The Burqa Issue. OF NOTE Magazine. 2016 The Burqa Issue. OF NOTE magazine. 2016 - Page 56

Afghan Women’s Writing Project: Voicing Narratives of Change By Celeste Hamilton Dennis The poems by Afghani writers Nahid W., Roya, and Norwan speak to the power of the pen. They are raw. They are brave. They are what happens when women bear witness to their own stories without inhibition, without judgment, and without fear. The three women write under pseudonyms as part of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (AWWP). Since its start in 2009, the all-volunteer run nonprofit has encouraged nearly 400 women from Afghanistan to emerge from beneath the burqa and tell their own truths. Fueled by the belief that it’s a basic human right to tell one’s own story, journalist Masha Hamilton founded AWWP to empower Afghani women to write their own narratives, and in the process, change the narrative of women’s rights in Afghanistan. At the heart of AWWP are online workshops taught by published authors, educators, and journalists from around the world. On the ground in Afghanistan, AWWP hosts trainings and reading salons, records oral histories, provides laptops and Internet access, and more—often all in secret as writing is considered unworthy for women to do. As the country struggles to get out from under Taliban dominance, the idea of a woman using her voice to challenge the conservative gender norm can result in violence, or worse, murder. AWWP was born from bearing witness to this threat. When Hamilton saw a smuggled videotape of the Taliban brutally executing a mother of seven, Zarmeena, in a soccer stadium in 1999, she knew there had to be more to the story. Zarmeena’s silence was deafening. For many writers in the program, the mere process of creation has had ripple effects beyond the page. One writer ran for parliament—and won. Others have become journalists or lawyers. Roya, whose poem “Remembering Fifteen” is below, says it best: AWWP gave me the power to feel I am not only a woman; it gave me a title, an Afghan woman “writer.” I took the pen and I wrote and everything changed. I learned that if I stand, everyone will stand, other women in my country will stand. Their stories and poems are featured online and then anthologized for a global audience. The most recent book, Washing the Dust from Our Hearts, conveys the complex experience of being an Afghani woman. From surviving explosions at school to demanding men listen to dreaming about being an astronomer, the collective power between the pages is palpable. A reader can’t help but feel honored to ٔՍ)ɥ٥͔Ѽѡݽéȁ̸ٕ)ȁ䰁ѡ́ѡЁѥѡݥ͕)ѡȁݽɑ́ɥѕѠ͠ѡ)ѥٔՅɤAͥ) ͔]]@ѡ͔ݽٔѡ)ɕѠѼѡ͕ѼՔ)ѡȁɕ̰ѡɅѼЁ)ѡȁ́չѥ̸Q䁅ɔѡٽ)܁хQѡȰѡȁݽɑ́)ѡѥ(؁=9=Q(܁=9=Q