By Miranda Cleland
Salma’s husband was killed in a suicide bombing. Najia’s uncle trapped her in the house starting from a young age, forbidding her from going to school. Considering the years of war that have wracked Afghanistan, it’s sad but not surprising that just about every woman and girl has experienced more than one type of violence in her life. When asked, our students described many instances of verbal, physical, and sexual violence. The rate of violence against women in staggeringly high, but most women don’t dare speak out or call the police. They believe if their families find out they complained, their lives and reputations will be ruined. Therefore, for our students’ safety, their real names are not used in this article. “I feel violence in all parts of my life. If someone asked me how I’m still alive, I would say because of my daughter. If I didn’t have her, I would commit suicide. I feel depressed, and that has affected my overall life and studies,” Salma explained, crying. She is a 23 year old 10th grade student and widow in Kabul who lost her husband to a suicide attack.
Najia is another 10th grade student in Kabul. At 22 years old, she said she has experienced both physical and verbal violence throughout her life. “Of course, violence has a long lasting impact on our lives,” Najia said. “[When I was a child], I was an orphan living with my uncle. I had to do all the housework and was not allowed to go to school. Even after I got married, I experienced violence in my husband’s house. I was always thinking, ‘When will these days come to an end?’” Regardless of their situations, Salma and Najia are dedicated to making Afghanistan a better place for their children by addressing the causes of violence against women.
Most of our students consider decades of war, illiteracy, social, economic, and cultural factors to be root causes. Salma and Najia both believe illiteracy is the main cause of violence in Afghanistan. “When we are educated, we don’t accept those widely-accepted negative societal norms. I believe that not giving up and having the will to change society are key to eliminating violence against women in Afghanistan,” Najia said. Salma noted that not only men are violent towards women. “Sometimes illiterate women violate other women’s rights,” she said solemnly, taking some deep breaths. She hopes that the violence stops with her. “I decided to raise my daughter to protect her and not let her experience the violent life that I did.” Salma and Najia have hope for a peaceful Afghanistan where women live in safety. Join us in making sure Salma, Najia, their classmates, their children, and their families hold onto that hope for a bright, educated future.