Refugee Families Adjust to the U.S. After Fleeing Afghanistan

Soora and Abed Jawad

The Taliban seizing control of Afghanistan back in late August has caused thousands of Afghan families to leave everything they have ever known to flee the country due to concerns with their safety and wellbeing. These families did not have many choices; their options were to stay and live-in fear or escape to a new country. Although the latter appears to be the better option of the two, having to evacuate to a brand-new country to escape danger and violence can also be intimidating- especially when the new country is overseas, speaks a different language, and has different cultural values, norms and expectations. These factors make fleeing a country strongly affect families and their structures and dynamics, which has been the case for many of these Afghan families.

Due to most of Afghanistan’s neighboring countries – Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Iran – closing their borders, over 100,000 Afghans were airlifted out of the country by the United States and their partners. About 65,000 of these refugees are being placed in the United States, though it is not clear how many families this number consists of. With Afghanistan sitting in the northern and eastern hemispheres of the world, it will take adjusting for these individuals and families to become situated with the culture and environment that stems from the United States being in the western hemisphere. In fact, Soora Jawad of the Jawad family interviewed by CNNeven went to express her surprise at all the greenery here in the U.S., something many U.S. citizens do not tend to think much of.

When discussing fleeing their native country, the Jawads say it feels like they are starting over. The family of three had very little money after arriving in the U.S., but Soora says this is what they had to do for the sake of their young daughter, after facing immense amounts of stress and being unable to eat due to worrying about their child.

The Jawads are now living in Virginia- one of the states welcoming the most amount of refugees, at about 1,166. The family found housing through one of the nine resettlement agencies supported by the Afghan Placement and Assistance program to provide resources for the Afghan families in need as they settle into the U.S. They were given comfort items by a refugee support group, including toys for their daughter and beds to sleep in- an upgrade from sleeping on the floor like they had to do when they first arrived.

However, the Jawads are now left jobless and must start paying their rent on their own after two months. Back in Afghanistan, Soora was nearly complete with her residency to become a heart surgeon and her husband Abid worked as an accountant- both high-paying jobs that promised financial stability that the family now does not have. They may be smiling in the interview but searching for jobs can impose great deals of stress and even strain on refugee families like the Jawads, as if leaving home with little to no clothes and toiletries and other belongings wasn’t enough.

The Jawads are just one family that fled from Afghanistan. Reality is, there’s plenty more, and not all have some of the advantages the Jawads have- most likely, not all are as highly educated as Soora and Abid are and many do not speak English like this family does, as well. And in this case, the entire family got to flee together, and it is reasonable to believe that this may have not been the case for all refugees. Lack of education, language barriers, and the splitting of families can all impact Afghan refugees and their families and the Shinwaris are an example of one that have been affected.

The Shinwari family is another Afghan family that recently fled their homeland due to the country’s current circumstance. Although this family has also been given resources upon arrival, the Shinwaris face many obstacles that the Jawads did not. Despite now living in a safer situation, the family is left with many concerns, including that they do not speak English, they cannot drive, and they do not have the education for work. Father Mohammed is having issues with his leg after being hit by bullets back in Afghanistan and Mother Madina also gave birth to a baby girl in the air while fleeing, as well.

On the other hand, families like the Mahrammis can be a symbol of hope for a better life for the Afghan families entering the U.S. in recent months. The Mahrammis arrived in the U.S. from Afghanistan back in 2017 and were met with large expenses, such as hospital bills and the need for a car for employment. They had to grow accustomed to the cultural differences between the two countries- in fact, the differences are so significant that father Hossein proposes an idea for a class about American culture to be offered to refugees. The concept of small talk with strangers – something we all do in our daily lives here in the U.S. – was brand new to this family and many other Afghan refugees.

