1. The first time I experienced sexual harassment I was only six years old. I used to go to our neighbor’s house every day and play with their daughter. She had two older brothers who would hug and kiss me and pull my curly hair. One day I got so upset and tired of their behavior that I went straight home and cut off part of my hair.
2. We were invited to a wedding. I was still a child. I was wearing a red dress and was playing with some of the other children. During one of our games a teenage boy touched my bottom. I felt so terrible that I spent the rest of the wedding glued to my mother’s side.
3. I was eleven years old. My mother took me to the Bazaar with her. There was a young man standing next to the door of the bus. He winked at me. No one had told me that this kind of harassment is not my fault. I felt helpless, guilty and useless. The bad feeling didn’t leave me alone for a week. After that whenever we were outside, I wouldn’t look at men because I was afraid they would wink at me. From a young age, I learned to be scared of men.
4. When I was seventeen I went to a public bathhouse with my sister. It was an old bathhouse and to make it warm they had to build a fire underneath it. That day the pot where the fire was kept broke down. The whole place was filled with smoke. We couldn’t breath and our eyes were burning. I quickly wore my clothes and came outside to save our lives. The men of our community had all gathered around and were staring at us. Hastily, I had worn my skirt inside out. One of the men looked at me and yelled, “Lady, you are wearing your skirt inside out.”
He kept mocking me and everyone looked. I was so upset that I wanted to slap him. I kept asking myself; why some men allow themselves to behave in this way. I have never harassed a man; why are they so obsessed with my body, the way I walk, the way I live… What do they gain from harassing me? Do they behave like this with the women in their own families?
5. My family lived in Herat. In 2008, I went to Kabul for a conference. On the way back on the Kam Air plane, a young man was sitting behind me. Suddenly I felt his hand on my side. He had put his hand through the chair and was touching my side. I pushed his hand away twice. The third time, I got up and asked him why he was moving his hand towards me. I was loud to make sure everyone could hear me. He didn’t expect me to get up and defend myself. He began mumbling and denied what he had done. All the other passengers were looking at me. I could see in their eyes that they were impressed by my courage to speak up. When we were leaving the plan, the young man looked at me angrily but I ignored him. I hope it was a lesson for him to never harass women again. In our society, we tell women and girls that if they speak up against harassment or sexual violence they will be blamed themselves, but silence is not the solution.
6. One time I went to Kabul for a work assignment. I got sick while traveling and one of my friends took me to a doctor. The doctor examined my stomach and attempted to move his hand up and touch my breasts. I pushed his hand aside with my entire body’s force. I was extremely upset.
“Aren’t you ashamed of abusing your sacred profession? I came here because I had to and you are treating me like this? Even if my brother and father are not here to defend me, don’t you have a guilty conscience?” I asked him. I felt unsafe and sorry for the women of my country.
7. Some men are so shameless they harass women in front of their families as well. One time I was sitting behind my father on his motorcycle that a few men who were the same age as my father began harassing me. They kept speaking at us and making inappropriate comments until my father moved to the side of the street and waited for them to go away.
Street and sexual harassment of any kind harms women and girls. It causes trauma and prevents women and girls from flourishing and reaching their full potential. It even prevents many women from finishing their education and harm both the women and our society as a whole. The stories I wrote here are just a few of the instances of harassment I have faced. Not just I but every Afghan woman has a collection of stories like this. We all need to start talking about this problem and tackle it. Silence in the face of harassment allows it to continue.