Zahra Yagana: From Child Bride to Human Rights Defender
Posted on November 1, 2018
Historically Afghan women have always been marginalized and accorded subordinate status. The position of women in the family and society has been shaped by many factors and there are strong cultural and historical roots of danger discrimination. Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic and traditional society that has been governed along tribal lines and by a weak central state. In addition, the long years of war and violence in the country, and the resulting unstable political and economic situations, have had a severe impact on women. For instance, lack of education for women in remote areas, restrictions of conservative families and the early marriage are the biggest problems women face in Afghanistan.
Though Afghan women face challenges and restrictions on daily basis, despite that they emerge strong because they are armed with the power of hope, the believe that something better is always possible if they are willing to work for it and fight for it. Armed with such a hope try to become agents of change in the society and also encourage their fellow women to join the journey. A shining example of women’s struggle in pursuit of change is Zahra Yagana. She is victim of child marriage, sever domestic violence and civil war who overcame the past sufferings and turned to be active human rights defender and source of hope and inspiration of many women.
During Soviet Invasion War in Afghanistan, her family fled to Iran where she was forced to marry an addicted man while she was only 13 years old and a school student of grade 6, too young to know about marriage and marital responsibilities. During almost 10 year of marriage life, she experienced many types of domestic violence from physical laceration and attempt to burn her on fire. Despite all these painful and incapacitating sufferings, she managed to emerge strong and continue her education up to grade 12. In late 2009 when she returned to Kabul, she overcame traditional and patriarchal barriers and social stigmas by convincing court to issue her divorce from her aggressor and addicted husband. “After getting divorce life seemed to hold all the promise of a new beginning”, she said.
Now, it has been about ten years that she has started the journey of being human rights activist. During this period, she has worked with many human rights organizations, however, her fruitful span of human rights defending career started as of 2010 when she started to take active role in human rights and democracy organization and to run legislative theatre dialogues for amendment of discriminatory laws 1. During theatre dialogues she has travelled to many provinces and talked with hundreds of women about their sufferings. The outcome of this adventurous step was to play key role in documenting women rights concerns by preparing two reports on the issues which titled as: “Women of Afghanistan after the Taliban Era” and “Reviewing women’s rights from men’s prospective for the purpose of influencing the legislation process to make it more gender sensitive, she submitted the reports to Parliament of Afghanistan.
Another enduring work of Zahra Yagana is writing a book called “the Light of Ashes”. The book which was nationally praised portrays her story and suffering which are common among Afghan women in best way making it very memorable, as a result, the book became bestseller book of 2016 in Afghanistan. The book has a strong Human Rights approach and talks about every angels of violence against women that is prevalent at home and in the community; from marital rape, to difficulties and stigmas of divorce for Afghan women.
In addition, it talks about religious matters proving that religion is used as a tool to exclude women from the rights including custody of their children after divorce. Besides, the book showcases how a victim of violence saved her daughter’s and her own life after lots of struggle and efforts and how she becomes a human rights defender. This was a crossing of red line in traditional society of Afghanistan that a woman steps forward for the first time and narrated openly and publicly her personal experiences and sufferings of being woman married at her childhood and subjected to various type of domestic violence. “It wasn’t easy to write this book because while writing I had to recall all those painful memories and the sufferings I faced but somehow I felt the urge to write it down to the smallest detail”, she said.
The book inspired many victim women and girls to not yield to violence and be courageous in fighting for their rights and better life. Many individuals shared their views about the book on their personal pages and acknowledged that the book narrated their story and the author is a hero of their lives. Lots of men stated that after reading the book, they got a better picture about the pain and difficulties of women in Afghanistan, some of them stated that they cried for the pains inflicted on Zahra and other women. Some others announced to stand alongside women and fight for brining changes.
Her life, experience and story represent the life of Afghan women who have suffered decades of war, violence, restriction, pain and all that robbed them of a normal life. In spite of all these sufferings and challenges, Afghan women struggle to shape a new chapter which is filled with hope, possibilities and opportunities that change their long-waited dreams to reality. It is exciting to conclude that, Zahra Yagana’s journey has inspired and encouraged her fellow women to emerge strong and become the agents of change in the society. It also helped them to realize that their history of keeping silence haven’t done anything good for them. They need to rise, fight for their rights, overcome hardships, reach to success and more importantly make Afghanistan synonymous with possibilities and change.
-Ahmad Shah Karimi