Stacy Parker Le Melle: Silence Is Not an Option…Working with Afghan Women Writers

Stacy Parker Le Melle is the Communications Director of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, whose mission is to support the voices of women with the belief that to tell one’s story is a human right.

“We had just one agenda: proving women’s voices mattered.”

Public life can be scary. Standing up and saying, “I believe this…” or “I think that must happen,” when many don’t think you should speak at all, is always risky. Resisters face punishment; they risk violence and loss. To be a woman speaking truth to those in power is to risk losing all.

Women writers know silence is not an option. We know that when we don’t have a voice in the world, we are ignored, controlled, and treated as another man’s property. I began as a mentor for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project in 2009, soon after founder Masha Hamilton created online workshops for Afghan women. Masha asked writers, professors, and teachers she knew if they’d be willing to mentor Afghan women and their writings, with the resulting works published on We knew Afghan women had to fight the cultural norms that wanted them to remain obedient to men and invisible to the public. We had just one agenda: proving women’s voices mattered.

Everyone has a human right to tell her story. Afghan women—and later, girls—joined us in writing powerful essays and poems about family life, about school, about jobs, about their hopes for their futures. They wrote about sexual assault, about women punished for trying to live their lives as they saw fit. We recently celebrated our three thousandth submission!

Sometimes I feel anxious about my own essays. Will I be judged harshly by my family, or by anyone able to inflict damage on my livelihood or my person? But then I think of Tabasom, who used to walk hours to find internet access so she could send us a poem, who was killed with her father in a suicide bombing attack on a hospital. And I think about writers Pari and Mahnaz, who began as contributors and worked their way up to be AWWP editors and workshop leaders, who both put so much on the line when they share their profound visions.

I think: We’re all in this together. When it comes to our lives, silence is not an option. Our words are our dreams. Together, we write them true.

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