Year : 2018 | Volume
: 16 | Issue : 3 | Page : 273--275
An Afghan woman’s story: Fighting for a better life
MA, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Kabul University, Kabul, Afghanistan
Associate Professor, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Kabul University, Kabul
In Afghanistan, most families strongly believe that their female members should stay at home concern themselves with housework. In general, women are anything but encouraged to get an education and/or have a professional career. This personal reflection shows that Afghani women, with support, can develop their competences and enjoy life.
|How to cite this article:|
Faqiri R. An Afghan woman’s story: Fighting for a better life.Intervention 2018;16:273-275
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Faqiri R. An Afghan woman’s story: Fighting for a better life. Intervention [serial online] 2018 [cited 2023 Jun 10 ];16:273-275
Available from: http://www.interventionjournal.org//text.asp?2018/16/3/273/246432
Mina1 30 years old came to the counselling room in the Department of Counseling of Psychology and Educational Science Faculty at Kabul University because she often had angry outbursts and would shout at her children. Afterwards, she would regret it. She complained of always feeling angry and being unable to control herself. It was obvious that she was distressed. Her hands were shaking, her voice also shook when speaking and sometimes, it looked she was gasping air while speaking. She stated that she was always angry and behaved badly with the children, sometimes beating them, and afterwards she felt guilty, regretting her behaviour and crying.
Mina lives with her husband, four daughters, father-in-law and mother-in-law. When I asked her what she thought was the cause of her irritability, she told me that she liked to study. She had been studying before she married, but her mother-in-law had wanted her to stop studying and remain at home tending to household chores. One night, just before she had an important exam, she had even been slapped on her hands by her mother-in-law. Her hands had become stiff and she cried a lot. Despite that, she sat for the exam and passed, be it with lower marks than she had hoped. Despite all the problems, she completed university and wanted to start working as a teacher. However, her mother-in-law prohibited her from getting the job for which she had studied for several years. Mina’s husband was initially happy with the fact that his wife was going to work, but he changed his mind and agreed with his mother.
Most clients in Afghanistan fear disclosure of their problems, so first I tried to gain her trust. Only after I gained Mina’s trust did she start to tell me her family’s story. She told me that her behaviour affected her family’s life, specially her relationship with her husband. According to systems hypothesis, when a family member has a problem, in fact there is a problem within the system of the family.
Mina also told me she would love to continue her education, but her mother-in-law disagrees with her. She said she tried to do all the household chores, such as cooking, cleaning and caring for and raising the children, but her mother-in-law was always unhappy with her going to college and wanted her to quit. Mina started to study at nights when she had finished the household chores but was still under a lot of stress from her family. Her children were under stress too, and this made her feel guilty. This created a conflict inside of her as to whether she should continue her education or quit.
Our short-term objectives were to decrease stress, help in the decision-making process and to improve relationships with husband and mother-in-law. We tried several interventions. Mina was tense, restless and very angry and, therefore, needed to relax. So, we began with relaxation and breathing exercises in her sessions. I suggested she take a cold bath when she felt angry or to smell roses, because according to Islamic culture and the prophet Muhammad’s tradition, smelling roses is relaxing. I suggested this because she was a religious woman. After she was calm, I advised her to be patient, also based on Islamic lessons.
Because she had low self-esteem and was headed towards depression, I tried to focus on her strengths, such as her skill at raising her children and managing the household. I also reminded her of the importance of tolerance and problem-solving skills. When I mentioned these things, I could see changes in her face and in her feelings.
Mina was a resilient woman. Regardless of her problems, she continued her education and when her stressors were beyond her tolerance, she sought a counsellor’s help to decide whether she would continue with her education or not. As a counsellor, and based on Islamic culture, I told her not to make a decision about her education in times of anger, because she could make the wrong decision. Afterwards, I suggested she use the relaxation exercises she had been taught and to write down the pros and cons of continuing or quitting. I taught her how to score her pros and cons and draw a conclusion from it. Mina accepted the exercises and advice to cope with stress and planned her work to decrease conflicts with her mother-in-law. In following session, she told me that she had done the exercises and listed the pros and cons of continuing or quitting, and as a result she felt much better and more relaxed.
