Here, at Free Women Writers, we spend a lot of time speaking about the issues and obstacles we, Afghan women, face. From street harassment to the various forms of sexual, physical and emotional violence at home and at work places, it is hard to find a woman who hasn’t faced sexism. Talking about these issues is important, but it can also get draining. For us to be able to continue our work and to continue existing and thriving in our communities, we need to find ways to support one another. Here are five ways we can do that.
We can defend each other against street harassment. Whether it has been lewd and inappropriate comments or even groping and stalking, we’ve probably all witnessed street harassment happening, but we are conditioned to stay quiet. We can change that. I feel that it is a human duty for me to stand up for another woman when I see her being harassed. On one hand this will give her confidence and on the other hand, the harasser will know that society will not silently accept their behavior. Our small act of standing up to a harasser can have a ripple effect and cause others to also do something.
We can provide each other with economic support. Many Afghan women stay in abusive marriages because they are financially dependent on their husbands. If we have the ability to support another women’s education, we can help them escape violence. Giving small loans to women who want to start their own businesses can be another way to financially support a woman. If we don’t have the money to support another woman, we can give them guidance, help them find jobs, edit their resumes, or introduce them to free learning opportunities. Our emotional support can give other women confidence as they seek financial self-sufficiency.
We can celebrate women and their success loudly. When we meet successful women or see the women in our lives moving up the ladders of success at work or in their personal lives, we can congratulate them, celebrate with them and see their success as our own. We can promote each other and praise successful women in public to foster sisterhood. Women are not inherently competitive with each other. We often learn to see other women as competition and we can unlearn this toxic lesson. It will not only encourage other women but also allow us to see ourselves in a new, more positive light.
We can respect each other’s privacy. Women, like all people, are entitled to privacy. Especially in communities like ours where women’s personal lives are scrutinized and weaponized against them, it is important for us to respect each other’s privacy. Asking women about when they are getting married or having children, especially outside of mutual conversations about relationships, is not acceptable. These questions can make women feel judged. They can also negatively impact their self esteem. An important part of sisterhood is learning to respect other women even if we don’t agree with their views or personal decisions. Our job in life is not to judge other women. If we are concerned about a friend, we can find non-judgmental ways to discuss our concerns and allow them to leave the conversation if they don’t feel comfortable.
We can begin by speaking about women’s issues freely. Often when we meet other women, especially those who have faced violence or harassment, listening to them and sharing our experiences is all we can do to support them. If we can’t help them become financially self-reliant or get their degree, we can at least be good listeners and help them feel that they are not alone. During our conversation, we can talk about our own struggles, experiences and achievements to inspire them. We can show them by example that being a victim of violence is not something taboo and it is most definitely not their fault. Patriarchy succeeds by dividing us and making us feel alone and isolating. By speaking with each other about our similarities and differences, we women can break this isolation.
Read this piece in Persian here.