Even in war-weary Afghanistan and its seemingly endless horror, the case of a 15-year-old girl named Sahar Gul shocked and ashamed many Afghans.
The teenager was rescued from weeks of imprisonment and torture at the hands of her husband’s family. She had been sold to the family to pay a debt but she refused to become a prostitute to bring in more money. She was cut, burned with cigarettes, beaten to a pulp and many of her fingernails were ripped out. She was barely alive when police found her.
But she was not abandoned. Another young woman, 19-year-old Noorjahan Akbar, refused to look away.
In this video from ABC Australia, which looks at how two very different women are contributing to a shared hope for the ascendency of female rights, aspiration and opportunity in one of the most dangerous and oppressive places on earth, Akbar says:
“I think when you are born a woman in Afghanistan you are taught every day to hate yourself. We don’t know how to respect women, neither men nor women, no one knows it, women don’t respect themselves.”
The video follows Akbar on a visit to Sahar in hospital and is a witness to a profoundly moving meeting. A deep friendship has developed between the two and Noorjahan spends time consoling and encouraging Sahar, even treating her mangled fingers to a manicure.
Australian TV producer Trudi-Ann Tierney has witnessed a groundswell of aspiration and a push for change among the young women she encounters in her role as head of drama at Kabul’s Tolo TV and elsewhere in the capital. She says:
“I see now a generation of amazing young women who are so progressive and smart and determined to make a change and to sustain change within society.”
With Tierney’s help, TV which challenges taboos is being produced. But she has a problem. It’s hard enough being a working woman in Afghanistan, but it’s asking for trouble to be on television acting out the problems in someone else’s fictional life. The video documents her problems as one actress flees after threats from her family.
Akbar’s organisation, Young Women for Change (YWC), has decided to name the first all-women Internet cafe in Afghanistan SAHAR GUL. It opened in early March. They say:
It is named after her to remind every woman coming to internet café to remember how powerful a woman can be. Women like Sahar Gul are symbol of power and hope. Her name will be reminder for all Afghan women to remember that no matter what, they have the right to stand up and start their live all over again. They have the right to live even if all doors are closed to her face.
Every time a woman comes to our internet café and sees the name she will remember the power. They will always remember the fact that women are not only about what others describe them to be. Women are powerful; one doesn’t have to do great things but just fighting for your right makes you brave and powerful enough. If all of us have the power to at least fight for ourselves, no one will dare to tell us that we are not capable.
Watch ABC Australia’s inspiring report on Noorjahan Akbar, Trudi-Ann Tierney and the women of Afghanistan: