A voice of liberation

Tabasum Wolayat speaks out against foreign stereotyping of Afghan women.

I am an Afghan woman – brown skinned and sometimes with “headgear,” as you call it. You call me by different names: oppressed, helpless, voices of submission.

Don’t think I am oppressed only because I am an Afghan woman; don’t think I know less than you only because I am not an American; don’t try to tell me that your country has liberated me and freed me from “abusive” Afghan men; don’t think I am desperately in need of your help; don’t attempt to tell me that I’m “helpless” and “oppressed”; don’t think saving me is your job and that you are my saviour; don’t think that Afghan women and girls are waiting to be rescued by you.

For centuries, women have been defining their identities and so have Afghan women. Don’t define my identity. I have an identity; it’s stronger than you might think. Don’t label me as oppressed only because I have a hejab and you wear tank tops; don’t label me conservative when I put the dress of my choice on. DON’T try to mute my voice, my choice.

You have made me accept total responsibility for myself, my own “oppressed” status, the oppression of the Afghan men, and the sin of being both an Afghan and a woman. Memories of being a woman course through my veins: when you compare me with Aisha, an Afghan woman whose nose was cut off by her family members; when you show yourself as the “god” of Afghan women; when you make me hate my country, my people, myself; when you define me as a liberated Afghan woman living in the West. I am not free from the oppression of being a woman, yet oppression has been doubled.

I am NOT an oppressed woman, yet your judgemental comments about Afghan women oppress me. I know what liberation and oppression mean. There is no need for you to cast me in a category. You don’t know about anyone anywhere, blinded by your privilege. Don’t urge me to call you a failure because you are restrained from consciousness, your knowledge is limited to your whiteness and privilege.

I AM an Afghan woman and I have experiences in life. I have lived my years inside brown skin and my Afghan nationality and I haven’t shown my bruises, my wounds to anyone. I have unending strength, an ever-growing intellect, a heart as big as the heavens and earth, and a soul that is most forgiving though I carry heavy burdens. I AM a woman of strength, integrity, heart and mind.

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Image of four different coloured speech bubbles by Marc Wathieu, shared under a Creative Commons licence.