Wodood Khan Husainy
My little sister was on the phone. She was asking someone to stop harassing her.
“Who is it?” I asked.
“Some guy. He called a while back asking for someone else. I told him he had the wrong number but since then he calls every day.”
There was no point in arguing with the man. I bought my sister another SIM card.
My sister is younger than me and studies computer science in a private university in Kabul. A while back, I was unemployed so I offered to accompany her to school. While she was in class, I would drink tea and read my book at the campus canteen.
On the way to school I noticed passerby men looking at us. Their eyes were as wild and hungry as wolves. When I saw the university’s situation, I was astonished even more. “Does my sister really study here?” I asked myself.
Groups of male students stood on the sidewalk and harassed every woman and girl who passed them. Then they would talk to each other about the women.
Nevertheless, I decided to continue commuting with my sister for a while. Every morning, we prepared ourselves and went to the university together. My sister went to her classes and I sat in the canteen and observed the young men. I saw a lot of sexism and abuse of the female students during my visits.
One day I saw a group of male students teasing one of their friends who had promised them that if they stopped harassing the woman he liked, he would buy them burgers. She had rejected him and he refused to keep his promise. The most insulting part of the conversation was not even the degrading words they used to describe the young woman. It was the fact that most likely she did even not know that these men were making bets on her and had stopped harassing her only because of their friend, not because she is a human being.
Another day I saw several young men standing next to a wall in the courtyard of the university.
“Don’t stand in front of me, you idiot!” one of them yelled.
“Why? I am not blocking the sun.”
“I don’t care about your shadow, that girl is going to pass by and I won’t be able to eye her if you stand there,” the first guy yelled back who was waiting on a specific girl to stare at her or worse. The fact that he yelled these sentences itself was enough to make the perimeters feel unsafe to women.
A group of law students were discussing regulations against sexual assault.
“Be careful if she is under eighteen because the punishment is harsher, but if she is older than that, throw her on the ground wherever you find her,” one of them said. The entire group laughed.
There are hundreds of stories like this. When male students get out of their classes, they meet near the canteen or some other crowded area and harass women or talk crudely about female students. They share notes on how to harass women.
When male university students, who are educated and the hope for Afghanistan’s future, think of women as objects and think harassment is normal and acceptable, what can we expect from the rest of our society?
I ask my peers not to feel defensive when they read this article.
Instead of saying “I don’t harass women” or “not all men are like that,” we must get involved and hold other men accountable.
The harassment and objectification of women is a bitter reality of our society. We have the responsibility to change this reality, not deny it. Men must take the responsibility to teach each other and end sexual harassment. It is the duty of every good man to start from his own family and friends. It is the duty of every father and brother to ask their son or brother about how they behave with women, and hold them accountable for their bad behavior.
Read this piece in Persian here.
This article was translated by Marzia Nawrozi, a Free Women Writers member and fearless advocate for gender equality. When she is not making good trouble, Marzia pursues her MA at George Mason University.