This selection of poems comes from young women participants in the Afghan Women's Writing Project, writing about their hopes for the future and their daily realities as young women in Afghanistan. To protect the women’s identities, only first names are used. AWWP writers must protect themselves from family members and a society-at-large that does not support a woman’s right to be truthful about her life and to share that truth with the world.
"Where am I?"
I am looking to find myself in the all crowded streets.
Where am I?
Am I in a street of hate? Or am I in the street of punishment for being a woman?
Am I in the street of love of education? Or am I in the street of falling of failure, where I always loses my wishes?
Even my smallest wish cannot become true.
Where am I?
I am in street where I have to wear a blue burqa
I have been told that I am a Muslim I must get married at 13, because elders say, Muslim girls must be married very soon
Where am I?
I am in the street of violence against me.
Because I am a woman living in Afghanistan, I want to find my reality, but where I can find it?
Everywhere, I have the feel of being insulated by others.
I am in the street of progress, where my country's women fight to get their right to vote,
even if I do not want to vote because my government is not truthful with me and other women, so why should I go and vote for nothing?
My vote will not count. My vote will not matter.
Where am I?
I have lost myself in all the streets of sadness.
Where is the happiness street, so I can go there?
Voices are getting louder and louder,
Those voices that have always been meaningful
Even when no one heard or cared about them
Those voices that tear the moon, sun, stars—
The sky screams for the sorrowful voices
The sun spreads their sound everywhere
The moon smiles for the chattering hearts of women who always wanted the world to hear
Stars get energy from those voices and shine
Yes, these are the voices of those desperate and hopeful Afghan women
Who were tomboys in childhood, but when they grew up instead of a pen they got a baby in their hands
Who were always thirsty to see the world beyond the house
Who always wanted to take a deep breath in fresh air, but the prison of the burqa became like a part of the body
Who always tried to have a voice, but were silenced
Whose dreams remained dreams
For whom tears, grief, and worry were friends
Who sacrificed their lives for others and never wanted to break hearts
Who gave everything for the world
Now from those voices come magic words:
I am proud
I am a woman
I am not going to dream anymore,
I will make my dreams come true
I am powerful
I challenge the people who hate women
Woman means life
Woman means humanity
Woman means guider
Woman means ability
I will show you that one day woman means power
Life begins with woman
And ends with woman
Is complete with woman
"One Day Is Today"
If loud laughs and talk are bad for a girl, I will keep laughing, loudly.
No matter what people think, I will wear what I wish.
No matter how people scold and whisper, I will raise my voice against violence and inequality—
No matter if I lose my life in this way I will show people my power and ability,
And never, ever stop, until we end the pent-up frustration caused by those who think women are only good for staying home and giving birth.
I am confident my unprecedented steps will change minds and give me respect as a human one day
One day is today, today gives me momentum to move on without fear
And free myself from barriers standing against our rights in the name of religion.
Today, we are not alone; the world hears our voices.
Today, more than one million girls are going to schools and universities.
Today, they are ready to fight for their rights, to study, to work, to pick their own partner and make life’s decisions.
No matter what challenges I face, I will fight, until I get my rights;
I will seek, until I reach my goals, No matter what obstacles I encounter.
I will break all barriers ahead.
I will keep moving in my own way.
No matter how people judge me.
"Hope, Fear, Wish"
I wake to do something new, something I have done never before, get the highest score on my lesson at the university, and get my Ph.D. from Harvard, do my task at the office properly. I wake to peace in my country, a blue sky that will never be covered with smoke again. I am becoming— becoming a successful writer. I write about women, and this, my greatest hope— I write that there is no violence against us, that all women and children live in peace, that we will struggle no more.
A suicide attack, the Taliban returns to power, schools close—again. 2014, when international forces will withdraw, Women wear burqas, stay closed in at home. Civil war, people fleeing their country. Then I listen, hear my heart. It calls me to be optimistic about the future. Try to be positive, it says. Don’t think of the negative.
