It's hard enough for young women around the world to escape the spiral of prostitution with their own forces, but it's even harder when it's their families obliging them to engage in unwanted sexual encounters. When that happens, it's easy to understand why they would feel like they have nobody to rely on, and would often see that coercion as a duty to fulfill for the good of the family. It's a black hole from which many of them are never given the chance to return.
This past October 14th a young Afghan woman was murdered in the province of Herat, Afghanistan, by some members of her own family, because she refused to be forced into prostitution. They slashed her throat. Her name was Mah Gul. I have chills thinking about how horrifying this is. Honor killings are a frequent occurrence in countries like Afganistan, Pakistan and India. When a child - more often a daughter - disobeys her parents, dishonor is brought upon the family, which feels the right to do whatever it takes to bring order back. A daughter who doesn't dress conservately, puts make up, hangs out with male friends or refuses to marry somebody chosen by her parents, brings shame upon the family, and this defiant behavior can be punished in many ways, from locking her in a room, tortures, or even taking her life. Mah wasn't doing any of this. She was murdered by her own family just because she refused to give herself to a man she didn't even know.
When you read about stories like these, you would expect a male name to make the headlines. And most of the times it is. Not this time. Mah's father wasn't even at the scene when she was killed. Her mother-in-law did it, along with her cousin. It's a cultural atrocity that transcends gender. In some areas of Afghanistan - especially those that remain controlled by the Talibans - women are still raped, forced into pre-arranged marriages as soon as they hit puberty, or murdered if not compliant. Also, they are often forced into prostitution by their own families who "lend" them to settle debts or disputes. From the moment they are born, they are denied their basic human rights, including access to education.
Speaking of education, I can't help noticing the location this murder took place: Herat. In this city - the third largest in Afghanistan - Film Annex and the Afghan Citadel Software Company are joining forces and resources to open Internet classrooms in 40 schools, affecting the learning and professional opportunities of 160,000 children. This not only will potentially boost the future economy of Afghanistan, but it will also help bring that change the Afghan culture needs in terms of proposing, accepting and implementing women freedom and emancipation. Despite the gravity of these crimes, I can't help feeling optimistic thinking that we are one step closer to make this unspeakable violence become history forever.