Speaking Out Against Street Harassment Doesn’t Make Me Shameless

Shabana Stanekzai

Every single woman I know has experienced some form of discrimination, harassment or violence whether at home or on the streets. Street harassment is part of the everyday reality of most Afghan women. Often instead of offering support to these women, our society blames them for their own oppression. Abusers perpetuate this belief that the way a woman dresses or behaves in public is the root cause of harassment. They say that women’s behavior causes men to lose control and engage in harassment or violent. This could not be further from the truth.

Last year during the holy month of Ramandan, I left home one day to get some medicine for my ill father. I was wearing a long black dress with a large headscarf and no makeup. This didn’t prevent harassment. I hadn’t made it a hundred meters from my house when a middle-aged man started to follow me. The man was walking too close and making me uncomfortable, so I started to walk faster but so did he. He was whispering crude and disrespectful words at me. I could feel that I was turning red because I was so mad and angry. Usually I try to ignore harassment because it is a lot of energy to engage with or talk back to every man who decides to ruin your day, but this time I was so mad that I decided to teach him a lesson.

As I was walking, I saw a police station. I walked faster towards it. The man was still following me and talking at me. He had no idea where we were headed. The officer looked at me and quickly realized what was happening. He ran and arrested the man. The man was surprised and began to yell obscenities. Some passersby surrounded us quickly and when they find out what was going on, they began to blame me.

“Why you are getting out of your houses if you do not want men to follow you?! You want our attention. If you were a good woman, then no one would follow you,” some of the men who had gathered told me.

Despite the comments of other men who excused the harassers’ behavior, the police detained him. I was proud of what I did. I returned home after getting the medicine and I still felt happy.

This is not the time to remain in silence. We should break barriers, speak out for our rights, and protest against those who try to marginalize women and violate our rights. If I speak out today, then my daughter will be less likely to suffer from abuse and violence twenty years from now. If I remain silent, street harassment and other forms of gender-based discrimination will be passed on from this generation of men to the next.

As a woman, I will no longer accept silence. I do not want misogynists to use my silence against me or interpret it as consent. There are people who called me shameless for standing up for myself but the truth is that speaking out for what is my right is not “shamelessness.” Shameless are those promiscuous men who spend their time harassing women and excusing this behavior.

This piece was translated by Zahra W. A volunteer for Free Women Writers, Zahra is a sophomore in high school and an aspiring writer and poet.

Read this piece in Persian here.

Shabana Stanekzai

Shabana Stanekzai

Shabana Stanekzai has a degree in science from Kabul. She had always dreamed of studying literature, but war and instability prevented her from pursuing her passion in school. Today, in addition to being a member of Free Women Writers, she writes poetry and short stories and works at a non-profit in Afghanistan. Her source of happiness and energy is her adorable two-year old son.
Shabana Stanekzai

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Daughters of Rabia is a collection of Afghan women's writings in defense of their human rights. The book was published by two Afghan activists, Noorjahan Akbar and Batul Muradi, in 2013. Following the book's success and distribution in six provinces in Afghanistan, Noorjahan Akbar created the Free Women Writers blog to continue publishing women's writings in Persian, Pashtu and Uzbeki. Since then, the blog has expanded to include hundreds of articles, poems, narratives, essays and paintings about gender equality, environmental concerns, economic inequality, democracy and other social justice issues. With a weekly readership of more than thirty thousand, the blog has reached tens of thousands of Afghans. This website is the English translation of these writings. Read the Persian book here: