Last year I wrote a college essay based on these instructions: Imagine looking through a window at any environment that is particularly significant to you. Reflect on the scene, paying close attention to the relation between what you are seeing and why it is meaningful to you.
I wrote the following essay. It’s a story that plays over and over again in homes and families all over Afghanistan. In this story (per the instructions for the essay), I am an observer. In most of my memories, I am the young son trying to stop his father from beating his mother.
A noise from the adjacent neighbor pulled me to our porch. I looked out the window to satisfy my curiosity. I saw the man pitilessly beating his wife in the yard. The children desperately pleaded with their dad not to beat their mother. The daughters threw themselves into the fight to shield their mother and the son begged his father to stop. The only thing their mother wanted was to save her children from witnessing this violence. No matter how severely she was beaten, she wanted to protect her children first.
The other neighbors watched from their roofs as if they were enthralled by a show. The men’s mocking smiles showed their admiration and approval. The dejected faces and unconscious flinching of the female onlookers sent a silent message to the wife, “You are not alone. We are together in this battle, dear sister.” Endurance was all they wished for the beaten woman.
As I witnessed the harrowing scene, my most grievous and heartbreaking memories filled my mind. My tears shed every time those thoughts manifest themselves. It seemed a violent storm had entered our home with sounds of smashing and jolting and wailing. But this was an unnatural disaster and one that we could not predict or control. There was no protection from my father’s wrath. We felt helpless as we watched and shared my mother’s pain. My mother wished to protect our young and innocent eyes. I remember the aftermath of these fights, when my dad had left the house and we were all flooded with feelings of relief. We surrounded my mother sitting on the floor – talking, hugging and offering comfort to each other.
The violence against women in Afghanistan is without end. It is a tribal world where archaic and parochial beliefs dominate. Those who follow tribal customs restrict the rights of girls to attend school. If the girls are lucky, they will attend school long enough to learn how to read and write. It’s commonly believed that when a girl is old enough to be an adroit carpet weaver, they are old enough to be married. It is this culture and these societal norms that allow men to consider their wives and daughters as property. The men still adhere to the primitive conviction that a man’s superiority is proven by his physical ability rather than the contents of his character. If their wives are considered unyielding, men use their brute strength and muscularity to force their wives into submission. Violence against women pervades many Afghan families and is an explicit example of a primitive culture lacking effective rule of law.