"We learned to laugh, jump and walk full of confidence and without fear"

Written by Khadija Yawari on Wednesday, 05 November 2014. Posted in Afghanistan

The month I was reborn in Nepal


What a great bunch we were: 38 women (you can see me to the far left with this huge black backpack), from all over South Asia, from Nepal, Iran, Turkey, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, the Maldives, from Bhutan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most of us were gender- and human rights' trainers, teachers and activists, such as me. And we all joined  course at the Tewa Center in Kathmandu, Nepal to receive training in gender studies, human rights, food security and peace building. The purpose of this course was to raise awareness regarding violence against women, to build our capacity as citizens as well as to meet other people and learn from them. We exchanged experiences and information about the cultures and laws of our countries. 
This month in Nepal would change my life.

How I got there? Well, let me explain:
I was born and raised in Afghanistan in Jaghori, in the province of Ghazni. Now I study law at the University of Kabul, and since the death of my father I am the sole breadwinner of my family. I could tell you a lot about the difficulties of this position, but that will have to be a different story.

rom a very early age on I have become increasingly aware of the disbalance between men and women in my society. According to our culture and tradition, women exist only to work at home, to obey their husbands and make them happy, to be pregnant and breed children and to take care of all the members of the house. The husband is working outside of the house, is giving orders and making decisions. Whatever fathers, brothers or husbands say, is wise and has to be met with respect, women have to be silent. I know, I may seem to paint a very black and white picture, and of course, there are men who treat their wives as equal partners, who push and cherish them. But I feel that the vast majority of men and women are stuck exactly in the situation I outlined above.

And not enough: Afghan women and girls are subjected to threats and abuses by men and boys - in public places as well as in offices. In offices, it often happens that men are asking women for illegal relationships, or that the male head of the office rather wants sex from his female employees than wanting them to have a good job. Violence against women is an immense problem in all countries, of course - not only in Afghanistan.

But unfortunately, whenever Afghan women or girls raise their voices to accuse such cases of abuse, people rebuke them. If we scream, people say shameful words to us. Thus, even when men touch us in the streets, we put down our heads and say nothing. In my country, women are still second class human beings. Thus we don't have the confidence to come out of the house and say: "It is my life, and it is my body, and nobody but me decides how to use it." 

I felt that I had to start fighting against that. And I felt that I needed more knowledge and tools to be able to get into that fight. Thus I applied for a one months' course in gender studies and capacity building at the Tewa Center in Kathmandu, Nepal. 

During this month in Nepal I felt free. In the streets there were no harassment or other forms of violence. We met kindness and friendship everywhere, especially in the campus of the center, where we were trained. And we learned a lot.

We learned to laugh, jump and walk full of confidence and without fear.
We learned that our own self is central.
We learned not to take our breath from others, but to use our own.
We learned to practice Yoga. I have done Yoga before, but for the other four Afghan girls at the course it was the first experience. In the beginning they felt shy, because in Afghanistan we had been taught not sit with open legs, not to show our hands and not to laugh loudly. 
We learned how to defend ourselves, should we be harassed or attacked
We learned, that society is the environment,
in which – ideally - men, women, girls and boys live with equal rights, are fully respected as human beings and are free from any kind of discriminations. We talked a lot about domestic violence and violence against women in general. We got information about the laws in the various South Asian countries and the power of the courts.
We learned, that gender is a social concept which the defines the status of men and women in a given society. Gender, however, varies from place to place and time to time.
We learned, that patriarchy is a system, in which men are the controller and decision makers, from their home to the government.
We learned to participate in games: In one game we had to form two groups. The members of the one group had to hide something on their bodies or in their clothes, and the others had to find it. In another game the members of one group had to line up one behind the other and spread their legs, so that they created a tunnel, and the others had to crawl through the tunnel of legs. The group, that was faster, won.
And: we learned to dance.

I noticed that most of the participants were happy and full of self-confidence. They moved comfortably in the streets, talked loud and easy, laughed and shouted. And they were full of self-confidence when they were taking part in group activities and also very relaxed when they interacted with the people from the center. This impressed me deeply. 

Just we, the Afghan women, seemed shy and less assertive. Some felt shy even in front of other women. They felt uneasy moving their bodies while others were watching. They didn't dare to dance, didn't dare to take off their shawls, didn't dare to laugh. They just stood and watched. We felt sorry for our country and our people.
But as the course was going on and the weeks were unfolding, they started to open up. Their way of thinking changed. They started wanting to challenge the patriarchal system at home, to fight for their rights and to advocate an equal sharing of responsibilties between men and women - be it private or public life.


On the picture above you see me (to the left) with a Pakistani gender trainer and women's rights activist.

Of course, in Afghanistan we know about human rights, but unfortunately they aren't enforced. And so far we, the women, haven’t demanded these rights from our family and society yet. You might ask, why not? The answer is simple: We aren’t supposed to talk about such issues, and as we are Muslims, we are told it’s even illegal. God will get angry. 

But I hope that things will change, that at some time in the future it will be easier to talk about it. Then, when we, the Afghan women, will have found the strength and the courage to become the owner of our lives. Then, when Afghan women and men realize, that the only difference between men and women is the size of their bodies, and that women are able to give birth to children, and men are not. But as it take both men and women to produce them, it takes both men and women to bring society forward. 

In order to change Afghanistan for the better it's necessary to change society. And the only way to change society is to change men’s view on women and make them aware of women’s rights, which in the end are human rights. As long as men don't change their behavior and accept women as human beings, and as long as women aren’t ready to demand their rights with full force, it will be impossible to improve the lives of women and -consequently - the situation of the whole society. 

This course really updated me, changed my mind and gave me new ideas about life.
After this month I feel as if I had been reborn. 

Now it’s time to start implementing what I have learned.


About the Author

Khadija Yawari

Khadija Yawari

Khadija Yawari and I met just hours after I had arrived in Kabul last May, and we connected almost at first sight. I instantly admired her critical thinking and her fighting spirit. I am very glad, she has become a contributor to "Beyond the Veil".

Khadjia is a law student in Kabul and writes her Bachelor thesis about "Espionage in Afghan law." Moreover she works for the human rights-, and civil society organization Shuhada. After her studies she wants to become a human rights lawyer.