A Powerful, Evocative Poem: 'But Not an Afghan Woman' by Roya

A Powerful, Evocative Poem: 'But Not an Afghan Woman' by Roya

Monday, 1 November, 2021

In May 2009, journalist Marsha Hamilton founded the Afghan Women’s Writing Project to empower Afghan women to tell their own stories and amplify their voices.

The website is now an archive of stories, essays, and poems from 150 women — all identified only by their first names; in some cases, they remain anonymous. Their works are written in English so that they’re accessible to people all over the world. As the FAQ explains, ‘Many learned English while living in refugee camps, so this is not the language of the privileged in Afghanistan.’

This poem appears as the epigraph in Jenny Nordberg’s reportage The Underground Girls of Kabul, recommended in the Afghanistan episode of our podcast. The four simple words ‘not an Afghan woman’ are a plea and a protest and — most of all — an assertion of self-worth.

Its author Roya was born in Kabul and remained in Afghanistan during the Taliban period. Her goal was to eventually gain a master’s degree and to be a poet. She published many poems on the site along with photos of Kabul.


But Not an Afghan Woman by Roya (2009)

  • I would love to be any thing in this world
  • But not a woman
  • I could be a parrot
  • I could be a female sheep
  • I could be a deer or
  • A sparrow living in a tree
  • But not an Afghan woman.

  • I could be a Turkish lady
  • With a kind brother to take my hand
  • I could be a Tajik
  • or I could be Iranian
  • or I could be an Arab
  • With a husband to tell me
  • I am beautiful
  • But I am an Afghan woman.

  • When there is need
  • I stand beside it
  • When there is risk
  • I stand in front
  • When there is sorrow
  • I grab it
  • When there are rights
  • I stand behind them
  • Might is right and
  • I am a woman
  • Always alone
  • Always an example of weakness
  • My shoulders are heavy
  • with the weight of pains.

  • When I want to talk
  • My tongue is blamed
  • My voice causes pain
  • Crazy ears can’t tolerate me
  • My hands are useless
  • I can’t do anything with
  • My foolish legs
  • I walk with
  • No destination.

  • Until what time must I accept to suffer?
  • When will nature announce my release?
  • Where is Justice’s house?
  • Who wrote my destiny?
  • Tell him
  • Tell him
  • Tell him
  • I would love to be any thing in nature
  • But not a woman
  • Not an Afghan woman


Top image courtesy of kursat-bayhan/Shutterstock.

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