitimizing Inequality
by Mahnaz

We were cooked.
They made us raw,
burned us and buried us. Those
men and women who carry the
stick in their hands,
gaze of blame in their eyes,
sting of insult from their tongues, they
set fire to our wisdom, then
called us ignorant!
Siasar !
Naqisul Aql !
They use our love for others as an
excuse to tell us we are
weak in faith, too emotional for
a prophet, imam, judge, or leader. They
betray us by twisting our nature to use against us,
then call us Najis. Nasty. Unclean.
They make a hammer from religion,
pound us in the head,
fool us with hell. We question
injustice and they tell us we
breach the quality of life so we are
infidel. We ask for equality and they
call us impious, deviant.

They use our body, then
mock our beauty and call us weak.
They use our fairness to sell our soul, to
crush our dignity. They are individual
men and women who hold
tight to their ways by telling us we are
unequal. This is how they enforce
wrong cultural beliefs.
They are wrong.
We are not infidel.
We are different but equal.
We are women
Strong in our faith and ability.