Afghan Women Write Poetry Risking it All

I write poetry and invite young authors to write poetry in workshops I teach at schools. Finding the Words is the name of my program. It is amazing to give students a voice. A second grader wrote this poem:

Stars Gathering by Brad

My mom is like the stars above me

Tickling her feet

All of the stars are gathering up

Like a crowd of people

People whispering

Quietly thinking

It is their time

To leave their homes

Like a lightning bug flying away

The Afghan women have no voice. An article by Eliza Griswold, Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetry gives these statistics, “Of Afghanistan’s 15 million women, roughly 8 out of 10 live outside urban areas, where U.S. efforts to promote women’s rights have met with little success. Only 5 out of 100 graduate from high school, and most are married by age 16, 3 out of 4 in forced marriages.”

The Afghan women use poetry as a form of rebellion. “Mirman Baheer, Afghanistan’s largest women’s literary society, is a contemporary version of a Taliban-era literary network known as the Golden Needle. In Herat, women, pretending to sew, gathered to talk about literature. In Kabul, Mirman Baheer has no need for subterfuge. Its more than 100 members are drawn primarily from the Afghan elite: professors, parliamentarians, journalists and scholars. They travel on city buses to their Saturday meetings, their faces uncovered, wearing high-heeled boots and shearling coats.

But in the outlying provinces — Khost, Paktia, Maidan Wardak, Kunduz, Kandahar, Herat and Farah — where the society’s members number 300, Mirman Baheer functions largely in secret.” The group’s mission is to teach young women not just to write but also to speak aloud and with confidence. Young poets like Meena who call into the hot line, Amail told me, “are in a very dangerous position. They’re behind high walls, under the strong control of men.” Herat University’s celebrated young poet, Nadia Anjuman, died in 2005, after a severe beating by her husband. She was 25.”

This is one of the women’s poem:

You won’t allow me to go to school.
I won’t become a doctor.
Remember this:
One day you will be sick.

Because the women have no say in what goes on in their lives, they turn to poetry to express their feelings.Now that Afghan women are aware of their rights, they fight for them in their family,”Griswold said. “If they get their rights, that’s good. If they don’t, they kill themselves or get beaten up.”

In the United States, we can reach the stars. Use your voice to write, speak, and talk about the good life we have here. Find the words to shout out about injustice. Can we be as brave as the Afghan women and write?