Last Updated: Monday, 15 September 2014, 14:12 GMT

Naming and Shaming in Afghanistan

Publisher Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Author Nasima Hamdard
Publication Date 2 November 2011
Citation / Document Symbol ARR Issue 414
Cite as Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Naming and Shaming in Afghanistan, 2 November 2011, ARR Issue 414, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4eb3d7832.html [accessed 16 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Khaleda Mohammadi, a 23-year-old university student from Herat, was beaten by her husband and banned from going to classes for three weeks, just because one of her male classmates used her name in public.

The student, who has been married for two years, said she was coming out of class one day when a classmate approached her and said, "Khaleda, we don't have a test tomorrow. It's been postponed until next week."

Her husband was waiting by the front gate to take her home, and when he heard this, he leapt out of his car, grabbed the boy by the collar and asked him, "Why do you call out my wife's name in front of everyone? Isn't it enough that you know her name?"

Khaleda said that when they got home, her husband beat her severely, demanding to know why she allowed the boy to use her first name.

"My husband told me I couldn't go to university any more, and in fact I wasn't allowed out of the house at all," she said, adding that her husband only relented after three weeks when her father intervened on her behalf.

She now lives in fear of her husband, who has threatened dire consequences if someone uses her name again.

"My husband allows me to go to university –but with the proviso that that he will divorce me if someone says my name again," she added.

Khaleda's husband Feraidun, 30, insisted he had done nothing wrong.

"Out of pride, I can't stand it when someone calls out my wife's name," he said. "I can't look away and ignore it. She represents my honour. Every man who values his dignity must act like this, otherwise he has no pride."

Khaleda's story illustrates an enduring Afghan tradition that women's names must not be spoken by men outside the family, or even spoken in their presence. Men who take their wives or daughters to the doctor will often will not tell medical staff what her name is, when they need to write it on a prescription.

Even within the family, husbands frequently avoid using their wives' given names, instead addressing them as the mother of one of their children.

Although the taboo is commonest in rural areas, it also occurs in urban centres like Herat.

Nur Khan Nekzad, spokesman for police headquarters in Herat, said officers had arrested eight men in the past six months for using violence – sometimes involving weapons such as knives – after others had used their wives' names.

That is what happened to Nasrin, 30, who said, "Two months ago, my husband went to buy groceries in the market. He saw a friend on the way, who asked him, in front of other men, 'How is Nasrin?' My husband had a fight with his friend and injured him with a knife."

She said her husband beat her badly when he got home, demanding to know how his friend knew her name.

"So now he's in prison, and I face an uncertain future," Nasrin said, adding that she and her three-year-old daughter were living with her mother and father.

Rahima Yusufi, a lawyer with the local government department for women's affairs, said her office had had ten cases referred to it in the last six months involving cases of this kind.

"In order to educate men and address the problem, the gender section of the women's affairs department has organised three or four seminars for mullahs and imams, whose views enjoy great respect, because they can inform people about behaviour that goes against religious principles."

Experts on Islam like Khalilollah Ahadi, a lecturer in sharia law at Herat university, say the name taboo does not come from the religion – uttering a woman's name was just not an issue, as references in the Koran showed,

"Religious scholars have a duty to do some serious work to tackle such problems," Ahadi said.

Sayed Khalil Moayed, a psychiatrist in Herat, said the name issue was part of a broader pattern – hostility to women working or studying, forced marriage and domestic abuse. Matters came to a head when tradition clashed with modern social patterns.

"In Herat society, when the name of someone's wife is used, it is seen as a violation of the man's privacy and dignity," he said. "People feel such shame of their wives' names that they aren't even prepared to use them themselves. Men will say 'my children's mother' or 'my family member'."

Moayed said the media could do a lot to change such attitudes.

But that is going to take time, and many men retain powerful prejudices.

Herat resident Wahidollah said Afghan men were sensitive about three things – disrespect shown to their country, their faith and their women. As for those who were insufficiently zealous in upholding their honour on these three matters, he said, "killing such individuals is permissible".

Copyright notice: © Institute for War & Peace Reporting

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