Hossein describes knowing his children are receiving a great education and not fearing for his wife’s safety when she is outside alone as a great feeling. He appears very optimistic about the family’s future, as well. The Mahrammis now having educational, financial, and other opportunities here that they did not have in Afghanistan can improve their family structure and dynamic, and stories like this one can potentially, in a way, comfort the Afghan families who have not yet gotten on their feet here in the U.S, knowing the good that could possibly be in store for them.

With Afghans still fleeing the country and more than half a million expected to flee Afghanistan by the end of this year, there is no doubt that these families will continue to be greatly impacted in the U.S. and wherever else they may have to flee to because of their need to do so.


(By Raven Albert)

(Photo Credit: CNN)

Afghanistan, where life is a cruel race with death

Afghanistan, where life is a cruel race with death. On Wednesday an ISIS suicide bomber walked into an education centre for the national university entrance exam and detonated his bomb belt killing over 40 students in their teens and early 20s. This attack came amid an accelerating spate of violence following the four-day siege of the Ghazni province which resulted in the death of hundreds of civilians and Afghan armed forces. Over 10,000 civilians were killed or injured only in 2017, hundreds of whom were killed in the capital, Kabul. Afghans live in a state of perpetual mourning young lives , dreams that are crushed and smiles that perished forever, with a question lingering in the back of our minds, “Who should we mourn first, yesterday’s victims, today’s or tomorrow’s?”. Yet these people maintain their resilience and strive for a better future while there is no clear end to the war in sight.

Afghans know that a sustainable peace process in Afghanistan depends on overcoming not just one but many formidable hurdles, including the Taliban and the so-called ISIS-Khorasan Province; and the perpetual direct and indirect interference of neighbouring and regional countries: Iran’s subversion, Pakistan and India’s conflict; the US, Russia and China’s influence and ambitions in the region and the list can go on. For now the prospects of peace in Afghanistan remain grim, it has been for the past 40 years and the war is unlikely to abate anytime soon.

However, in the face of it all, the honour and resilience of the Afghan people requires wide acknowledgement and is a source of inspiration.  While students are constantly held in the crossfire of war; and extremist groups  threaten to wipe out the future of a generation of millions of children; many families still prioritize education.  According to the War Child, education helps families in stressful war circumstances give their children a “sense of normality and improves the prospects of recovery and longer-term wellbeing.” In recent years many Afghan youths have been actively participating in book clubs, academic conferences, social discourses and have created an open culture of criticism and free expression within their communities and on social media.  However, this has come at a price of losing lives and loved ones.

In the aftermath of the attack on the education centre, as usual reactions of sorrow, anger and call for justice poured in the social media by Afghans all over the world. Photographs of the scene were widely circulated on the social media, depicting the rubble, the bloodied floor, tattered notebooks and textbooks, shattered windows, broken desks and chairs, and body parts. These photographs accompanied mournful statements and a call of solidarity and encouragement for the youth to continue education. In the obituary of one of the victims, Madina Lali, the family wrote, “No one can derail us from our pursuit of education. If you martyr one of our students, we extend a hand to 5 more and enter schools and universities. Once more we will rise from blood and ashes and will salute wisdom and knowledge. No one can eliminate us.”

Moreover, stabilization of a fragile state like Afghanistan also requires a comprehensive approach to ensure justice. It is not enough to respond to the Taliban and the ISIS who are implicated in the killings of thousands of civilians, just by military action. They always rise again and in more numbers than before. In order to kill the concept and ideology of these terrorist groups; their brutality and corruption need to be exposed and brought to justice.

Since November 2017 till January 2018, thousands of Afghans civilians and journalists have filed complaints with the International Criminal Court of Justice (ICC) against the extremist groupssuch as the Taliban, the Afghan National Security Forces, and the U.S.-led forces. The ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda says there is a “reasonable basis to believe” that war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan have been committed by all sides and asked for authorization from a pre-trial chamber of judges to fully investigate. The people behind these atrocities need to face their crimes in the court of justice and not be given impunity in the course of any peace negotiations.

