A two-year girl smiles at me in the aisle as the plane touched down in Herat, Western Afghanistan. She is charming and sweet, her smile is innocent, but the realities for women in Afghanistan make me think thousand questions:
If she will attend school? If she will marry an old man at the age of fourteen because he provides thousands of dollars as bride price or if she will escape from her home to avoid a forced marriage? If she will be beaten by her father, brother, husband, father-in-law, mother-in-law or son? If she will consider that her husband has the right to beat her because the lunch is not to his taste? If she will know that men and women are equal and as a woman she has rights protected by the Afghan Constitution or if she will burn herself to death ending all her sufferings?
Entering the room where Afghan women are participating in a Reflect circle is like being in a secret society, in an anonymous space and in a safe environment far from the eyes of men. A women cultural centre, a room in a private house or a small mud cabin - any space is good if women feel protected. Sitting on the floor surrounded by 20, 25, 30 Afghan women in Herat, Jawzjan or Balkh Province makes me feel special, privileged and honored. Thanks that I am a woman, I am able to meet, talk to and listen to what they are saying, and the little things that make them happy.
Burqas rest on the hangers, in their bags or in their shoulders. Now, it is time to reveal themselves, to talk openly about their rights, to learn how to read and write, share their worries, their hopes, their wishes and their dreams.
I am studying and I want to go to university, I want to work and not to depend economically on my husband,
says a single girl in her late teens member of a reflect circle in Injil district, Herat Province.
I cannot go out of my house without my husband permission but this is not the future that I want for my daughter,
points out a CDC (Community Development Council) member in Herat city.
In some reflect circles where domestic violence against women is common, there is a debate amongst women about husband’s right to beat his wife. A few new members of the reflect circle consider that men have the right to beat them, for example, if food were not properly cooked or children were dressed in dirty clothes.
If you don’t argue with your husband, he doesn’t beat you,
explains a woman in her fifties in Injil district and very similar expression could be heart in Jawzjan or Balkh provinces, 'It is not possible to change their minds (husband). We have to be in silent and listen to them.'
Immediately another jumps in to add, 'He works outside; I work in the house all day. He is tired and I am tired too.'
There is no excuse for beating me,
argues a middle-age women in the same reflect circle.
I leave happier that some women in the reflect circle are conscious of their rights and have started questioning the status quo; want to believe that this will spread and change will come.