My name is Noorjahan Akbar.
I am the co-founder of Young Women for Change (YWC), an organization of volunteer men and women who work for the empowerment of Afghan Women.
I am twenty years old and was born in Kabul. Forty days after I was born, the Mujahadin started fighting. When the Taliban came, we moved between Mazar e Sharif and Kabul, then to Peshawar. The moment they left, we all came back. We have been living in Afghanistan ever since.
I am a sophomore at the Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. Going out of Afghanistan helped me study more about Afghanistan from an unbiased perspective, and see the
shortcomings of my society as well as the good things. I read history and about women’s rights and activists, about women in Islam.
Our first meeting was on 25th May 2011. We set a date, started a Facebook event and invited people. Seventy-five people came, it felt more grassroots, more genuine.
We are common Afghans; we face problems every day. We have members who are poor, who have joined because they have been raped or assaulted. We have a male advocacy group of eight young men who speak out against issues that violate women’s rights. One joined because his wife had been violated. Another used to use violence against his wife and through studying, learned the true values of Islam. Everybody is here because at some point they felt weak and now want to feel empowered. Our strength is that everybody is here with a painful story that brings a new perspective.
Until you engage men in the process of women’s rights, it’s impossible to think that you can guarantee women’s rights.
The biggest problem we face is passivity. When we talk to people they say, ‘yes women do face violence, and harassment is wrong, but what can we do?’ Once a month we put up posters in different areas in the city about street harassment and violence against women. We also publish the posters on Facebook, Twitter, and our website. We created the poster project so we could learn how to talk with everybody in the community – from taxi drivers to shopkeepers to teachers to beggars.
We also promote Afghan unity. We have Uzbeks and Hazaras and Pashtuns and Ismalies in our organization. It is empowering to people because they see that Afghan youth can do something for their country.
We face a lot of backlash from some conservative media and religious leaders. Women are scared because when we talk about street harassment in public, women say we are creating a scene and they are blamed. There is no feeling of solidarity among women because we have been divided based on ethnicity, religion, how we dress.
We received funding for an office because of security. We have been threatened a few times. We used to meet in restaurants, which is not the safest place to meet to talk about women’s rights.
There’s this feeling of complete helplessness among every Afghan you speak to, that everything in Afghanistan is already decided by the government, the US Embassy, or international troops. There is a large percentage of youth and women in Afghanistan who will never accept to be slaves again. Maybe the Taliban will become part of the government again. I’m not wearing a burqa ever again. You can bring a gun and shoot me; I am not going to do it.
I felt weak in my life every time I walked out of the door and was harassed and wouldn’t say anything. I felt like a worm - everybody steps on you and you can’t do anything. You’re just too tiny. Now, I feel now no matter who it is, if anybody tries to touch me I will cut their hand and give it to them. It’s never going to happen again. I will not be raped or assaulted. I see more women becoming like me and feeling that they have the power to do something.
We are fighting for the next generations of women. If life is a fight, then we fight, no matter what comes.