Afghans are in perpetual mourning of the daily loss of lives. We start our days with a dose of news of yesterday’s casualties of war and end our nights counting today’s casualties; all the time wondering which friend or family was among them. And yet we have maintained our resilience and strive for better tomorrows even though there is no end in sight for the current war. “We will rise from blood and ashes and salute wisdom and knowledge.”


(Photo provided by author)

Gretchen Carlson, Fox News, U.S foreign policy, and the women of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria

Gretchen Carlson, sexual harassment, Fox News, POTUS, women’s lives in war-torn Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. Let’s connect the dots.

Fox News is the mouthpiece of POTUS; it is a brainwashing machine that spins the POTUS’ view, backing the U.S wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now Syria, makes the public believe that the country is fighting for freedom, and promotes white privilege ideology and American exceptionalism. Fox news anchors are expected to toe this political line, and they do, paying homage to the supreme leader, the troops, the NRA, pro-life. Fox is a right wing enterprise that supports unquestioningly the collateral damage of U.S. led wars—the overwhelming number of civilian casualties in Iraq, the number of females who are refugees in Syria and Jordan, some of them forced into prostitution in order to survive.

Gretchen Carlson, as one of these Fox news anchors, toed this line, barely blinking an eye at the extreme suffering of the Iraqi and Afghan women at the mercy of U.S. air strikes. Fox news only made the audience aware of American troop deaths, not the terrible loss of life of Iraqis and the plight of the survivors.

Fox News Corporation, built on the patriarchal, capitalist model, is a greenhouse for sexual oppression. Just as it views the outside world as inferior to a white, Christian U.S., so too does it have a hierarchy where victims would not be able to complain readily because of the stakes stacked against them. I am not sure if Gretchen was beginning to see the connection between Fox news’ attitude to U.S. policies toward the world and its own internal politics of how powerful males treated their female employees. Perhaps she was beginning to see the connection when she said last year that assault weapons ought to be banned, totally out of line for a Fox anchor to articulate. And filing the sexual harassment lawsuit against Aisles was another shock.

Gretchen, after her resignation from Fox, has now written a book, is advocating for women, speaking at women’s rights events, and so on. I am glad that she filed a lawsuit against Roger Aisles for sexual harassment. But does she see the larger picture of Fox’s vision of the world that ignores women under U.S. tyranny who have died, who have lost everything, their countries reduced, and infrastructure ruined? Can these women ever file lawsuits against the U.S. government?


(Photo Credit: Vox / Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

The Stoned

The Stoned image

“I’m dead,” snorted the giant mammal as it crushed me. It fell on me wailing and crying before silence pervaded it. The world suddenly ceased to exist as a hush fell over everything. Over me.

No more of the savage howling of the wind, or the crackling sound of broken bones as stones rained from skies. I am crushed, not more than goo anymore. And I am lost in the abyss of its huge eye pressing onto me.

“I’m dead,” she says.

She pauses. Searching for words she can’t find.

“What about me?” I ask.

She ignores me, as if I don’t matter enough. That’s so typical of humans, so condescending.

“Ants do matter” I try to assure myself.

“If only I could hide in that crack on the wall. Who knows, I might have found myself in wonderlands,” she snorts with bitter laughter.

She pauses, searching for the look of contempt on my face. I realize that the deep nothingness inside me has dwindled. I can see and remember, as if I have always been part of her, present in all moments of her existence. My imperturbable face assures her.

A streak of light invading the wall from the corner of the curtain illuminates the cracks on the wall. It creates the image of a lonely thunderbolt frozen in time among the dried leafless brunches of a jungle. There is a new crack on the wall. It appeared last week. But it seems so familiar now, as if it has always been there, one of the crowds.

She feels a burning sensation as the cold tip of the knife cuts through the skin on her forearm. The world starts moving again. She licks the cut and tastes the salty metallic taste of blood on her tongue and contemplates the millions of bacteria that might have just entered her blood stream. With a faint lopsided smile on her lips, she imagines herself shrinking and entering the narrow crack on the wall.

