Hopes and fears of mother-to-be in Afghanistan

A mother in Afghanistan has been talking about the hopes and fears for her unborn daughter in a country where the birth of a girl can often be a curse rather than a blessing. Women and girls, in particular, often suffer abuse at the hands of men in a male-driven society where boys are sometimes valued above girls.

Arfia Omid works for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Afghanistan where one in three girls are married before their 18th birthday and only 19 per cent of females under 15 years old are literate.

She has written this letter to her unborn child.

“My lovely baby, I haven’t met you yet, but I already know how beautiful you are — with your dark eyes, smiling face, soft, brown hair and golden heart. I have dreamed of having you my entire life.

I count the days and nights until I will finally hold you in my arms and love you as much as I can. Now you are only seven months and I can feel you when you move. ‘Naughty daughter’, I laugh quietly to myself.

Do you know, before you were even in my womb, I went to buy clothes for your brothers, and I saw a baby girl’s dress in the market? I stopped there for a while and wished to God to give you to me. You know what? I bought that dress. I knew that my next child would be a girl. I can’t wait to see you in it; you will be an Afghan princess.

UNICEF/Omid Fazel In Afghanistan, one in three girls are married before their 18th birthday.

But with all the happiness and excitement that I have, I am also nervous for you and your future in this country. I hear such sad stories about Afghan girls, but I also see how strong they are – so do not be afraid. You will also be strong.

Together, we will help more women realise their promise and potential. This is my dream for you.

The suffering of Afghan mothers
Afghanistan is a tough place to be a girl. Just two months ago, I cried for a mother who had just given birth to a baby girl. The father killed his wife because she delivered a baby girl. He escaped with the baby. I really can’t process the suffering and fear this mother endured. She had the most painful time delivering her baby — I know how hard it is for a woman to deliver at home without any healthcare facilities.

Then, after enduring labour and birth, she waited for her husband and relatives to congratulate her. Instead, her partner killed her with his own hands. Nobody knows where the baby is – or if she’s alive. I worry about how she’s surviving without breast milk. Or if her father really cares for her, or if he sold her?

I hear such sad stories about Afghan girls, but I also see how strong they are – so do not be afraid. You will also be strong

I thank God that our circumstances are different. Your father loves you, as I love you. And your brothers love you. Together, we will protect you.

When I went for the sonogram with your father, the doctor asked me, ‘What do you want? A boy or a girl’?
I said, ‘I want a baby girl’.

She said, ‘Do you know, you’re the first mother I hear that wants a girl’? Then she told me that the woman who came before me came from a remote area. She told the doctor that if this time she gives birth to a girl, her husband will leave her and get married to another woman.

‘Luckiest baby and mother in Afghanistan’
My little girl, I know that we are the luckiest baby and mother in Afghanistan. And I want you to know that things will be better for you than they were for me, just as they were better for me than for my mother. When my mother gave birth to me, she did so in a poor family. We didn’t even have our own home. When she was in second year of university, your uncle was born. Despite her hard work and dreams, she couldn’t continue her lessons. She sacrificed her life to support and protect her children.

Only a fifth of girls under 15 years old are literate in Afghanistan.© UNICEF/Frank Dejo

So, years later, I found a way to thank her.

When I was in second year of university, I searched for a month and found her documents from the Ministry of Higher Education and her university. Then, I sought a permission letter from the Ministry to support her to join a private university. I gave her the registration paper of the new university as a gift for Mother’s Day. I remember, she cried and laughed at the same time.

She joined the university and graduated with her diploma just two years later. I can’t tell you how proud I felt. That day, she was the happiest woman in the world.

So, my lovely daughter, your grandmother is your reason to hope and to believe in change. Every day, Afghan women like her battle against the odds to bring their dreams to life. They empower each other, hand-in-hand, step-by-step. You will join that tradition, as I did. Together, we will help more women realise their promise and potential. This is my dream for you. And just as I turned my mother’s dream into reality, I think you will breathe life into mine.

I think about this at night when you keep me awake with your wriggling. I pray to God for a future where women and men have equal rights; and for blessed peace so I can send you to school without fear. I pray for your health and happiness. Mostly, I pray for you to be bold and courageous.

And you will be because you’ll be standing on my shoulders, my darling.

With love, Your mother, Arifa”.

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