Written by Fatima Farahmand in support of #WhereIsMyName
A campaign to fight stigma around using women’s names in public in Afghanistan has taken the country by the storm and made headlines around the world. Much of the conversation has, rightly, been about how we should not hide women’s names, call them by derogatory terms, or refer to them as “so-and-so’s mother”. However, beyond the fact that this taboo leads to women being known by the names of their sons, husbands, or fathers- instead of as individual humans- it also has other real-life implications.
In many provinces, because women are considered someone’s property and people feel ashamed to acknowledge their presence, take their photos, or say their names, women cannot have Tazkera (national identity cards). In Kandahar, the second largest city in Afghanistan, 70% of women do not have identity cards. This prevents many women from traveling or accessing services.
In some instances, without an Tazkera, women can’t access educational or economic opportunities. One needs a Tazkera to enroll in schools and universities and get jobs. Even if a woman is facing sexualized or gender-based violence and her life is in danger, she cannot sue her assailant or go to court to file for divorce without Tazkera. Because of the shame associated with women’s names or faces being known in public, many women don’t have voting cards or their cards do not have pictures and use aliases instead of their own names.
In addition, this taboo surrounding women’s names prevents many women from getting credit for their hard work. Some of the most talented Afghan poets who have left behind valuable books, have never been acknowledged because they used an alias to avoid punishment by our male-dominated society. Some women doctors still write the names of their male family members on their signs, prescription letters and other documents, and women singers often become famous with their alias. Today, to avoid harassment, character assassinations, and cyber-bullying as well as to avoid family members’ restrictions, many Afghan women don’t use their own names on social media. Many use Facebook and other online platforms to write or showcase their artwork, but because they don’t write their real names, they never get credit for their work and anyone can claim ownership of it.
The #WhereIsMyName campaign is important not only because we do not want to be called as ‘somebody’s mother’, but also because the tradition of hiding women’s names is harming us and preventing us from getting ahead in life.
Read this piece in Persian here.
This piece was translated by Zahra Wakilzada. A volunteer for Free Women Writers, Zahra is a sophomore in high school who loves writing and poetry. Zahra cares deeply about girls’ education and empowerment. In her spare time, she helps her younger sisters, Sahar and Sana, with their studies.