The feeble light of an old lamp lights the sombre mud walls of the room. The nails holding the old and heavy blanket that covers the window have bent. ‘People talk,’ her mother had thought when she had nailed the blanket to the wooden frame of the window. She had told her, “It keeps the cold away”. The air outside this gloomy room is pitilessly raw. Stars have long forsaken its haunted sky.

Her frail body is crouched in a corner. Her pale complexion and the weariness in her eyes make her look out of this world. She is nostalgically listening to the tinkling of the stars as darkness infiltrates her skin.

Her heart is not beating. She puts her hand through her neckline, her skin feels hot against her cold sweaty palm. She has the look of someone teetering on a cliff, looking for something to hold on to. Anxiously moving her palm around to feel her heartbeat, she slightly brushes a nipple. Her hand violently jerks and withdraws itself of its own accord, creating a rush on the skin on her neck. Her heart is drumming in her ears as fear and disgust cling in the stifled air. Fear of stepping into forbidden territories.

She imagines beyond the curtain the sky changes colour. A storm roars. Rain impinges on earth washing away the walls like paint. The wind howls and uproots the dried up trees sending logs of wood dancing into the sky. She looks up. The gods are feasting and playing and the world is dancing all around her. Incessant needles of rain kiss her skin and she relishes in the pain of it all.

Clinching her fists so tight that her nails tear into the flesh of her palms, she screams. From the bottom of her lungs, with all the power she can gather in her fragile body. And for the first time, she hears her own voice.

Her sound is lost in the whirlwind of all things that should matter.

“I’m dead,” she reiterates calmly; “it really doesn’t matter, not anymore”.

Her corpse is pulled up as her eyes stare blankly into nothingness. A cold drop of tear washes me away from her. And as I fall into the dirt at the bottom of the pit, I see the question in her eyes. ‘Does it?’


(Image by Leeda Mehran)

The Unwanted Afghan Immigrants In Pursuit of Golden Pavements

Accomplishing the twelve labours of Hercules, Afghan refugees get to Europe. They risk their lives, leaving everything and everyone they love behind. All this time, knowing that they might forever be branded as unwanted refugees and immigrants and might never recover from the nostalgia for “home”. For a better life.

According to Reuters, Afghans are widely viewed as unwanted migrants that form the sixth largest group of asylum seekers in Europe’s economic powerhouse in the first 10 months of this year. Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere had previously said that Afghan should “stay in their country”.

On Wednesday speaking a joint conference with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani in Berlin, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel threatened that Afghans who arrive in Germany in pursuit of better financial circumstances will be deported back home, “But where refugees come hoping for a better life – and I know that this hope is big for many – that is no reason to get asylum status or residency status here”. She further stated that “protected zones” should be created within Afghanistan, so that people living in unsafe areas move to protected and safe regions of their own country, instead of heading to Europe.

However, what caused a major backlash in the Afghan social media was the way the Afghan president responded. Concurring with Merkel that false information regarding immigration to Germany has been circulating which should be cleared; Ghani said, “We need to…make sure that everybody understands the streets are not paved with gold”.

With the exodus of Afghans, Afghan leaders have been concerned about the “brain drain”- the departure of some of the best minds of its young generation. Ghani’s government has launched a slick social-media campaign to dissuade Afghans from migrating to Europe urging the people that “our dignity, our respect is in Afghanistan”. “Don’t go. Stay with me. There might be no return,” or “Afghanistan needs you!” are messages Kabul is sending to its citizens who contemplate leaving.

In a recent interview, Ghani was asked if he can’t guarantee people safety and an economy that works, what should they stay for? He was also asked that while the families of the privileged elite – the vice presidents, cabinet ministers, his chief executive – all live outside and their children study, live and have fun in Europe and the United States, how can he ask the ordinary people to stay?

