The Afghan Women’s Writing Project: ‘To Tell One’s Story is a Human Right’
In May 2009, Masha Hamilton founded The Afghan Women’s Writing Project, also known as AWWP. Their mission statement is simple, straight to the point, and pierces the heart with its truth: “To tell one’s story is a human right.”
Hamilton is a journalist, published author, and founder of the AWWP as well as the Camel Book Drive. She spent five years as a journalist in the Middle East, and also taught in Afghanistan.
Hamilton was compelled to create the AWWP after witnessing footage of an Afghan woman named Zarmeena being executed in 1999. She was sentenced to death for allegedly killing her husband. The execution took place in the Kabul Ghazi Stadium by the Taliban. Hamilton wanted to find out more about Zarmeena, but “few details were available and this brought home to [Hamilton] that not only were women hidden beneath burqas, but their stories were silenced.”
She then began her research in Afghanistan, and made her first trip in 2004. When Hamilton returned in 2008, she noted that the mood was shifting as the Taliban’s power began to grow again. She thought again of women’s voices being quieted.
“After many years as a journalist, I had come to believe that telling our own stories is as important to a certain kind of survival as food and shelter,” she writes in her mission statement. Thus, AWWP was born.
AWWP sets up Internet cafes in Afghanistan and hosts mentor workshops for Afghan women by experienced writers online. The program includes an English and a Dari workshop. AWWP then publishes the women’s essays, poems, and stories onto their organization’s website. Such as this example:
AWWP “hope[s] to first and foremost empower Afghan women to tell their own stories and truths. We’ve found that participation in the project also promotes greater economic independence for AWWP writers by strengthening computer literacy, writing skills and self-confidence. We also seek to encourage the inclusion of women’s voices in Afghanistan’s national dialogue…and becoming a part of an international community beyond their own borders.”
The organization notes that they also specifically selected Afghanistan because of a global survey conducted in 2011 which stated that Afghanistan is the worst place to be a woman. It continues today as one of the top worst places for a women to live. While the women have limited rights, AWWP hopes that “by giving them a way to find their voices, we can help them take control of their own lives and make changes that feel right to them.”
Currently, over 90 Afghan women have participated in this project. Due to security reasons, AWWP has only been able to bring in additional members by word of mouth. Online programs are still being used, and meetings are held in undisclosed locations.
AWWP is about women empowering women. It is about helping your fellow sisters across the world. Writing and education lead to freedom and change. The powers of technology and the Internet have supplied us with ways in which we can reach across the globe and hold out our hands and ears. AWWP allows us to say, we hear you, we feel for you, we care about you, and we will help you. In return, we are learning so much about a group of women that their country wants to silence.
Movements such as Afghan Women’s Writing Project should be funded and encouraged. To support this mission, you can learn more here. If you wish to help, you can do so by donating here. You can also learn about specific projects, volunteer, and get directly involved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: AMY VAUGHN
As a Montclair State University graduate with a BA in English, my first love is writing, specifically nonfiction and short stories. International human rights and women’s rights are also strong passions of mine. I hope to someday be able to call myself Chief Editor, human rights advocate, and jewelry designer. I can’t live without Mad Men (er, Netflix), soy chai lattes, or my adorable Wheaten terrier, Pippin.