The Afghan Women’s Writing Project

The Afghan Women’s Writing Project was conceived by Masha Hamilton after her last trip to Afghanistan in 2008. She became concerned that we were losing the voices of Afghan women and came up with the Project as a way to have access to their hopes, fears and dreams not filtered through men or the media. All of the women write at least partially in secret and often go through a lot to gain access to a computer.

The Afghan women work with women writers from the U.S., who teach and encourage them in online workshops. Women writers are used because of cultural inhibitions about working with men. Submissions are edited in a back-and-forth process for grammar and clarity, but remain the works of the original authors. All the work done on behalf of the Project is done pro-bono.

Here is a particularly poignant excerpt from one of the pieces:

“Afghan women have wings for flying. Afghan women want to be free like other birds that fly into the blue sky. But ancient cultures and old thoughts have clipped their wings and, like birds alone in cages, they remain looking out, waiting to fly to the highest point in the sky.

“Afghan women quickly become old, their wishes carried with them to the grave. Still, their children remain, becoming brave women and men. Afghan women want their children to complete their wishes. Then the souls of Afghan women are happy.”

In addition to letting the voices of Afghan women be heard and instilling a sense of pride in them, the hope is that readers will gain a broader and deeper understanding of what life is like in Afghanistan for all its inhabitants.

Please take the time to leave a comment for the writers. They work in such isolation and under such difficult conditions that any feedback or commentary helps them know they are being heard and is greatly appreciated.

Donations are also welcomed for the purchasing of laptops and thumb drives for each of the Afghan women writers. They can then write in private where they will not attract undue attention and a sympathetic male can take the thumb drive to an Internet cafe and email their writings.

Here is a Fox news story about readings of these women’s writings done by professional actresses at the Museum of Tolerance.

Antoinette Brown: Feminist Foremother

It is hard for us today to imagine a time when women were denied leadership positions, in religion and in society. One woman who did as much as any to break down the barriers was Antoinette Brown (1825-1921), who was the first woman to be ordained as a minister in the United States, and who led a long and active life as a reformer, public speaker and writer. Despite her achievements, she is not as well known as her peers, such as Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
Antoinette Brown

Brown joined the Congregational Church when she was nine and often preached in the church in her youth. Starting at the age of sixteen she taught school in order to earn her tuition t0 the relatively new Oberlin College* in Ohio where she completed her Bachelor’s degree in 1847. She then approached the school with a request to join its theological course with the goal of becoming a minister. The administration, which was initially opposed to any woman receiving any kind of formal education in theology, finally agreed to allow her to enroll, with one stipulation: she would never receive any formal recognition of her ministry.

Without a preacher’s license she was forced to employ public speaking and writing as ways to spread her views on the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, temperance and women’s suffrage. She spoke in 1850 at the first National Women’s Rights Convention, as well as at many of the annual Conventions thereafter. She wrote for Frederick DouglassThe North Star (an abolitionist newspaper) and exhibited the beginnings of a feminist theology in her essay on St. Paul which was published in the Oberlin Quarterly Review.

She was finally given a license to preach by the Congregationalist Church in 1851 and a position as a church rector the following year. In 1856, despite her original conviction that it would be better to stay single, she married Samuel C. Blackwell (whose brother, Henry, married Lucy Stone, another women’s rights activist and friend of Brown’s). In 1857, she left the ministry to resume her career as an orator and reformer.

While many women’s rights activists opposed religion on the basis that it oppressed women, Brown believed that women’s active participation in religion could serve to further their status in society.  While she believed that the inherent differences between men and women limited men’s effectiveness in representing women in politics she also felt that suffrage would have little positive impact for women unless it was coupled with tangible leadership opportunities. Brown also split from other reformers with her opposition to divorce. [Wikipedia]

Eventually her domestic responsibilities caused her to curtail her speaking engagements and she began to concentrate on her writing. Despite having seven children (two of whom died in infancy), she wrote extensively on theology, science and philosophy.  She dared to criticize the theories of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer even though she considered them to be the most influential men of her day. One of her books,  The Sexes Throughout Nature was based on her argument that evolution resulted in two sexes that were different but equal.

In 1869, Brown and Stone separated from other preeminent women’s rights activists to form the American Woman Suffrage Association over their support of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. (The mainstream position was to oppose it because it gave black men but not women–of any race–the right to vote.)  In 1873, she founded the Association for the Advancement of Women in an attempt to address women’s issues that similar organizations ignored.

In 1878 she joined the Unitarian church and applied to the American Unitarian Association to be a minister.  That same year Oberlin College awarded her an honorary Master’s Degree. (Thirty years later the college also awarded her an honorary Doctoral degree.) By this time she had resumed her career giving public lectures.

In her later years

Brown lived long enough to see the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote, the only participant of the 1850 Women’s Rights Convention to do so. She died the following year at the age of 96.

Her books include:

  • Studies in General Science. New York: G.P. Putnam and Son, 1869.
  • The Sexes Throughout Nature. New York: G.P. Putnam and Son, 1875.
  • The Physical Basis of Immortality. New York: G.P. Putnam and Son, 1876.
  • The Philosophy of Individuality. New York: G.P. Putnam and Son.
  • The Making of the Universe. Boston, Massachusetts: The Gorham press, 1914.
  • The Social Side of Mind and Action. New York: The Neale Publishing COmpany, 1915.
  • The Island Neighbors. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1871. (Novel)
  • Sea Drift. New York: J.T. White & Co., 1902. (Poetry)

Further Reading:

*Established in 1833, Oberlin was the first college in the United States to regularly admit African-American students (1835) and is the oldest continuously operating coeducational institution, having first admitted women in 1837.