The interviewer astutely did not mention that the President’s own children live in the United States. Ghani condescendingly continued his line of reasoning saying, “If they live abroad, they become dishwashers. They don’t become part of the middle class”. Ghani was widely criticized for this statement in Afghan social media, which prompted a clarification by his spokesperson a few days later. On Sunday, his deputy spokesperson stated that, “what the president meant by that statement was that well educated and experienced Afghans who travel abroad don’t get that many employment opportunities”.

Mass unemployment, prevalent violence and the rise of the Taliban and ISIS as a result of the security vacuum created by the withdrawal of the foreign troops are some of the main factors that have contributed to mass immigrations. And the current government has proved its incompetency over and over in dealing with these issues.

So, Mr. President! As a young Afghan woman living in the diaspora who has washed dishes, I can assure you that it’s much more dignifying than being lynched or stoned a few blocks down your street. Or getting shattered into pieces next to a suicide bomber on the route to the non-existent job that you encourage me to stay for.


(Photo Credit: Reuters / Alkis Konstantinidis)

Predictably, the Taliban easily gained control of an Afghan Province


Last Monday Taliban launched a gruesome and sudden, but not unpredictable attack, on the Afghan provincial capital of Kunduz. The Interior Ministry’s spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, stated that the insurgents had seized the main roundabout in the city and had made it to the prison where they freed more than 500 inmates, who flooded the streets of Kunduz.

Later in the day the Taliban leader, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, issued a statement congratulating fighters for successfully taking over Kunduz, and urged them to keep the residents safe: “All mujahedeen (Taliban fighters) after taking over military targets and finishing the military operation should put their attention on keeping the lives, wealth and dignity of common people safe. Most of the times some opportunists and burglars misuse such opportunities to harm civilians and their wealth. Mujahedeen should be conscious and shouldn’t allow anyone to harm the lives and wealth of civilians and the public wealth.”

However, the Taliban did the exact opposite. Amnesty International reported mass murders, gang rapes and house-to-house searches by Taliban death squads according to the harrowing civilian testimonies emerging from Kunduz, as Afghan troops backed by US air strikes regained the control of key areas of the city. While losing control of Kunduz was a big jolt to the new Afghan government, it was even worse for the people of Kunduz who had run out of food supplies and water, being either afraid of leaving home or were prevented from leaving by the Taliban.

Allegedly the Taliban were using a “hit-list” with the names and photos of activists, journalists and civil servants based in Kunduz, to track down their targets. They also used young boys to conduct house-to-house searches to locate and abduct their targets. A woman’s rights activist who worked with the victims of domestic violence at the local women’s shelter told Amnesty International that she and other women had fled the city on foot, over rough terrain, to avoid the Taliban’s roadblocks on exit routes of the city. She claimed that a member of the Taliban had called her inquiring about the whereabouts of the women who lived in the shelter and when she had informed him that all the shelter had been evacuated and the women had escaped, he became very angry. Taliban had used their hit list to track down the women’s shelter staff and their families and had gang raped and killed several midwives for providing reproductive health services to women in the city. They also raped female relatives and killed family members of many local police commanders and soldiers and looted their belongings.

The recent growing power of the Taliban, and ISIS, in Afghanistan is not a myth to be unravelled. The constant meddling of neighbouring countries and the strategic importance of Afghanistan in international politics makes it vulnerable. The importance of Pakistan’s role should not be overlooked in this matter, because if Afghanistan is cleansed of the Taliban, given the good relations between Afghanistan and India, Pakistan will be sandwiched between two hostile countries.

Furthermore, Taliban are publicly grooming the youth, including young girls, in their madrassas (religious schools). The Afghan government is more concerned about whether or not the religious schools are registered. However, official registration makes little difference in terms of the curriculum.   According to the Ministry of Education, there are 1,300 unregistered, and 1,100 state-run madrassas operating in the country. Kunduz is one of the provinces with the most unregistered madrassas run by fundamentalists and the Taliban. One of the most controversial of all these is Ashraf-ul Madares, an all girls school with 6000 full time students who attend the school to solely study the Quran and the teachings of Prophet Mohammad. The students are radicalized by their male fundamentalist teachers who teach them from behind a wooden box, and are taught to shamelessly chastise other women and students over their un-Islamic dress code and call them “infidels” for not praying.

