by Miranda Cleland
Freshtah is not a typical sixth-grade student. She is a 27-year-old Afghan woman, once a child bride who lost an eye to an abusive husband who later abandoned her. Freshtah’s story is rare, not because of her difficult past, but because she is now going to school. Nearly every woman in Afghanistan has experienced violence in some way or another — physical, psychological, or sexual — in her lifetime. More often than not, gender-based violence keeps women out of sight and out of school. Violence against women is not random. Areas with low education levels and high instances of poverty and political instability tend to have higher rates of violence. Studies have also shown that violence against women is cyclical: perpetrators abuse women because they have seen it elsewhere, whether it be growing up at home, in public, or during a war. Ultra-patriarchal societies and attitudes have also been shown to catalyze high rates of violence against women, especially when the legal system fails to persecute abusive men. In Afghanistan, every single one of these factors is working simultaneously to conspire against half its population. If threatened by violent husbands, many Afghan women are unlikely to speak up out of fear for their lives. As a result, women suffer from isolation, mental and physical health problems, and lack of socioeconomic opportunity. Battered women rarely make it back to the school they had to leave as a child bride — often, their husbands forbid it and few schools will take them. At Aid Afghanistan for Education, these women are welcomed back to school at any age. Education is one of the largest factors that helps prevent and reduce instances of violence against women. Educated women are more likely to stand up to an abusive husband, and they will typically marry at an older age, bypassing the violence that goes hand in hand with child marriage. These opportunities also have a tangible impact amongst men. Educated men, especially those who have been taught about gender equality and women’s rights, are far less likely to commit acts of violence. In fact, many are beginning to use their position as a man to advocate for women. So what now? You know that millions of women across the world, including in Afghanistan, are subjected to violence on a daily basis. What can you do?
Women need you to speak up if you see someone being subjected to violence, treat the women in your life with kindness and respect, and educate your community about gender-based violence. Supporting survivors, both at home and around the world, is also key. Violence against women will not end overnight, but meaningful change happens one person at a time. Just ask Freshtah.