Bahar Fayeghi Ghadimi
Featured image from https://www.iranketab.ir/book/50420-chera-tariki-ra.
The people in these stories are looking for a place to find the stability they have lost. The migration of people is not always geographical, sometimes this migration (movement) takes place in their minds and within them.Massome Jafari
Due to four decades of conflict, about five million Afghans have found refuge in the neighboring country of Iran (Amir-Abdollahian, as cited in Gupta, 2022). However, despite these numbers, the underlying policy of the Iranian government has always been to treat Afghans as temporary guests who will return to their country one day. Afghans in Iran have been denied permanent residency and citizenship rights and their freedom of movement is strictly restricted including through the designation of no-go areas, such as cities and counties bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan, which prevents Afghans from traveling to, working, and studying in these places.
Living in a state of limbo is even harder for Afghan women, who face double discrimination. As Afghans, they are treated as inferior and excluded from the Iranian society. As women, they face many forms of gender-based violence by their families, society, and the government. These forces control women’s personal and public lives from their clothing, to their right to education, work, and freedom of movement.
A striking example of institutional violence against women is the fact that the government only issues work permits for Afghan men in specific categories of hard labor which forces women to find illegal employment and accept poor working conditions (e.g.,including long working hours, lack of health insurance, low pay). Furthermore, the patriarchal nature of Iranian society and Afghan families gives male relatives the power to limit women’s participation in society and their access to basic rights.
Despite all these restrictions, however, women have fought to acquire the necessary skills for improving their lives. Mothers especially have been advocating for the education of their daughters. Thus, second and later-generation Afghan women are well-educated and better equipped to resist marginalisation and oppression. By participating in cultural activities such as writing, poetry, and filmmaking, they can shed light on the obstacles they face, reclaim their identities and demand their rights.
Writing has become a significant tool for young Afghan women to resist power structures. They often use short stories to voice their grievances and say the unsayable.
Masoome Jafari, a second-generation Afghan born in Iran in 1996, challenges violence against women using creative techniques such as surrealism. Her book Why not make darkness my god? consists of eleven short stories written between 2015 and 2020, where she addresses issues, such as being denied Iranian citizenship, domestic violence and racism within Iranian society. Her characters are brave young women trying to free themselves from the forces that constrain them. Liberation is often achieved by going to the university, working, undertaking artistic activities, moving away from controlling families and migration to a third country.
In the story “Few months before 1399”, Jafari writes about the struggles of a woman to make a living in a society that does not accept her. At the end, the character discovers masturbation as a form of liberation. The young mother of the story has recently moved to the “town” (which refers to Iran), and works in a tailoring workshop, a common profession amongst Afghans in Iran, to save money and bring her child with her. She is overworked and underpaid by her employer and made to work and sleep in the run-down building of the workshop. She is ignored by her colleagues and denied honey, a source of strength for the people of the “town”. However, she does not give up or stop her search for honey. One day, feeling so hungry and weak, she tries to find honey within herself through masturbation.
When she completely collected the honey with her finger, she felt that she loved her life more than she could ever imagine, she even loved her employer and her husband. She thought she was not upset with anyone. At that moment, it did not matter to her if the whole workshop caught on fire and went up in the air. The important thing was that she finally found the honey mine and she was no longer hungry (Jafari, 2021, p. 27).
Jafari’s character displays resistance in many ways. She found employment despite governmental policies that deny women work permits and give employers carte blanche to exploit women’s productive labor. She does not stay silent when Iranians tell her to go back to her country, and instead demands to know why she is not sold honey. Finally, she tries to make her own living despite difficult conditions.
Jafari channels her resistance through writing, which she uses to raise awareness about the difficulties facing Afghan women in Iran and inside their homes. In fact, honey is a metaphor for many commodities that Afghans in the country can hardly access. Furthermore, telling a surrealist story of a woman’s discovery of sexual pleasure is a way of challenging structural silencing and social taboos, which ultimately make it so hard to talk directly about gender-based violence in all its forms.
Gupta, K. (2022, May 24). Face to face with a hostile host. Asia Democracy Chronicles. https://adnchronicles.org/2022/05/24/face-to-face-with-a-hostile-host/.
Jafari, M. (2021). Why not make darkness my god? Nashr Rowzaneh.
Bahar Fayeghi Ghadimi is a third year PhD student in the department of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Edinburgh. Her background in politics and international relations of the Middle East, her experience working with the United Nations in Iran and her interest in gender and refugee studies have led to her current research on the everyday resistance of Afghan women in Iran. Specifically, she focuses on how women combine multiple practices to resist material and ideational domination at the family, societal and governmental levels. You can tweet her @BFayeghi