In a country where women are often publicly referred to by the names of their male relatives, the campaign Where Is My Name? aims to help Afghan women reclaim their identities. Launched on social media by a group of young Afghan women, and supported by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Afghan Service, the initiative that brings Afghan women’s rights to the forefront of media attention has gone global.
The campaign consists mainly of thousands of men and women who are making the seemingly small, but in reality, profound decision to share the names of their mothers, sisters, and wives on Twitter and Facebook using the #WhereIsMyName (#ناممـکجاست). RFE/RL’s Afghan Service, known locally as Radio Azadi, has supported the movement by sharing responses and information on social media in English, Pashto, and Dari.
Famous singers and actresses have also joined the campaign, including Farhad Darya, a musician who was named Radio Azadi’s Person of the Year in 2011.
Radio Azadi dedicated a call-in radio show to the campaign, during which male participants reversed a traditional practice, and introduced themselves as the son, father, or husband of a woman. These statements, Radio Azadi reporter Malali Bashir tells RFE/RL Pressroom, were remarkable for putting the woman’s name first.
Reporters for Radio Azadi’s Kabul bureau also went to the streets to see if ordinary people were prepared to share the names of their female relatives -- and many did.
The campaign relies on networks inside Afghan communities to spread the message that women’s rights matter. Says Bashir, “I believe in sisterhood, which is called ‘Khorwali’ in Pashto, but I also believe that men can be important allies in this fight for women’s rights.”
“It is simply about giving women an identity. Her name is the first thing that should come to mind if you accept a woman’s existence,” she says.
People are thinking, which is the first step.
The impact of the movement is difficult to measure, but Bashir has received indications that its message is being heard. She has personally received photos of wedding invitations altered to include the bride’s name; the name of a bride who was killed on her wedding day recently appeared on the announcement of her funeral, Bashir says, which is uncommon.
International women’s rights groups have publicized the campaign to raise awareness about gender relations in Afghanistan and the wider region, and its co-founders have been invited to discuss it at a number of public events.
Says Bashir, “People are thinking, which is the first step.”
Not surprisingly, the campaign has also elicited a backlash, which some say is further testimony to its impact. In one incident, Tahmineh Rashiq, one of the campaign’s founders, was subject to online harassment and had her Facebook photos stolen and shared publicly.
Bashir notes that, due to societal pressure, formidable barriers to equality persist online, where many women use fake names to hide their identity, lest they be viewed as “loose women.”
“It is as if they wear a social media burqa -- you do not want to wear it, but you must to protect yourself against sexism and misogyny,” she says.
Bashir mentions the #MeToo (#زمانوم) movement, initiated by an uprising of women in America and Europe against sexual harassment, that is also emboldening Afghan women to speak out for their rights online and offline.
Asked how women’s rights measure up against Afghanistan’s other challenges, including daily atrocities related to poverty, extremism, and violence, says Bashir, “they are one of the first basic steps towards equality.”