I’ve traveled all over the world; I’ve encountered different lifestyles, cultures, and women. Believe it or not, among them all, Afghan women are the most helpless and defenseless. They are hardworking and faithful and they support their husbands. Unfortunately they are taken for granted by their husbands and sometimes by male family members. They would love to laugh, work out of the house, go to school. But they are not permitted. Their rights have been restricted. Why? They have been told by their mothers: “You are a girl. A girl is supposed to stay home, not laugh, not talk.” What a pity.
Almost 30 years ago, my father was talking to us. He said: “How I could have been so stupid?” Since my father was a highly educated and powerful man, and our family’s role model, I thought: “oh God, why did my father say that?” As I wondered, my father’s strong voice broke the silence. He said: “Why did I let my daughter marry at this age? She even didn’t finish her studies. It was the stupidest mistake I ever made.” My mother said: “Don’t worry, you asked her in-laws to let her finish her studies and they agreed.” He said, “Come on, it is not a solution. I should not have done this to her. I almost destroyed my daughter’s life and I will never forgive myself. It was a mistake—yeah, it was the biggest mistake.”
A few months after my sister began her first year at the Faculty of Literature, she came to my father. “Pa, I’ve decided not to go to school anymore.”
This news was like an explosion. My father stared at her without speaking, his mouth half open. Then he said in a very low voice: “Wha…what do you say?”
She said, “Yeah, Pa, I get tired. It is difficult to manage married life and go to the university.” Again my father didn’t answer, so she continued, “Actually, if I graduate and become a teacher, what will my salary be? 2000Afs. My father in-law asked me to stay home and he is going to pay me 2000Afs even from right now on.”
My father nodded and said: “I see…I see… so your father in-law advised you?”
“Yes, Pa, he has been so nice to me. He felt sorry for me and promised to give me money every month.” She seemed happy, and a smile covered her face.
My father nodded his head and looked from her face to the ground. His expression was disappointed and miserable. After a small silence, he inhaled deeply and started in very slow voice, “I have a question; you have to answer it.”
“Sure, Pa, ask me,” she said.
Looking at her through narrowed eyes, he asked: “How long will your father in-law be alive? How long he is going to live?”
“How would I know, Pa?” my sister answered.
“God knows, no doubt,” he answered. “But before making this decision, you should have thought about this. I didn’t know my daughter could be so foolish as to make a big life decision without even finding the courage to think. How could you—” Suddenly he raised his voice and said, “How could you think of money? It is not just about money. If it was just about money, then why I send you to school? I could have said: ‘we have money, so why go to school?’ Look at the great people. Look at the Wright brothers. When they were thinking of making a glider, they never thought of earning money. Thanks to their wonderful idea, now we travel in airplanes and we minimize the distance. Look at Einstein, or Edison; he discovered electricity, but not for money. He brightened up the darkness.”
“My dear daughter, if you are really going to the university to earn 2000 Afs, fine, don’t go. But my daughters are supposed to be responsible people. A responsible human being would never think of money, because you can lose money. A simple earthquake can destroy your house. Rain can destroy your land. But there is no power in the world which can take your knowledge from you. Knowledge is your biggest asset. If you have knowledge, you can raise your voice and no one can dim it. Your voice is your power. Do you remember the time you asked me why our neighbor beats his wife and his young daughter? And why they are not allowed out of the house? Why they are not allowed to work? At that time, I told you because they are not educated. Now have you got the answer? Or shall I explain it?”
My sister shook her head and said in low voice, “Not exactly.”
My father said: “Listen to me carefully. We are living in a Third World country. Our citizens are Muslims, but they are not educated. They are Muslims because their parents were Muslims. They never had the knowledge or understanding of Islam. For instance, they say laughing is prohibited in Islam. An educated person can use his common sense and say: according to Islam, anything which can affect your health, brain, family, society and etc. is prohibited—like drinking alcohol, smoking, gambling and etc. As we are all educated people, we know that laughing is good for the heart, so why it should be forbidden? Which verse of Holy Quran says that laughing is forbidden? Or that women are not allowed to work, or that girls don’t have the right to study?”
He went on: “Prophet Mohammad PBUH says that parents have to seek their children’s agreement before arranging a marriage. They are not allowed to force their children to marry. Since our society is a patriarchal society, they say that in Islam, men are allowed to have four wives. But where does Islam grant permission to marry four times? Now, who can answer these questions? Of course, an educated woman can answer them. If you are educated, you can fight for your rights, you can achieve your goals. When they say that men are women’s guardians, don’t be upset; it is true. If the woman is uneducated, of course a man has to be her boss and the decision-maker and the powerful person in the family.”
“If you want to be powerless and incapable, stay home. Do not go to the university. But if you want to be strong, powerful and someone who can fight for her rights and the rights of others, then follow the right path and go to the university. Try to be the pride of the family and make your children proud.”
My sister graduated from the Faculty of Literature even though she gave birth to two children during that time. It is challenging to go to the university while you are pregnant and have children. She didn’t give up. She could have worked in office, but she chose to be a teacher. She taught married women at a vocational school in Afghanistan. Her goal was to teach women how to defend themselves and she tried to convince them that silence is death, that to laugh is to live, that to live is to have freedom, that freedom is power, and power is education.