Afghan women writing for their rights

Founded in 2013, non-profit organisation Free Women Writers hopes to improve women’s lives by simply telling their stories, in their own words.
Free Women Writers co-founder Noorjahan Akbar (right) addressing a human rights conference at Georgetown University about Afghan women's fight for their rights.
Free Women Writers co-founder Noorjahan Akbar (right) addressing a human rights conference at Georgetown University about Afghan women's fight for their rights.PHOTO: HASHT E SUBH

AFGHANISTAN • One of the first female Persian poets, Rabia Balkhi, was killed hundreds of years ago for falling in love with a slave and daring to write poetry.

Much like her, women of modern-day Afghanistan still face violence.

In late 2016, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission investigated 5,575 cases of violent crimes against women, noting that most cases go unreported.

Now, about 11 centuries after Balkhi's murder, her nation's daughters have launched a non-profit organisation to stand up for their rights through writing.

Founded in 2013 by Afghan activists Noorjahan Akbar and Batul Moradi, alongside a collective of writers, students and activists, Free Women Writers hopes to improve women's lives by simply telling their stories, in their own words.

Their first book, Daughters Of Rabia, was published the same year.

 
  • 15

  • Number of volunteers translating into English the poems, memoirs and articles, written by Afghan women, that Free Women Writers has helped publish. The non-profit organisation has published two books, Daughters Of Rabia (below) and You Are Not Alone.

    Free Women Writers co-founder Noorjahan Akbar (right) addressing a human rights conference at Georgetown University about Afghan women's fight for their rights.

"In the streets of Kabul, many vendor children were selling extremist books for 30 Afghanis (S$0.57). Most of these books were about women and spread misogyny under religious pretences. We wanted to provide an alternative," said Ms Akbar, who was featured in Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women of the World for her advocacy work.

Using Ms Akbar's personal savings, the organisation managed to print 1,500 copies, all of which were distributed within a month.

The content was also made available on social media.

Free Women Writers has helped more than 140 women publish poems, memoirs and articles, with hundreds of these having been translated into English by 15 volunteers.

A second book, You Are Not Alone, was published last September.

The organisation uses the profits from the book sales to finance higher education scholarships for young women in Afghanistan.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2018, with the headline 'Afghan women writing for their rights'. Print Edition | Subscribe