It was a foreign bank in Afghanistan. While opening a bank account a woman was asked about her mother’s name. She couldn’t remember. In Afghanistan’s staunchly patriarchal society, women are often publicly identified by the names of their male relatives. There are no traces of a mother’s name in school registers. Afghan women live as someone’s daughter, sister, or wife. Their identity derives from their relationships with men who are often perceived as their owners.
For Afghan men, revealing the names of their female relatives in public is considered shameful and dishonourable. From cradle to grave, a woman doesn’t have her name anywhere. The mother’s name is not there in the birth certificate and the bride’s name is not mentioned in the wedding invitation. When girls are born in Afghanistan, it takes families weeks to give them a name and when a woman dies, her death notice and tombstone will often bear the name of her husband.
Activist groups have taken to the streets to protest against this state of affairs. Facebook and Twitter are flooded with the #WhereIsMyName campaign. This online campaign has been recently started by a group of young Afghan women and is challenging the age-old patriarchal tradition that exists in Afghani society. 25-year-old Laleh Osmany, who initiated the campaign from the western Afghan city of Herat, feels that the campaign is to help women guarantee their “most basic right.” They have a specific demand, which is to include the names of the Afghan women in official documents.
The campaigners have received support from a large section of writers, singers, and journalists. Farhad Darya Nashir, a popular singer in Afghanistan, has posted a picture of him with his wife with the caption, “Farhad and Sultana Darya”. According to Tahmineh Rashiq, another campaign founder, “I am tired of being called the daughter or the mother of someone.”
Actually, the idea that a woman’s name cannot be uttered has been mixed with the Afghan tradition. That is why it is difficult to change it suddenly. After the end of the Taliban era, women are going to school, they have earned their voting rights and many of them are working. Yet the patriarchal mind set has not changed. Important family decisions are predominantly taken by men.
According to Farzana Wahidy, an award-winning Afghani documentary photographer and photojournalist who had met many Afghan women for her assignments, “I was repeatedly stopped when I wanted to photo-graph women. I had to take the permission of their husbands or other male members of the household.”
The group behind the campaign wants to build pressure on the government. They feel that whenever there is a demand for women’s rights, the law makers come up with arguments related to religion.
A spokesperson from the Kabul High Court is of the opinion that they do not have any problem in mentioning the names of the women in the birth certificate or any other government document but seemed apprehensive of the societal backlash following such a decision.
Spreading the message isn’t easy though. Only a tiny fraction of women have access to the internet while vast areas of Afghanistan are inaccessible. The campaign needs to expand out of the digital space to achieve its real goal.