The Kunduz incident is another failure of the Afghan government, and devastatingly not unpredictable for Afghans. This was an incident that was bound to happen and can happen in many other Afghan provinces where Taliban or the Taliban-mentality is deeply rooted in the society. While the city is under the control of the government at the moment, sporadic clashes are still taking place in some areas while the Taliban intend to expand their fight from Kunduz to other provinces.


(Photo Credit: AFP / Getty / Amnesty International)

Collateral damage is a crime

With the execution of Kelly Gissendaner recently in Georgia and many others waiting on death row, we are seeing executions being rushed, not only on the mainland but elsewhere. Death sentences were also rushed in Afghanistan on October 3d, with the bombing of an MSF hospital, killing 12 staff members and 10 patients, including children, and wounding 37 people. Both Kelly Gissendaner and the MSF hospital executions were justified under the same ideology.

It did not matter that this hospital in Kunduz was the only running hospital in the North East of the country. It was hectic at the hospital in the past weeks because of the battles between the Taliban forces and the Afghan military. Of course these battles sent many civilians, men, women and children to this hospital. MSF rightly treats everyone regardless of their origin: Taliban, military, and civilian casualties. This principle of equal treatment has been questioned in past decades with invasions, dehumanization campaigns and the criminalization of humane and compassionate actions.

The bombing of the MSF hospital by US Air Force is a moral failure and a crime, and yet the immediate response by US and Afghan authorities was to make it appear as normal collateral damage. They sent all their “thoughts and prayers” while asserting their legitimate role of deciding who may live and who must die, to borrow from Achille Mbembe.

At the time of the announced precise and clean war, the death toll of civilians, women, children and healers is rising. The drone program has already proven to be in the logic of an arbitrary decision of who may live and who must die. The collateral damages were in the hundreds and still unaccounted for; the drone program is the warrant of peace, they say.

This ideology that justifies these crimes runs on contradictions; it legitimates deterritorialization of arbitrary death sentences while claiming the restoration of peace.

Let’s bring a poem by Pramila Venkateswaran to examine this modern ethical and moral depravity:

Between Good and Evil

Dark blossoms wither on healthy soil,
indigo embracing light cannot be pried apart.

Ecological activists turn terrorists, good Samaritans-
turned-politicians walk off with money saved for the poor.

Peace lovers during war execute prisoners without trial.
We throw bombs, then food, on the same piece of land.

Violent Hindus desire a “pure” country of Hindus.
Each political party sounds like its rival.

Sense is nonsense is sense. Every exhortation
means its opposite and not: Morality is a crapshoot.


(Photo Credit: Medium / Victor J. Blue)

Write My Mother’s Name On My ID Card!



Afghanistan is going to issue its citizens their first biometric national identification cards “tazkira”. For decades the Afghan tazkira has been a paper form filled out with black or blue ink, and a stamped photo glued or stapled on the top-left corner of it. The name of the bearer has not been the only name on the tazkira. It also contains the names of the father and the grandfather, which are crucial to an Afghan’s identity.

With the modernization of the national identity card, the Afghan elite and the women’s rights advocates, by writing open letters to the president on the social media, have started asking for the inclusion of the mother’s name in the new tazkiras; with the slogan: “Write my mother’s name on my ID card”.

However, it appears very unlikely that the Afghan government would take such a leap of faith to ensure women’s rights.

In Afghanistan, one’s mother’s name is rarely mentioned in public as it is considered a taboo. There are tragic incidents that mentioning someone’s mother’s name in public has ended in killing the violator, who had broken this cultural norm.

