A Thousand Girls Like Me

A Thousand Girls Like Me

Image by A Thousand Girls Like Me

Daniel Nelson 

Every woman in Afghanistan has 100 owners, says Sahra Mani, director of A Thousand Girls Like Me.

“It’s always been like this. Fathers, brothers, uncles, neighbours. They all believe they have the right to speak on our behalf and make decisions for us. That’s why our stories are never heard but buried with us underground.”

By making this documentary about a woman who spoke out and fought back after repeatedly being raped by her father – Mani has the satisfaction of telling at least one of those stories.

It’s about Zainab – and her mother, who stands by her when Zainab tells 14 mullahs about the rapes and the violent deaths of some of the resultant children. None of them helped: one said that if the Taliban were in power he would stone her father to death.

Undaunted, Zainab perseveres, and the 15th mullah advises her to go to the media: “The only place your voice can be heard.”.

Wise man. Swathed in a black chador, sitting on a huge black leather chair, she tells her story to the TV inquisitor.

It goes national – but the response is not all in her favour. Many accuse her of bringing her family into disrepute, a charge that dogs the rest of her life in Afghanistan. She and her mother and the children constantly move home, out of fear of retaliation by in-laws and because neighbours identify her:  one neighbour says she knows the whole story from Facebook – “It’s on her son’s phone”. Truly, there is no escape from social media these days.

Even her brothers browbeat, and in one case physically beat, her, because they can’t get jobs as a result of her “reputation”

The attitudes she encounters reveal fathomless depths of misogyny, the vicissitudes she endures (including an aborted adoption) are like the trials of Job. It’s shocking and harrowing, but the two women’s grit, intelligence and bravery illuminate the darkness, and amidst the tears and fears the humanity and affection of this travelling matriarchal family shine through.

Two slices of good luck (one scientific, one diplomatic) change Zainab’s fortune – though even this twist comes with pain.

Nevertheless, if you wipe away the final tears you are left on a positive, optimistic note – as long as you, albeit  temporarily, forget the other 999 girls like Zainab. And that number is certainly a terrifying underestimate

·      A Thousand Girls Like Me is showing at the Curzon Bloomsbury from 5 October (when there will be Q&A and discussion.


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