Since I was 7 years old, I have dedicated my life to women and girls. My mother was married at 14 years old and I had my first marriage proposal when I was twelve. Growing up in Afghanistan, I have always felt the discrimination and violence against women but instead of becoming discouraged, I decided I would not be a victim of child marriage. I decided I would help women and girls.
In a lot of countries, the problems women and girls face, stem from tradition, power, and culture. There is a long standing cultural and traditional acceptance of a value system that endorses violence against women. That belief is passed down from generation to generation. In this culture, women have no power and no control of their own rights. Domestic violence is illegal in Afghanistan, but there are deep-seated views of women, not as human beings with rights, but as the property of their families, making the law difficult to enforce. According to the United Nations Development Fund for Women, nearly 90 percent of Afghan women suffer from domestic abuse, which is often caused by close relatives.
Unfortunately, domestic violence is socially not considered a crime. It is also common place to arrest runaways from forced marriage or abusive family members. The Afghan legal system fails to protect women from rape, forced marriages, and domestic violence. Furthermore, rape is complicated by deep-seated cultural and religious beliefs. Once raped, a woman or girl becomes tarnished goods. Some of these women will never marry and are perceived a lifelong financial burden to their family. Sometimes when a rape victim goes to the police, she is arrested and accused of zina–an adultery crime. Some hide their assaults out of fear of their lives. Sometimes the combination of the abuse and the knowledge of no support from the government, friends or family, leads the victims to suicide.
Tradition holds an important factor in people’s minds, and there is a vicious cycle that is created: male children see their fathers beat their mothers and they think“this is just what happens”so they copy them. In order to change this culture, both women and men will have to be educated about the dangers of violence against women and women will have to demand change. Changing cultural norms is not easy and it will take many years. But starting the process of educating one another is the only way to solve the problem. Beginning from childhood, young boys need to be taught to respect women and view them as equals. Besides education, another way to change culture is to create laws that require men to treat women with respect and not to abuse them. The Afghan government must pass the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law. Afghanistan’s government needs to take a consistent hard line with abusers and rapists to show that this cultural norm is no longer acceptable under any circumstance.
I believe that the problem of violence against women is multifaceted and will not be solved overnight. I also believe that feminism knows no borders. Women from all over the world must support each other to end violence and discrimination. Women everywhere face such tragic affronts to their physical and psychological well-being; therefore, feminists from all over the world need to stand shoulder to shoulder to make the world a safe place, a better place, for every woman, girl, and person.