For those of you joining us on the Afghanistan reading challenge – I hope all is going well with your chosen books. And if you haven’t got started yet, then maybe this will encourage you.
In my travels around the internet in search of fascinating tidbits about Afghanistan, I came across a truly fantastic project which is completely in the spirit of Packabook. It is the woman’s writing project AWWP , started by the novelist Masha Hamilton, and it is helping to give Afghan women a voice.
If you visit the AWWP site you can read first-hand what these courageous women are writing, often sharing their stories at great risk to themselves. Most take part in secret. I cannot encourage you enough to have a look around, read their stories and comment on their work – this is how they know their stories are making it out to the wider world.
I was so moved by these extraordinary stories that I asked Masha Hamilton whether she’d respond to a few questions about the project, and she kindly agreed.
What inspired you to start the project?
The inspiration actually came back in 1999, when I saw a smuggled video tape that showed the execution of Zarmeena in Kabul. I understood from this horrific event that Afghan women were not only hidden beneath burqas, but their voices were being silenced. Even after the defeat of the Taliban regime, we rarely hear from Afghan women in their own words, without the filter of media or their men — and that is the mission of this project.
How do you find the women to take part?
In a variety of ways, primarily through direct contacts. The project is spread by word-of-mouth only in Afghanistan.
Most of the contributions from the women appear to be autobiographical or biographical, but do you see a time when they may branch into experimenting with fiction? We certainly need more novels written by Afghan women….
We do have a few women who fictionalize. But many Afghan women who write in our workshops are motivated by a desire to share their own stories, as this has been a path often closed to them and as little worth has been put on their views and experiences.
As a novelist you certainly seem to have a penchant for foreign lands for your settings – what are your thoughts on the contribution novels set in less accessible countries make to our understanding of the world? And will you be writing a book set in Afghanistan?
As a novelist, and as a journalist, I have been drawn to foreign locales for a variety of reasons. One is that I think it helps me understand my own life to view it through another lens. I am working on the next novel now, and yes, Afghanistan does play a small part.
I know you are always looking for donations to help buy women laptops on which to write, but what else are you raising money for?
AWWP’s fundraising at the moment is focused on the writers’ corner that our team is opening up in Kabul, in a safe neighborhood, and a non-descript, unmarked building with a live-in building guard. This is the first step to what we hope will eventually be AWWP support for Afghanistan’s first women-only Internet cafe, so that women in that country can continue to have a pipeline to the outside world, whatever happens on a political or security level. This site, opening this month, will be a place for our writers to read, send us their essays, stories and poems, and also share community along with chai. We are very excited about this step in the project.
I also asked Masha what drove the women to take the risk to write, and she urged me to read what the women themselves had to say. Here are some of their comments.
“The writing project gave me a voice, the project gave me courage to appear as a woman, to tell about my life, to share my pains and experiences. I wonder how big the change in my destiny is because of your work and this project. Who would trust an online class, a writing project, to change a destiny and a faith? 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 if I stand, everyone will stand, other women in my country will stand.” —Roya
“I am writing from Farah, a province in western Afghanistan with a low level of education, and still many men do not like that I write and don’t know why I write. They have tried to stop me from writing, but I never gave up. I will do it more and more and show what I’ve tolerated as a woman and how much Afghan people suffer in their lives. I have thousands of words in my heart to tell the world in thanks to the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.” —Seeta
“This project supports Afghan women by showing they are as important as other women in the world. It shows the world that even though Afghan women faced lots of problems, they didn’t lose their ability or courage. It shows the kindness of American women who spend their precious time working for the development of their Afghan sisters.” —Sabira
Please spread the word about the amazing work AWWP is doing – bookmark it, tweet it, facebook it and mention it on your own blogs – let’s see what we can do to these brave women of Afghanistan who are using laptops, secreted USB sticks, and trusted male relatives to reach out to the rest of us.