In another corner of Afghanistan, the young women from Simorgh Theatre are pioneering a program in Herat Women's Prison that addresses the emotional and motivational needs of women in prison. This program is the first of its kind in the Afghan prisons and will serve as a model for other prisons across Afghanistan. We thank Dining for Women for the funding to initiate the program.
We first worked with Simorgh Theatre in Herat four years ago. Now, we have returned to provide the group with specific training for working in the prison environment. The dauntless group of young women has accepted a tremendous challenge.
To start the project at the Herat Women's Prison, the actors presented a play about forced marriage and the importance of education to the women. The topic resonated with the incarcerated women.
At the end of the show, the audience was invited to take the stage and address a character of their choice. One woman railed against the abusive father in the play who was "selling" his 13-year old daughter in marriage to a rich man. He (the actress portraying the father) answers, "Everyone in my family got married at 13... what's the problem?" to which the woman retorted, "That's why we're all here!" gesturing to the cheering audience of women.
In fact, most of the women had been in forced marriages and were in prison for escaping abusive family life. Women can be imprisoned for violating social or religious norms, including sex outside of marriage, being raped, or running away from abusive homes. Abused women have startlingly few options in Afghanistan. Many of the women were only looking for safety or a chance at a better life.
Our program gives them much-needed psychological support and the basic life skills to ease their reentry into society. The Simorgh actors are leading a series of confidence-building and problem-solving workshops at the prison with the goal of forming an ongoing drama club in the prison as an outlet for the women to tell their stories and express their hopes for the future.
In addition to the Herat Women's Prison, we are conducting workshops at the Juvenile Correction Center, the Child Support Center (for children of the women in prison), and the OMID Women's Shelter. Our workshops allow the women to experience their own power and voice, and express themselves in new ways. We will be reporting on their progress over the next year.