The Afghan Parliament recently drafted a law intended to eliminate violence against women, who are beginning to reject old cultural practices and assert themselves in public and in private. I went to the Kabul home of Sahera Sharif, a Pashtun and the first female member of parliament from Khost. "No one knew a woman could put up campaign photos and posters on the walls in Khost—men didn't allow women to even have jobs in Khost," she said.
As a girl, Sharif stood up to her father, a conservative mullah, locking herself in a closet until he allowed her to go to school. She lived through the civil war between competing mujahideen groups, who ravaged Kabul before the Taliban conquest in 1996. She witnessed unimaginable cruelty and many deaths. "Much of the violence and cruelty you see now," Sharif said, "is because people are crazy from all these wars."
After the Taliban fell in December 2001, Sharif started a radio station to educate women about hygiene and basic health. More radically, she volunteered to teach at the university in Khost (a first there). She took off her burka (another first) and stood before the male students teaching them psychology. They blushed. And so she began to reeducate them.
As we talked, I could see what an inspiration Sahera Sharif has been to her 15-year-old daughter, Shkola, who interrupted her mother to show me a photograph of a woman in a magazine. The woman was lying with her throat cut, murdered by her husband's family. The woman's mother, mad with grief, had begged the magazine to publish the photograph. "I became crazy from this picture," Shkola said. "I saw it over and over like a film."
Shkola is studying Islamic history and law. She intends to become a lawyer in order to help women defend themselves against violence and injustice. In the meantime, she is scouring books from Iran to find stories for children "like you have," she said. "We have almost none here. So I'm translating them into Pashtu, and I'm also writing a novel."
In various corners of the country—in Khost and Kandahar, in Herat and Kabul—I've met young women like Shkola. They're writing not the old landays but poems and novels, and they're making documentaries and feature films. These are the new stories women are telling about their lives in Afghanistan.