For Mina, it was very important to have her husband’s support to continue her education and get a job. After a few more sessions, Mina stated that her husband was happy about changes in her symptoms and behaviour and I asked her, ‘Would you like to talk to your husband to help you in your recovery?’ She agreed.
In the past, when Mina had had an argument with her husband, she had started complaining and talking loudly nonstop, yelling at the children and speaking about her workload at her workplace. However, I told her that she should learn how to listen to her husband and taught her good listening skills. I taught Mina to let her husband begin the talk and to let him to finish and try to listen to him actively. She was also told to look to her husband in the eye while speaking to him. Mina learned not to react so quickly and to give herself time to think, paying attention to positive aspects of her husband’s point of view. Then Mina could begin speaking by saying to her husband, ‘I have listened to your words, I would you like to listen to what I think and have eye contact with me’. This practice produced great results and her husband was astonished at how well his wife could listen to him. This was a big change as his wife has never listened to him and had always treated him with anger and unhappiness.
Mina informed her husband about subjects that were being discussed in the counselling sessions: such as how her mother-in-law’s knowledge and capacity building could affect raising the children and how she wanted to increase her own self-confidence. Gradually, her husband became interested in discussing the subjects his wife had learned in the counselling sessions, and after some weeks, her husband promised to do whatever he could to support his wife.
As her counsellor, I did several things. First, I provided emotional support in combination with relaxation exercises and feedback on her strengths. Second, she was assisted in her decision-making process. Third, she was supported to improve her relationship with her husband to encourage support for her decision and to increase the quality of her life. Mina asked her husband to speak to his mother to be nicer to his wife. Now, it was husband’s turn to play his role as a good husband to his wife and support her. The husband spoke to his mother about his wife’s good character and good will. He told his mother that his wife is smart and very talented. She has planned to do household chores and to go to work and is taking responsibility for raising the children and helping the family at home. She would also contribute to the family economy if she could take a job. In addition, he told his mother that his wife loves their family. He then gave time to his mother to think about all the positive and negative aspects of these issues. He continued these conversations with his mother for several nights and tried to help her to understand and encouraged her to reconsider her thoughts and behaviour.
Fourth, I advised to Mina to speak calmly to her mother-in-law and try to use her listening skills with her. She should also appreciate her for raising a good son that is also a good husband. After that, she should ask her mother-in-law to think about the future of her grandchildren and help her to make a bright future for them in Afghanistan, which is full of war and insecurity.
During all these sessions, I tried to proceed at my client’s pace and with her needs, while considering the culture and religious issues. Tolerance is highly valued in Islam and that was beneficial to Mina. However, it was also important to consider the sub-culture of her family. Although I had individual sessions with Mina, I also paid attention to the family members involved: the mother-in-law, as much as the wife and husband, based on the culture and values of the society.
It was encouraging that my client attended the sessions and practiced at home with good will and passionately. Mina was never tired of trying to develop new behaviours and different thoughts. This was very helpful in gaining a positive result. I was able to help my client to create change within her family situation and reach her counselling goals without the presence of other family members in the sessions. This resulted in the fact that mother-in-law changed her way of thinking and gave in, without blaming herself or the family for their problems.
During counselling, Mina had quickly understood that staying at home was not really her own decision. She had given in because she was exhausted, but staying at home had made her feel humiliated. She then reviewed the options she had to choose from. The social support she received from a counsellor encouraged her, and she found inspiration by looking at some successful women she admired as role models.
She concluded that, instead of quarrelling and blaming her husband’s family, she could improve her planning with regards to doing household chores and looking after her children, and still have time for her job and further study. That way she started to focus on solutions.
Mina’s case shows that Afghan women face many problems in their daily life. Although they carry the heavy burden of life problems, they also continue to fight and try not to be disappointed. There are many factors that keep them going, and I think one of those factors is their passion for education and improvement. This factor gives meaning to their lives and helps them to tolerate problems; however, there is a threshold, and when the threshold is crossed, counsellors could be helpful.
Mina’s husband and mother-in-law eventually supported her plan to start working as a teacher. She found a job and proved herself to be a competent one. The angry outbursts became a thing of the past.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
1‘Mina’ is an alias.