Their identities denied, Afghan women ask, ‘where is my name?’


A street scene near the women’s market in Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan PHOTO/Adam Ferguson /The New York Times

These are some of the terms Afghan men use to refer to their wives in public instead of their names, the sharing of which they see as a grave dishonor worthy of violence: Mother of Children, My Household, My Weak One or sometimes, in far corners, My Goat or My Chicken.

Women also may be called Milk-sharer or Black-headed. The go-to word for Afghans to call a woman in public, no matter her status, is Aunt.

But a social media campaign to change this custom has been percolating in recent weeks, initiated by young women. The campaign comes with a hashtag in local languages that addresses the core of the issue and translates as #WhereIsMyName.

The activists’ aim is both to challenge women to reclaim their most basic identity, and to break the deep-rooted taboo that prevents men from mentioning their female relatives’ names in public.

“This is just a spark — the posing of a question mostly to the Afghan women about why their identity is denied,” said Bahar Sohaili, one of the supporters of the campaign.
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“The reality is that women also remain silent — they don’t protest this,” Ms. Sohaili said, adding that she and other activists were discussing offline steps to bolster the social media discussion.

Like many social media efforts, this one began small, with several posts out of Herat Province in the west. Since then, more activists have tried to turn it into a topic of conversation by challenging celebrities and government officials to share the names of their wives and mothers.

The discussion has now made it to the regular media, with articles in newspapers and conversations on television and radio talk shows.

Members of the Parliament, senior government officials and artists have come forward in support, publicly declaring the identities of the female members of their families.

Farhad Darya, one of Afghanistan’s most renowned singers, put out a heartfelt message about his struggle to make sure he always mentioned his mother and wife by name in concerts and interviews over his decades as a performer.

“On many occasions in front of a crowd that doesn’t have family relations to me, I have noticed how the foreheads of men sour by what they see as my cowardice in mentioning the name of my mother or my wife,” Mr. Darya wrote on Facebook. “They stare at me in such a way as if I am the leader of all of the world’s cowards and I know nothing of ‘Afghan honor and traditions.’”

The campaign also has its detractors. Some on social media have said it is against “Afghan values,” while others have deemed it too small to make a difference.

Modaser Islami, head of a youth organization, wrote on his Facebook page: “The name of my mother, sister and wife are sacred like their head scarf, and it’s a sign of their honor.”

The New York Times for more

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