For Afghan Women, “Finding Voice” Is a Revolutionary Act

As Egypt continues to roil with change and I receive news daily about the UN Commission on the Status of Women 55th session that will convene in New York starting February 22, my No Excuses focus on women in the U.S. is shifting to global mode. And when my fabulous feminist journalist friend Lynn Harris told me about her work with the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, I immediately asked if I could share it with you. Please read her post below, let us know your thoughts, and if you’re moved to action you’ll find out how you can help.

I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled across the website for The Afghan Women’s Writing Project, but once I did — and read prose like, “Our burqas are jail made of fabric” — I couldn’t tear myself away.

As I soon learned, the all-volunteer AWWP runs secure online writing workshops, taught by accomplished female American writers, for women in Afghanistan, some of whom participate in utter secrecy, hiding laptops under burqas or walking four hours through Taliban territory just to upload their poetry. With teams in the US and Afghanistan, AWWP has also opened a safe space in Kabul for participants to write and gather, with the longer-term goal of helping open Kabul’s first women-only Internet cafe.

Transfixed, I e-mailed the AWWP’s founder, novelist and journalist Masha Hamilton, to ask if it’d be ok if I pitched a story about the group. Somehow, a few months later, I’d become the AWWP’s (pro bono) public relations coordinator.

What inspired — and inspires — me? First, the almost unimaginable contrast between our freedom to blog and Tweet all day long, versus their culture’s demand for their silence. Second, the notion that for these women, “finding their voice” — a phrase that often sinks into cliche — is a revolutionary act that truly has, in many cases, allowed them to take some small, previously unimaginable degree of control over their lives. (One participant, inspired by the experience of writing, found a way to pay off her own bride price and arrange to come to the US for study. In fact, she tells her — still unfolding — story in the February 5 Guardian). Third, this part of the AWWP’s mission statement: “We believe that the right to tell one’s story aloud is a human right.”

An essential element of the AWWP is the website, where the writers’ harrowing, hopeful work is published. We invite you to read their poetry and prose — and just as important, to comment on it; their desire is not just to express, but also to reach out from their isolation and connect. You can also learn more about the AWWP at a series of “living room” fundraisers held in New York City, and elsewhere in the US and abroad, during the week of February 14. Information about the New York event (February 16), and how to find out about others, appears here. You can also email me here.