And then I wish that my friends may have a peaceful life, at home, to see my mother happy, to see my brothers’ and sisters’ lives filled with prosperity, to see mutual respect among all religions. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, Freedom to believe in my country. No one should be threatened because of her beliefs. All ones should respect and love each other, because of our humanity, not because of religion, faith, race, blood, gender. Each woman has the right to make decisions about her life. Each man should respect a woman’s capabilities. Men need to know their lives are incomplete without women. No more mistrust, paranoia, or poverty.
I am a woman and I have skills. I am intelligent, and I am strong. I am not afraid of challenges. I fight because it is my right. I am patient and will never give up. I will be faithful to this pledge until the end of my life.
"What It Means To Be a Muslim Woman"
I still remember my mother’s words. She said, “We must send our daughter to the mullah at the mosque to learn the holy Quran.” But my father with a serous voice said, “No, she doesn’t need to learn the Quran from a mullah at the mosque.”
As long as I remember things from my childhood I remember that there was always fighting in our house, because my mother thought she was closer to God for praying five times a day. Others had to respect her for this reason and trust her even when she was wrong in many of her life styles and thoughts. My father began his day doing gymnastics and my mother in the early morning in winter days broke the ice and got ready for her morning prayers. My mother believed that it was God who gave us health and removed sickness from the human body, while my father missed going to parties and picnics but not his gym. Dad was doing all his work according to a timetable and a plan. He never missed or failed in anything, but Mom was always against having future plans. She believed it was already written in our faith and that things would come by themselves, if we worshiped God. My mother was my first love. I loved my father after God. I didn’t know who I was. What could I do to be a daughter to both my father and my mom? I felt hurt when my mom’s relatives visited our house and they laughed at my father because he didn’t pray. “Shame on him,” they said, whispering with each other. “We don’t like to eat in his house. The food doesn’t taste good because he is not praying.” It was a big pain in my heart and I couldn’t talk about it with anyone. Every night I had a hundred unanswered questions and thought a lot about myself and my relationship with God. I asked myself, “Who is God? Who is right in our house, my mom or my father?” One day I asked Dad, “Do you believe in God?” I instantly regretted daring to ask this question, but my father smiled and pointed for me to sit closer to him. I sat right in front of him and he answered me. “I do believe in God, but not the God of the mullahs,” he laughed. “And not the God of your mother!” He told me stories of Buddha, the way people worship God in India, Zoroastrians, Baha’i believers, Christians, and nonbelievers in God. He told me that there is one God, but all human beings have different ways to find God and find peace in their hearts and in their lives. I began to read and study about Islam in the last years of my high school, after the wild period of the Taliban, but at school my teachers had the same ideas as my mom. They thought that as a girl I should not eat at a restaurant. I must not talk with foreign non-Muslim women and if I shake hands with a man when I die God will directly send me to hell and my grave will burn from inside forever! At the same time that I was reading about religions I was trying to be against all these beliefs. I did eat in restaurants. I worked with non-Muslim women and warmly shook hands with men. I worked with an American lady and she was very strict about doing office work in a timely manner. However, when I was praying she respected me and didn’t come back to my office for an hour to give me a long break to finish my prayers. When I was fasting she told me to leave work earlier and go home and make my favorite food for If tar. I always receive the first Eid wishes and congratulations from my non-Muslim friends. One day, I talked with a Christian friend about God and she turned to tears after she understood my thoughts about God and I understood there is so much that we have in common. Being a Muslim woman doesn’t mean to hide myself under a black tent, and walk after my husband outside home because he is ashamed to walk with me in the public. According to my beliefs it is just God who is powerful, not men. A man can never decide for me what to do or not to do. According to the words of God I must know myself, educate myself and stand on my own feet. I believe that God created the universe for me to enjoy life through a love of God and that he is kind and merciful toward me. He created me to love him and myself. I don’t like to have taboo religious beliefs. I am not interested in the Taliban’s paradise and I will never enter there! As a Muslim woman I fight to remove tears from the eyes and my Qibla is a smile on the lips of all human beings. When everybody is happy I can pray and thank my Almighty Allah.
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