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Afghan Women Are Fighting for the Right to Be Called By Their Names

Some Afghan men believe that sharing a woman's birth name dishonors her, using phrases like "my goat" or "my chicken" to refer to them instead. Now, women are fighting back with a social media campaign that asks: Where is my name?

Mitchell Sunderland

Mitchell Sunderland

Photo by SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

This week, the New York Times published Mujib Mashal's story describing how some Afghan men call their wives terms like "my goat," "my chicken," and "my weak one" rather than their birth names because they believe sharing a woman's name dishonors her. Thousands of Afghan women are now fighting back on social media using the hashtag #WhereIsMyName in a campaign that has gone global.

Their aim, according to the Times, is not only to reclaim their own identities, but to "break the deep-rooted taboo that prevents men from mentioning their female relatives' names in public." Afghan sociologist Hassan Rizayee told the publication that "the custom was rooted in tribal ways of life."

"This is a traditional and cultural issue; it needs a long-term cultural struggle and fight," Rizayee told the Times. "By weakening tribal cultures, and awareness through the media, this type of thinking about woman could be changed."

That's exactly what women participating in the #WhereIsMyName campaign are trying to do. "Our society is full of injustice for women, basically everything is taboo for women," activist Bahar Sohaili told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, according to the Independent. The publication also pointed out that though Afghan women regained the right to vote, work, and go to school when the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, violence against women remains widespread in the country. "With this campaign we aim to change many things for women and social media has opened a new window to Afghanistan's young generation," Sohaili said.

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The campaign's protest began in Herat Province, according to the Times, and spread across Afghanistan on social media, with activists pushing politicians and male celebrities to chime in. Farhad Darya, a singer and the National Goodwill Ambassador for Afghanistan, took a stance on his Facebook according to the Times: "On many occasions in front of a crowd that doesn't have family relations to me, I have noticed how the foreheads of men sour by what they see as my cowardice in mentioning the name of my mother or my wife… They stare at me in such a way as if I am the leader of all of the world's cowards and I know nothing of 'Afghan honor and traditions."

Some Afghan men, however, have deemed the campaign as opposed to "Afghan values," the Times reports, with one writing, "My name is Akram. The name of Mother of My Children? I will not say it even if I am ripped into pieces."

Modaser Islami, another man mentioned in the Times story, said on his Facebook profile: "The name of my mother, sister and wife are sacred like their head scarf, and it's a sign of their honor…. The name of my mother, sister and wife will be mentioned where they see necessary. You should get yourselves head scarves and pants."

These men failed to see that they were summing up the entire point of the campaign, though: It should be a woman's choice how people use her name, not a man's.