Last week, the New York Times published a story concerning the loss of many Afghan women’s identities. Specifically, the practice of some men referring to their wives with terms like ‘my goat,’ ‘my chicken,’ and ‘my weak one’, as opposed to their given name.
According to the more patriarchal sections of Afghan society, calling a woman by the name given to her at birth dishonours her. Now, Afghan women are fighting back. On social media, a hashtag that translates to #WhereIsMyName has gone viral, as thousands of wives, daughters and mothers work to reclaim their erased identity.
According to the New York Times, the aim is two-fold. Along with obviously wanting to be referred to by their actual name, the women are working to ‘break the deep-rooted taboo that prevents men from mentioning their female relatives’ names in public.’
Speaking to the newspaper, Afghan sociologist Hassan Rizayee said this custom, ‘was rooted in tribal ways of life.’
‘This is a traditional and cultural issue; it needs a long-term cultural struggle and fight. By weakening tribal cultures, and awareness through the media, this type of thinking about woman could be changed.’
We have an enormous amount of respect for this movement. The women’s visible fight for agency over such a basic right highlights the absurdity of this regressive and patriarchal tradition. When something spreads online, the world takes note. As activist Bahar Sohaili told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, ‘With this campaign we aim to change many things for women and social media has opened a new window to Afghanistan’s young generation.’
The New York Times describes how the hashtag began in Herat Province, before spreading across Afghanistan on social media. It’s proved so popular that the cause has even been championed by Afghan celebrities, like singer and National Goodwill Ambassador Farhad Darya.
Since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, Afghan women have regained the right to vote, work, and go to school. However, oppressive practices that were culturally entrenched, and exacerbated by the extremist group, have continued. Women have still been the victims of violence in the country, and we feel it’s fair to say that stripping someone of their name falls into this category, albeit in a psychological form.
Fortunately, global campaigns like #WhereIsMyName will play a part in putting an end to such oppression; consigning pet names like ‘my weak one’ to history.