Living in a woman’s body: the Taliban fear our beauty, strength – and resistance | Women’s rights and gender equality
As a child, I never rode bicycles or played sports such as gymnastics and karate because it was “not good for girls”. I later understood it was to avoid the risk of breaking my hymen and “losing” my virginity, but I only understood the magnitude of this “loss” when my cousin and best friend got married. She had been abused by a mullah – a religious cleric – as a baby. Her mother was less worried about the trauma caused to her daughter by the abuse than she was about her daughter’s hymen having been broken as a result.
These fears weren’t misplaced. When my cousin did not bleed on her wedding night, she was sent back to her mother’s home the next morning beaten black and blue. Nobody blamed or questioned the husband.
My grandmother told me as a child to wear loose fitting clothes that show my body. I also advised me not to use makeup on my face or let my hair down (without a burqa), as this would detract from my character. Before getting engaged, I was forbidden from waxing my eyebrows. I grew up in a society where a woman’s worth is her beauty and body, and it is measured in herds of animals, given as a dowry when she is married off.
As Afghan women, we have suffered from fundamentalism and misogyny as well as violence, patriarchy, US occupation, and patriarchy. Under Taliban rule, violence and oppression against women have only gotten worse. Women wearing nail varnish, high heels or perfume, or leaving their homes without a male companion, or laughing loudly in public, are deemed “immoral”, as are women who venture out of their homes for work or education. Women are paying the price for having dreams because of their bodies; bodies that many people believe are only created to fulfil men’s lust, and therefore have to be covered and hidden, not decorated and revealed.
But, things are changing. Afghan women feel miserable and ill-fated about their bodies for a long time. They also feel guilty about the things their bodies tell them to men. Now, many are beginning to realise that the Taliban burying women’s aspirations beneath a burqa is actually a sign of their weakness. They fear our beauty, strength and resilience. Women in Afghanistan have demonstrated that they will not be silenced with their brave and inspiring protests. We will continue to resist, fight and rise against violence, fundamentalism and patriarchy. The Taliban cannot do the same thing today as they did 20 years ago.
I don’t feel ashamed of my body. My body is a symbol for resistance against those who would use it to control my life. My daughter will see her body this way too. Her virginity or hymen won’t define her. She will be able to ride a bike, play sports, and dance freely. She will be proud and strong. Our bodies will not be burdened by a society that is extremely cruel to women.
Kabul is home to Nazia (not her real title).