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In part one, Mahnaz, who was nine years old at the time, was riding in the front seat of a horse-cart—with her mother and sister seated in the back—when the driver grabbed her hand and would not let it go.
The horse cart driver didn’t release my hand. I still wasn’t sure of his motives. He was an old man. Maybe he was trying to help me, I thought. But I was wrong. In a few seconds, he led my hand further up and said, “Put your hand here.” He put my hand on his penis. My intuition was right. He had a dirty intention.
I felt a rebellious energy inside me. I pulled back my hand with strength. I stood, without any thought and fear, and I cried, “I want to get off.” The man got scared and said, “Okay, okay!” He stopped the horse.
My mom looked back, scared, and said, “What happened? Are you scared?” I was shocked and embarrassed but I managed to say, “I want to get off.” My mom did not argue much, thinking that I got scared of the ride. My sister and my mom got off the cart.
My mom paid the man and we left. The whole time I didn’t look at the man. I was paralyzed, filled with hatred. The whole world was soundless; I couldn’t hear anything but the sound of shame and guilt in my head. I just wanted to get away from the situation.
Taking a stand
I blamed myself for his dirty intention. I hated how vulnerable my gender was and how cruel he was to misuse my innocence to turn on his filthy desires. After an hour, on the way to my grandparents’ house, I got the courage to tell my mother what really happened. My mother asked, “Why you did not tell us sooner? We could hit the man.” I said, “I do not know. I was scared and shocked.”
Even though I did not have much information about male and female sexual desires at that time, my heart told me that somebody wanted to violate my gender. My mother and sister also had warned me in the past that there are some men who will try to harass women, so we should be careful.
That day I experienced the bitterest experience of my life. That day became poison that didn’t kill me but the bitter taste remains under my tongue.
Gender violence comes in different forms. This was one of the bitter forms I experienced. I believe women have an inner voice that tells them when somebody wants to harass them or violate them. We should hear our inner voice and stand against gender violence.
At the time of violence, sometimes we get shocked but we can be very powerful as well. What I learned from this experience is that girls need to know more about male and female sexuality; they need to be aware of the dangers and to know how they should react.
This post was written by Mahnaz and originally appeared on the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Republished with permission.
The Afghan Women’s Writing Project was founded in 2009 in defense of the human right to voice one’s story. Poems & essays by Afghan women are published online at awwproject.org.