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.”

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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.

8 Comments

  1. Serena on February 6, 2011 at 9:40 am

    This project sounds really awesome – I will definitely be checking out their website. Lynn’s observation about the contrast between the US, where we can Tweet all day, versus Afghanistan, where telling your story is revolutionary is a good one.

  2. Alisa Costa on February 6, 2011 at 9:41 am

    I noticed your link to the AWWP does not work. http://www.awwproject.org/

    • Elisabeth Lehr on February 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm

      Hi Alisa,
      I just double checked the link you posted and it works. Please give it another try.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ShelbyKnox, Rev. Debra Haffner, Elin Stebbins Waldal, Gloria Feldt, Gloria Feldt and others. Gloria Feldt said: RT @RevDebra: "@GloriaFeldt: New post: For Afghan Women, "Finding Voice" Is a Revolutionary Act http://bit.ly/gWkY56 @2020Afghanistan ch … […]

  4. Laurie Lessen-Reiche on February 7, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    This wonderful project has triggered so many thoughts in my mind— (interesting how words of violence such as “triggered” are so completely absorbed into our language!)—the synchronicity of stumbling onto your blog is startling in that just today I ordered Virginia Woolf’s book, “Thoughts On Peace In An Air Raid.” I bought it after reading these inspiring words that Woolf wrote while German bombs were falling near to her house: “It is a sound [the bombs] that interrupts cool and consecutive thinking about peace. Yet it is a sound- far more than prayers and anthems- that should compel one to think about peace. Unless we can think peace into existence we- not one body in this one bed but millions of bodies yet to be born- will lie in the same darkness and hear the same death rattle overhead.” And so, it seems your wonderful Afghan Women’s Writing project does just that- it “thinks,” not only “peace into existence” but it allows these women to enact a kind of self-liberation from oppression, because— what are written words but our thoughts made real, made tangible. It is an act of resistance to violence, to madness, when these Afghan women write their stories. They are courageous not only for their own self’s survival but for the world’s. I am honored and glad to be stilled into thoughtfulness by their stories.

  5. Gloria Feldt on February 8, 2011 at 12:17 am

    Thank you all for reading and responding with such emotion and commitment. I just want to point out that Lynn Harris wrote the post, and I only prefaced it with my meager introduction.

    • Kalea on May 13, 2011 at 3:56 am

      Now we know who the sesilnbe one is here. Great post!

  6. […] day is about helping women who are fighting to find their voices to freedom. Let’s support our global sister by speaking of their suffrage.  As global sisters, we celebrate this month as our international […]

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