[Editor’s Note: From time to time, we receive interesting articles from our alumnae. This one comes from 2014 Lesley graduate Diba Feroz.]
I am originally from Afghanistan, and I was born and raised in Kabul. I am the third child in my family; my mother had three daughters in a row. Gender differences have never been an issue in my family. My parents have treated both their daughters and sons equally. However, I have noticed gender inequalities in my country and community for a long time. Women’s rights violations are considerably high in Afghanistan. Oftentimes, the United Nations includes Afghanistan among those countries in the world where the most abuses of women’s rights occur. It is disturbing to see how women are treated in my country. There is certainly a big difference between a man and a woman in Afghanistan. A man can do anything he wishes, but a woman must follow the direction of their father or husband.
Recently, my parents told the story of a new born baby girl, Freshta; what they told me has broken my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I cannot believe that still in some countries in the world, like Afghanistan, giving birth to a baby girl brings sadness and disappointment rather than joy. Freshta’s story has been excruciatingly painful to me. Although I cannot do anything for this innocent child, I decided share the pain I have been feeling.
In October 2014, one of my relatives’ neighbors, an Afghan couple (Mohammad Yaqoub the husband, Spozhmai the wife), gave birth to their first child. Yaqoub and Spozhmai have been living in Kabul since 2013. They are originally from Nangarhar province located in the eastern part of Afghanistan. Since the couple didn’t want to give birth at the hospital, they asked one of my relatives, Seema, a mother of four children, to help them out in their childbirth. My relative and Yaqoub’s mother helped Spozhmai during a birthing process that took five hours. During this period, Spozhmai was in much pain, but she refused to go the hospital.
At 12:17a.m, a healthy baby girl was delivered. But the minute Spozhmai found out the sex of her baby, she started screaming, crying and saying, “I don’t want her…I don’t want her in my family. I wanted a boy.” Spozhmai didn’t want to see her baby’s face. Her mother-in-law started crying and cursing. She said that she wanted her first grandchild to be a son because he would have made them proud and would have brought joy and happiness to the family. When Seema asked the mother-in-law to help her give a bath to the baby girl, the mother-in-law said she didn’t want to touch the baby.
Generally, Afghan men do not get involved in the process of childbirth. They wait outside in case anything goes wrong, so the baby’s father was not present. As a result, Seema had to bathe the baby alone. She said it was a very difficult experience. She was so nervous and couldn’t stop crying. She felt very badly for the baby and the family. Seema has children of her own, including four daughters. She says that her daughters’ thoughtfulness and care for their family always impress her. Seema thinks that having a daughter is a blessing not a curse.
But when the father found out about the baby’s gender,, he was disappointed. He turned his face toward the sky and prayed. He said, “Ya Allah! You are great; please don’t torture me like this.” For days, every time fed her daughter, she would cry. Traditionally, Afghan people distribute sweets to their neighbors and relatives and let everyone know about their new family member. However, some Afghan parents like Freshta’s are so ashamed of having a baby girl that they try to avoid letting their relatives and communities know about their new family member. They did not distribute sweets. While baby showers following the arrival of a newborn are also a tradition in Afghanistan, oftentimes Afghan people only have baby showers for baby boys.
I have lived in the US since 2010, and when I hear about these kinds of stories in my country it breaks my heart. This is mostly because I have seen the differences between American and Afghan culture and how distinctively women are treated in these societies. I am not trying to make Afghanistan look bad by sharing this story and I strongly argue that Afghanistan is not the only country in the world where women are treated as second class citizens or they are considered the property of their men.
I am instead trying to raise awareness and share my pain that still in some societies, women are not welcomed from the day they are born. They are considered God’s curse on families. In the 21st century, hearing stories like Freshta’s is brutally painful. The topic of human rights has been at the center of the world’s attention for a long time, but still women are suffering from unjust laws and traditions. The word “feminism” might have become a bad word; many people do not want to use it. However, when I hear stories similarly to Freshta’s, I think we still need feminists in this world who can fight for the rights of innocent girls. I hope not to hear painful stories like Freshta’s anymore. I wish that one day Afghan women gain the rights they deserve and play an equal role in their community. I am positive that on that day, we will have a prosperous, stable, peaceful, and successful Afghanistan.