Thoughts from Afghanistan: Afterword in Lewis & Clark Chronicle
After traveling to Afghanistan last fall, I was asked to write a piece for my college’s alumni magazine. I was honored to contribute to the Lewis & Clark Chronicle, and it was a good chance to dig deeper into a subject that continues to be at the forefront of my mind: women’s rights.
“Remember that being a woman is different in Afghanistan.”
I was getting yet another opinion on my decision to travel to Afghanistan. The statement was said out of love, in an effort to remind me that I should be aware of my surroundings and behavior. Just because I was a strong, independent woman, I should be sure to remember to respect local culture. But it was also coming from someone who had never traveled to Afghanistan.
In this day and age of the Internet and television, we can know a lot about the rest of the world without ever leaving our homes, and that gives us the illusion of being informed. Like many of my peers, I too had a certain view of what “women in Afghanistan” meant. Visions of burqas and limited rights came to mind. But I also knew
that on the other side of the world, we often only hear one side of the story. We are limited by what mass media feeds us. So I made an effort to go into Afghanistan with an open mind and an open heart.
I had been invited to take part in a two-week public art project for the non-profit Mountain2Mountain. Our goal was to arrange public installations of Streets of Afghanistan, a series of large-scale photographs designed to show Afghanistan as Afghans see it. The exhibition had recently toured the United States and was now returning to its country of origin—to communities that rarely experience public art.
Afghanistan is not a travel destination you choose lightly. I was well aware of the risks that awaited me on the other side of the world. But there was also so much that I didn’t know.
Before Afghanistan, I had never worn a headscarf.
Before Afghanistan, I had never really contemplated my own assumptions about burqas.
Before Afghanistan, I had taken my own personal rights as an American female for granted.
In terms of women’s rights, Afghanistan is full of obstacles, but there’s also room for hope. In the post-Taliban world, between 1999 and 2010, the number of girls enrolled in education rose from 4 percent to 79 percent. It is a country where a woman can be beheaded for refusing to go into prostitution, but it’s also a country where the youngest member of Parliament is a woman. Assuming that we know what women’s rights means in Afghanistan results in closing our minds to what is possible.
Read the full article here.