In a country, where identities are formed in relation to fathers and grandfathers, the Afghan policy makers have little political interest in devising policies that are perceived contradictory to the status quo gender norms. One has to look at the last four decades to become wary of introducing modernization policies, which can backfire and lead to civil unrest. This apprehension among the politicians and lawmakers has continually subjugated women’s rights to allegedly “more crucial issues” such as “stability” and “security”. Nonetheless, it should be stressed that the mere fact that this idea has picked up in the country, regardless of how unlikely it is that a mother’s name would appear on the tazkira, illustrates that the Afghan society is making some of its very first steps towards breaking social taboos and deconstructing and reconstructing traditional identities.

What are “moral crimes”? For Afghan women …

According to Human Rights Watch, for incarcerated Afghan “immoral criminal” women, moral crimes can take many shapes, including “falling in love and eloping with the lover”, “running away from an abusing husband”, “being kidnapped”, “getting lost”, “being raped”. What do all these variations share? You might think it’s the woman “victim”. You’d be wrong. For Afghans, the real victim is the woman’s family, and family means “the men of the family”.

Who then is the “typical” Afghan woman? She is the namoos, the honor and dignity of a man.  This is her identity: the woman is the “other” to the man’s “self”. This dependence and otherness makes the Afghan woman oppressed and the object of man’s control over her body – her behavior, the way she walks, talks, what she wears, where she goes – because she must protect the man’s dignity and honor. His dignity and honor are embodied in her vulnerable body. A woman’s body is entrusted with the “dignity and honor” of a man. That is all there is to her being.

If the “dignity” is comprised, the woman’s body can be summarily disposed of. The woman does not even have to be at fault for this to happen. Any violations of dignity can make a woman’s body disposable. There are numerous routes to honor killing.  An Afghan woman is likely to be killed by her male family members after she is thought to have compromise the “dignity and honor” of the male family members by any misconduct. Misconduct includes having been raped.

Through socialization processes at the family and community level, women internalize their “other” identity. The family produces children or youth as disciplinary subjects: “Not only the parental gaze and it’s internalization by children within the family, but also the effects of the multiple gazes originating outside the “parent-child cell” help in producing women as disciplinary subjects. Family members constantly monitor each other. For instance, like the prisoner who takes on the roles of both watcher and watched, a daughter must assume parental scrutiny even in her unobserved or private actions. Women are actively involved in the process. Their identity is tied up in observing the rules and regulations imposed on them, rules and regulations they have internalized as their own.

An Afghan woman will act upon these internalized norms and values.  She will watch her body and her acts.  If any rule is violated, she might punish herself.  There are many instances of Afghan women who committed suicide, which can accurately be termed “honor suicide”, after being raped, to restore the honor and dignity of the family.

But what happens in those rare cases where a woman runs away rather than commit suicide? What happens when a woman who has been raped chooses to live and tell the police? The police put her in jail. If the case makes it to court, the judge sentences her to years in prison for adultery and running away. Finally, President Karzai, under pressure, might “pardon the immoral criminal so that she can marry her rapist. She will not be welcomed at her “father’s” home and she will have nowhere else to go. Either she restores the honor of the family and marries the rapist, or just she kills herself … if she hasn’t already been killed.

“Running away” is mostly associated with love, and “love” in Afghan culture is mostly an immoral word, for boy and girls. In many cases, when families have found out about a relationship, they marry their son or daughter to someone else as soon as they can, to end it.

Girls grow up being taught that men can not be trusted. Therefore, it is expected for a girl to keep herself hidden and safe until marriage. If a girl or young woman decides to run away, she knows that something is going to happen to her. If she is already on the run, she has accepted the consequences. The woman is blamed for whatever happens to her. This belief is widely shared, even among academics and students of the law. Once, in the midst of a hot debate on women’s rights, a classmate stood up and said, “I can do anything to a girl who `breaks the chains’ and steps over the line.” Many in the class, including the professor, seemed to agree, including most of the girls.

