“My love will gather us both together on the day of resurrection Brutes have placed stones between us in this world.” – On Friday, 16 September, the Mirman Baheer Association, a Pashtun women’s socio-cultural network, met in Kabul.* It was the third gathering of Pashto women poets by the Association and it brought together more than 100 women poets from all over Afghanistan. AAN’s Naheed Esar Malikzay reflects on Pashtun women’s poetry and about how it mirrors their status in society.
The poems presented at the gathering reflected on the social conditions of Pashtun women in Afghan society. The subject of most of the poems covered discrimination against women in society and inside the families. Women’s expressions of love and society’s restrictions on them were also recurrent themes.
The poetry gathering was especially important because it was occurring despite the difficulties surrounding the conditions that most Pashto female poets, especially in rural areas, face. Rahila Moska’s suicide was given as one of the worst examples of limitations for women poets.
Rahila Moska was a young lyricist, from Helmand province, who committed suicide on 8 April 2010. She did so after her family caught her while she was reading her poem over the phone at one of the earlier Mirman Baheer poetry gatherings. The family had beaten her up very severely and had warned her to not write poems anymore. Ogay (an active member of Mirman Baheer, who was in phone contact with Rahila Mosk for over one year) said ‘In the last phone contact that I had with Rahila Moska, she told me about her suicide attempt. She was burned 90%. She is a victim of violence against female poets’.
Many of the female poets expressed how they are even not allowed to leave their houses. Gulalai Omarkhel explained that not allowing women to go out of the house was a major problem. She noted that ‘some women who joined Friday’s gathering did so without informing their families’.
Landai poems, a form of Pashtun women’s poetry, was given as an example of Pashtun women’s social reflection in their poems. Sahira Sharif, Member of Parliament from Khost province and co-founder of Mirman Baheer, said ‘Most Pashtun women are not allowed to express their emotions in society, not even in poems. But the spirit to raise their voice is always alive in them’.
It is the restrictions on women that resulted in them writing Landai, a form of poetry where the author is not known. It is a way of expressing their emotions in poems, while hiding their names.
With all the restrictions on Pashtun women’s lives, their true voice can often only be expressed in poetry. The poems should not only be seen as poetry, but as a broader expression of Pashtun women’s social status and the conditions of their lives. When reading the poems, it is this angle of the poems that should be raised and taken seriously.
Here is the translation of some of the poems read in that gathering:
You will witness a poetic scene if my voiceless voice is risen
You will hear thousands of voices kept behind those scenes
My tragic words will then burst out of my wounded heart
You will then hear thousands of my unheard poems.
Oh my sister- lost in the traditional struggle of the society
Oh my sister- lost in the shadow of pain
Your heart was full of dreams and hope
Oh my sister- lost in the darkness of war
Likewise I have also experienced the bitterness of life
Likewise I have also experienced miseries and agonies.
* The Mirman Baheer association was founded in 2008, with an aim to network and coordinate women poetry and to unite Pashto female poetry. Their gatherings are one way of doing this. Mirman Baheer has representation in most provinces of Afghanistan. For more information see: www.mirmanbaheer.org
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020