Women in the World: Meryl Streep Tells the Dramatic Story of an Afghan Woman Sold Into Marriage
Actress Meryl Streep told of an Afghan woman named Zarcquona. Read it in her own words.
It was a night of inspiring stories. But one of the most memorable was that of Zarcquona: a 38-year-old Afghan woman sold into marriage when she was 6, who now operates a successful business. Read aloud by actress Meryl Streep, in Zarcquona’s translated words, we heard not just about the difficulties for women in Afghanistan, but how those difficulties can be overcome. Excerpts:
My name is Zarcquona, my father's name is Nicmamad and I am 38 years old. There was no happiness in my childhood. I was 2 years old when my uncle asked my mother to give me to his boy. And my mother always refused. But when I was 6 years old, my brother lost a dog-fighting match. After the match, he started fighting with my cousin, and he took out a knife and he killed him. A local council in my village decided for me to be the tool to resolution—to solve the conflict between my family and my uncle’s family. My father took me to my uncle and said, “This is what you want? Take it. Don’t take her back to us. We finish our dispute here.” And my uncle, who is my father-in-law, took me on his back to the backyard of their house, where my mother-in-law was washing clothes. He left me in the yard and told my mother-in-law: “Take her with you. This is your daughter-in-law.” I wanted to hide, because I saw the face of anger on my uncle. I decided to stay in a corner of the room and then my uncle come to warn me. He took very short knife and said, “If you escape from the house, this is your future. I will kill you with that knife.”
My husband was only 9 years old. I cried so much. I said, “Why do my parents not come and see me?” I cried so much that my husband, a 9-year-old boy, decided to take me to my mom’s home. He said, “Wait until my father goes to sleep in the afternoon and I will take you.” As we were trying to be quiet, we did not check whether my father-in-law was sleeping. He went to the mosque, and we didn’t know it. So when we escaped from the house, hand-in-hand, he suddenly came back. I ran, but my husband stayed. He beat my husband so much that his clothes were full of blood. He said, “This is your lesson learned. Never, never ever, try to take Zarcquona back to her parent’s house.” Then he came back to me, and started beating me. And I swear to God, I never, ever go back to see my parents.
I was 15 when our marriage was officially announced in public. We came to Kabul, and I bore my first daughter. At that time, my husband joined the army. His commander decided to send him to Kandahar where my parents live. I asked him so many times not to go. But he said, “No, it’s not the time to worry about anything. We are married and we have our daughter, a baby girl, and all the anger will be removed from your parents’ side.”
After six months, he got his vacation approval to visit. We were waiting for him to arrive, and there was another person there on my parents’ behalf. This man said to me, “You are free. Escape from the house and don’t accept any marriage. Come back to us.” And then I understood: they killed my husband. They thought that if they killed my husband, then I would be free, and I was at the age to decide whether I stay with my daughter or with my family. But I hate my family. I hate the decision they made during my childhood. I asked my father, “Why did you choose me? You took me away, I didn’t have a choice, I didn’t have a decision, I didn’t have any voice.” So I sent the man back to my father and said, “I will never forgive you, any one of you. I will never forgive you.”
I stayed with my in-laws. My mother-in-law was so kind to me and never mentioned my past history. But my uncle was a bad man. A very bad man. He always wanted to punish me, and he beat me. But I lost my husband, so there was no one for me to go and complain to. So I decided, two times, to try to commit suicide. The first time, there were insects in our house, and a medication to remove the insects. I tried to eat that medicine, but it was so sour and bitter that I couldn’t eat a lot. But I put it inside a tomato and I ate it. After a few hours, my health got bad and worse. I heard my mother-in-law crying and asking for help, and asking my father-in-law to take me to the hospital. Then, I heard the voice of my father-in-law say to my mother-in-law: “Let her die. We can send her to her parents and say, ‘Take that. Your dead girl.' ”
My mother-in-law took me to the hospital and I was laid down on the bed for two nights. After that, I came back. I came back and I just started again—this miserable life again. And then a few years after I decided to try suicide again, and I dropped myself from the third floor of a building. But unfortunately, I broke my arm. My right arm. There was some difficulties with my heart after I dropped myself from the third floor, but again, I was alive.
I wanted to die because of all these hardships and miserable life. But I couldn’t kill myself. So this is how my life continued.
After my father-in-law passed away, I asked a very good friend of our family, from Bamiyan, to take me to the hospital for my depression. But when I talked with the doctor, he told me, “You don’t need any medication." He told me: “You need somewhere to go and sit with women, with different kinds of women--lucky women and ulucky women, poor women and rich women--so you can see how they are dealing with their problems and how they are dealing with the challenges that they face.”
I heard from one of my friends, and she told me there is an organization, Women for Women International, providing women with literacy courses and teaching skill trades. So I joined in a group of 20 women and I started talking with the trainers and other women. I learned that it’s not me alone who suffered a lot during my childhood. These women had the same pain, the same hardships. So that time was the greatest time. And after I graduated, I succeeded in finding a job in handicraft and embroidery.
After two years, the organization asked me to come back to as a trainer. So I started training women in production. My life is getting better. I can get money, and I can help my only daughter, send her to school, help her with her studies. And I’m always thinking, “How can I help my business, my own business?” I decided to take a loan, microfinance, from Women for Women. It’s $15,000 Afghan dollars, which is equal to $400 U.S. dollar. My business grew very fast. I started selling my products to the market, to the shop, and I took orders and prepared everything. I am so proud when I say that now my business is up to $30,000 U.S. dollar. And just a month ago, I could purchase machinery to improve my business. It means I am successful, and I am successful with my business and I have shop in downtown. And now I am much comfortable. I am always thinking of growing my business, more and more. So one day I know that I will have a bigger and huge business in Afghanistan. The only wish that I have is to see peace in my country so I can continue to expand my business more and more.
I am so happy that now I am the one who can provide jobs to 120 women, those who suffered a lot. Now I have 120 employees, all working on the embroidery, and I am the person looking for the market. I am telling these women to be strong, as I am strong. I explain how I moved from victim to active citizen.
For my daughter, I just wish for her to educated. This year, she educated from high school. And I have a dream to see her in graduate from university. Until she graduates from university, I will not rest.