This mentality is everywhere, among ordinary people, and among academics, law students, lawyers and judges. What is taught in law school? One professor would teach us, “What goes on in a household is none of anyone else’s business. If a woman is battered or violated, nothing can be done until she goes to the police herself. If she doesn’t have any problem with it, no one can do anything”. Another would teach, “When you bring a woman to your house to `get married’, you are not just going to put her in a glass box and sit and watch.” Then he would laugh, and the class would join in. Another lecturer would teach: “ An adultery case is impossible to prove, unless four male witnesses, who were present at the scene, testify to it’s having occurred.” In other words, the women, who is the “immoral raped criminal,” has to ask the rapists and their witness accomplices to testify to having raped her.

There is no “moral crime”. “Moral crime” is the culture. For Afghan women “moral crime” is another red line drawn around them, a line that makes sure that no woman ever steps out of bounds.

(Photo Credit: Farzana Wahidy / Human Rights Watch)

Young women refuse to be sacrifices

Welcome to 2012. The Arab Spring, the Occupy Spring, the Indignado Spring continue. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and beyond, women are on the move, on the march. In Saudi Arabia, women are on the drive as well. Young women.

Across the United States and Canada and beyond, young women are leading and expanding the Occupy movement. In Chile, women high school and university students are pushing to end the privatization of education, to open the schools to freedom, democracy, universal opportunity.

In India, young rural women are leading resistance campaigns to stop major land grabs.  In Afghanistan, teams of young women athletes are punching their way through centuries-old as well as recently devised glass ceilings.

In Kenya, young women are entering into local electoral politics. In Mauritius as well.

Women everywhere are on the move, keeping on keeping on, filling spaces with their voices, their bodies, their energy, their aspirations, their collective and singular power.

At the same time, women struggle with a master narrative in which they only function as sacrifices. In India, two farmers sacrifice a seven-year-old girl, Lalita, in order to ensure good crops. In Afghanistan, a fifteen-year-old girl, Sahar Gul, struggles to survive, and to live with dignity, having fled the torture inflicted on her by her husband and his mother and sister. When she first fled, the State actually returned her to `the family.

In the United States, girls like seventeen-year-old Nga Truong, are routinely forced into confessing crimes they didn’t commit and then are sent off to prison. In the United States, seventeen-year-old girls like Samantha L. are sent to prison for life, without possibility of parole.

In Australia, teen-age girls, like Danielle Troy, have to plead for compassion rather than punishment. Their crime? Being mothers.

And in South Africa, two teenage girls are attacked by a crowd of 50 or 60 `adult’ men. Why? Because one of them was wearing a mini-skirt. Four years ago, another young woman, Nwabisa Ngcukana, was stripped and assaulted for exactly the same `crime’, at exactly the same taxi rank.

From domestic violence to more general sexual violence to mob violence to State violence and beyond, the patriarchal story of young women is the story of being-sacrificed. If a man is told, by no less than God, to sacrifice his son, we are told that is a tragedy. A moral and ethical crisis. But where is the mother of that son in the story? And what if, instead, the father was told, by no less than God, to sacrifice his daughter? Would that too be considered a tragedy? An ethical and moral crisis?

Not by the patriarchs, it wouldn’t, as the Biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac so aptly demonstrates: “It is difficult not to be struck by the absence of woman… It is a story of father and son, of masculine figures, of hierarchies among men… Would the logic of sacrificial responsibility within the implacable universality of the law… be altered… if a woman were to intervene in some consequential manner? Does the system of this sacrificial responsibility and of the double `gift of death’ imply at its very basis an exclusion of woman or sacrifice of woman? A woman’s sacrifice or a sacrifice of woman? Let us leave the question in suspense.”

Women, and in particular young women, are saying, “No.” They reject the story that excludes them and the  `suspense’ that reduces them. They are saying – with their bodies, voices, actions and deeds – women and girls are not to be sacrificed. If `the Law’ says they must be, the Law is wrong. Women are making a better Law, living out a better story, and creating a better world. Another, better world is possible.


(Video Credit: WBUR)