Madina, The invisible women of my world

It was 12 o’clock noon time. I got a call from a friend who was working with victims of violence and her voice was shaking. All she could say was, “please come soon”. I run to her office, all the way I thought of what had happened that made her so restless and broken. She is a solid person and has seen so much of up and down in her life and doesn’t easily get intimidated or broken. I knew something bad had happened.

She dealt with cases of violence against women and girls, every day she had a new case of a beaten wife, a daughter run away from abusive family, forced marriage, orphaned children and much more. Since I was working closely with her, all those stories were mine too. We would spend hours and days with these women and girls, provide whatever support we could, found lawyers for them, called every prosecutor, police officer or a government official we knew to help those women. Many disliked us for this work, many labelled us from foreign spies to doing business on women, but we continued. Everyday we felt stronger.

Thinking about all this. I was running the stairs to her office which seemed so long for the first time. Her office was in the second floor of a building. I knocked her door, no one spoke. I entered and saw my friend sitting next to a thin, dark-eyed girl who wasn’t breathing but was alive. She must have hardly been 10-11 years of age I told to myself. The both were silent and my friend had tears dried on her face. I broke the silence and asked.

This is what had happened to Madina.

Madina’s father had died in an explosion. Her mother being illiterate and having no family support, was pushed to marry their neighbour who was a gambler and Madina’s mother was sold out to the guy in marriage for some thousands of Afghanis. Madina’s mother had to conform and marry the guy. While initially her step-father showed off a kind face to Madina, she was always scared of his looks. As the time passed, the father started sexually abusing her in different occasions and every time she complained to her mother, the mother was not able to help her, the mother told her if she can get out of their house and find another place, that might be the only solution. One day, Madina, a child of 12 years decided to run away from this cruel men. She didn’t know where to go but there was a bread-baker in her community that she had found a genuine person. She went to the bread-baker and said she doesn’t want to stay with her family anymore. The bread-baker told her to go to the police. She had never been to the police nor the had any courage to do so. She sat in a corner of a road until later in the evening, a police patrol car was passing and saw the little girl hiding under a vegetable cart and took her with them to the police station. But what happened on the way was worse than before. The police officer had a drunk friend in the car that night who assaulted Madina further and forced her to drink alcohol. By the time they reached to the police station, it was late at night but there was one female constable in the station who gave refuge to Madina. She called a nurse to check her and provided immediate medical help and the next day called my friend who was working with them providing protection to victims and survivors. Here were were with Madina who was revictimized in  a patriarchal system that only sees women and girls as sex objects, even if that girl is a 12 year old child.

We filed a case against the police officer but he had a strong warlord supporting him so he was released in a matter of days. But Madina had a dream even if she couldn’t sleep at nights because of the fear of the brutalities inflicted on her. My friend continued supporting her, I provided help with her education.The women’s safe house enrolled her in school, she learned sewing skills and became a responsible young woman. She started a day care for the children of other women survivors and earns a living from her skills.

Today Madina is in her final year of law school. She wants to become a prosecutor and fight injustices. She tried to connect with her mother many times but found out last year that her mother died of tuberculoses recently. Despite having been abandoned by her mother, she doesn’t blame her mother for anything. She says women in my society are doomed by the patriarchy and forced to live lives they detest.

I still remember that day as a nightmare even as years have passed. I came across so many other incidents of violence but the strength I had seen in that 12 year old child has turned her into a strong woman of today, and I am proud to have contributed a bit for a better life for her.

Afghanistan continues to have so many battered and abused women and girls. The conflict has broken the social fabric of the society and every year thousands of Madina’s suffer in silence and vanish into darkness that we never hear from. But I chose to write Madina’s story as I ambitiously await her becoming the prosecutor for justice, Inshallah. As we say!

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Wazhma Frogh

A graduate of Law & Human Rights from the University of Warwick, UK, Wazhma Frogh is a lifetime campaigner for Afghan women. She has mobilized women's organizations & groups in Afghanistan & lobbied for women's political participation, and legal protection for victims of violence. She played a key role in the enacting of the country's first Elimination of Violence against Women Law & has worked with over 500 women organizations in the country on national and international campaigns. She founded two organizations working for Women, Peace & Security and has worked with the Afghan government on getting women into the police & army. She has been extensively trained in WPS concepts internationally & is engaged in the international campaign for women's inclusion in the negotiations with the Taliban. Wazhma received the International Woman of Courage Award from the US State Department Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama in 2009 for her work.
Wazhma Frogh

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