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Witnessing Violence

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.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Ending Violence Against Women Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Mukut's picture

Excellent but sad

Excellent post. I write 'excellent' because of the way you managed to describe the harrowing experience faced by women in your country.But it is sad to know that such outdated beliefs still dominate your society.

However, the situation doesn't vary much in my country either. We do have laws to protect women from 'domestic violence' but then the law never rises above the men of the society. They feel it is their 'right' to beat their wives. And the women keep suffering, in the name of family and society.

I am so glad that you have taken a strong stand against this heinous act of violence and hope that others set you as precedent, and realize that beating a woman could never be a show of their masculinity.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

In solidarity,

Mukut Ray

Ali Shahidy's picture

Thank you

Thank you Mukut for your beautiful comment. As you said, it is so sad to still witness such practices and even what is sadder is to know that men see them as their rights.

It's good to know that there are laws to protect women from domestic violence. So advocates should make people ascertain about those laws and support those laws.

Thank you,

Ali Shahidy

Wendyiscalm's picture

Can you help us with this?

Hi Ali,

Your column is raw and painful but I am grateful you are bringing this to our attwntion.

My reason for writing is the following: Judging from the WP articles and responses, it has become clear to me that a major issue is how to get men to change or how to deal with them effectively to evoke positive change for women? Since you are a sen humsitive humanistic man, as is another member Sanjay, I am asking you to address the question of what types of small behaviors or words would diffuse the anger in men or at least make them keep their fist to themselves instead of acting violently? Where are they coming from inside? What is going on inside of them that we women need to know. I hope you will take some time to think about this and perhaps even write an article so we women can understand. I personally believe that understanding our enemy is always the first step to individualize change as appropriate.I may be crazy but I believe fighting for our rights, while necessary, does not reach the source and to understand the source gives us the opportunity to develop a different workable strategy.

Thank you and stay well.

Ubuntu (I am who I am because of who we are together),


Wendy Stebbins
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Ali Shahidy's picture

Need some times

Thanks, dear Wendy, for the reply and the question.

You have asked a vital question and that evokes great ideas. In fact, you referred to a point that I wish to talk about, and I DO want to help you get the answer to that question, but for now I am busy with my college applications and trying for the second year to find a scholarship to study in the U.S. Once I am done, I will want to work on your question, and as you suggested, will write an article about it. So, I need some times for now.

Thank you again for your comment and the question,


Ali Shahidy

kliszk's picture

Dear Ali, Thank you for

Dear Ali,

Thank you for sharing your brave and powerful story. You write beautifully, and the detail you capture allowed me to feel as though I was standing beside you on that porch. The violence you have witnessed, both as a son and as a community member, is horrific and unimaginable. Speaking up, as you have done here, is one of the ways that we can work to make sure that others do not have similar experiences. But how can we take it a step further?

Your essay reminds me of that famous quote, "I will not be a victim. I will not be a perpetrator. Above all, I will not be a bystander." How can we help sons, daughters, friends, community members, neighbors, take action to stop violence against women rather than stand and watch from across the room, window, street? As you wrote in your analysis, "It's commonly still adhere to primitive conditions...this culture and these societal norms still allow..." How can we make violence, in any form, toward any person, unacceptable in our society? This is the work I am doing, in the hopes that one day, my daughter will live in a world free from violence. After you write your applications and get into a university that is perfect for you (which I know will happen!) I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Thank you again for being a part of this community and sharing your experiences with us. I hope that we continue to hear your voice on these crucial issues.

In solidarity,

Ali Shahidy's picture


Thank you dear Kliszk,

I am delighted by your thoughtful comment, and even more impressed by reading your profile.
It is a vital issue that you pointed out - making the "violence" an unacceptable behavior. I know that this trend takes place when we first define it as devastating harm and damage, not only to a particular gender, but to the entire society. And then through public awareness we spread the word. One of the feasible ways that even I personally experienced is to involve men in advocacy. I witnessed many young men who became women's rights advocates when they were directly involved in advocacy and public awareness programs. I want to study and reflect more about this and for sure will share my thoughts.

Thank you for being a part of the WP.

Ali Shahidy

What a vivid essay. You present a very real image, one that invites your readers to be observers of the scene along side you. I wonder if it was difficult for you to write, as it not only an image of suffering, but a personal memory as well. As a reader, I think a well crafted piece, such as this, is a powerful tool to build empathy in otherwise isolated audiences. In the case of your story, which you said "plays over and over again in homes and families all over Afghanistan" it can also be uniting. Do you see writing and stories like this being part a growing awareness of violence against women in the community? Is their an audience, or access, to literature like this for the public that presents violence against women in this light?

Thanks posting your essay. I enjoyed it very much.

sarahrubin's picture


Thank you for sharing such a personal and vivid memory. Reading about actual experiences is always more powerful than the news. I really appreciate that this is written by a man from a culture that is represented as all men believing that violence against women is a right. As you continue with your life and education sharing your personal story and perspective will continue to bring greater awareness to those you come across. Like others have shared, it seems crucial that men be advocates for there to be gradual, yet lasting change in thoughts and behaviors.

Marija011's picture

Dear Ali, Thank you very much

Dear Ali,

Thank you very much for sharing the story with us. I appreciate it not only as this give us a rare insight into what is happening behind closed doors of a very patriarchal community, but even more for letting us know about your thoughts and feelings. I am deeply moved by your compassion! I am also certain that women of Afghanistan are lucky to have you as their advocate. Dreamers are one who are moving mountains. Please stay strong, observe, advocate and let us all known what is going on around you.

With deepest thanks,

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