Coalition for Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations

The Ghosts of Afghanistan

When I couldn't breathe
when I lifted a corner of the heavy burqa
when I exposed my mouth and nose desperate to gulp air,
they beat me unconscious
When they beat us again with whips and metal cables
while we waited in the hospital
when the sick babies in their mothers' arms fell on the floor,
my will to live began to tremble.

In the summer of 96 we laughed. I can't remember the sound.
Before that September when the Taliban came
we were no different than you
Now we are the ghosts of Afghanistan
The women and the girls of a whole country
under house arrest.
For trying to go to work, my sister was beaten
For leaving her home alone, my neighbor was tortured
For showing her ankle as she rode behind her husband on a bike
my girlfriend was shot dead on the street.

My children are shrinking before my eyes but
I am banned from receiving food from the World Food Programme.
In the orphanage are girls who
have never seen the sun or trees
My sons are being taught
a man should beat a female who is seen
even through the windows of a home or a bus.

I view the world through a patch of mesh
in a voluminous tent that pulls me to stooping
The garment gates me, takes mobility and voice
When the burqa descends over my tender head
I am invisible, a living woman who can't be seen or heard
My woman's will to live
can strengthen only
on the thread that connects me to you.

By Sue Silvermarie, an American supporter of RAWA.
Based in part on the testimony given by Zarghuna Waziri at the UN tribunal in December 1998, on the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Certainly, advances have been made in recognizing women’s rights. The legal framework is increasingly responsive to the experiences of women and girls in conflict, especially in cases of sexual violence, as we have seen in the important work being carried out by the international criminal tribunals. But there remains much to be done, particularly to improve prevention and to combat impunity.

-- Kofi Annan
October 28, 2002