In the light of the #MeToo movement, no industry, organization or society can mistreat women for long before they are exposed and justice is demanded. Such is the case for the protagonist of the film, Khatera, a 23-year-old girl who was bringing her father to court on charges of rape and incest. In a heart-wrenching and hope-filled narrative we watched Khatera fight for justice in a society that shunned her for opening up about her sexual assault.
Four years ago, Khatera attempted to bring her father to justice for repeated incidents of rape resulting in the births of her two children. Facing rejection and hatred from her community and the judicial system, Khatera tried the only thing that she thought would help, calling out her father on public television. Moved by her despair, filmmaker and producer, Sahra Mani, decided to find Khatera and help her. What would later become a harrowing documentary that traveled across the globe started off with the audacious hope of two women trying to produce a film that would highlight the injustice surrounding sexual assault in Afghanistan.
We watched how Khatera was shut down by judges, threatened by her uncles, beaten by her brothers and ostracized by her community for “bringing shame” on her family and her culture. Despite DNA evidence against her father and thirty witnesses to corroborate her story, her legal case was ignored by the court and hushed out by some mullahs (Islamic scholars). As rape and incest are taboo topics in Afghanistan, making this film was an affront to the systematic abuse and cultural shaming aimed toward women in this society. Khatera, brave and steadfast in her journey to bring her father to justice, stood as the first woman in Afghanistan to bring an incest case to trial and to have taken a stand against the judgement of her culture. (Image c/o medium.com)
As an American citizen, I have the freedom to express my opinions, to practice my beliefs, to find community and to seize opportunity. But when I begin to look outward, I realize that the freedoms I enjoy are nether universal nor even easily obtainable. In countries like Afghanistan women strive for a different kind of freedom, the freedom to live, the freedom to be listened to, and the freedom to be defended by their justice system.
Sahra Mani stated that she hoped her documentary would start a conversation about the injustices faced in Afghanistan and that it would empower women to use their voice. While I may never be in the situation that Khatera faced, I deeply admired and understood her unwavering resolve to see justice fulfilled. In a country like Afghanistan it can be hard to imagine that rituals, practices, and cultures can change. Considered the third most corrupt government in the world, the hope for change in Afghanistan probably seems like an idealistic fantasy. But Khatera and Sahra refused to buy into the fear that they would be cast aside forever and took a stand on what they knew was right. As a result, Khatera and her children were able to receive political asylum in France and they have begun to pursue leading happier and fuller lives. At the heart of this story are women firm in their decision to pursue justice, no matter the cost.
When we hold onto our beliefs and our values higher than we hold onto our fear, we realize that our fear isn’t as powerful as we’ve made it out to be. And that isn’t meant to sound like a line out of a self-help book. Khatera went against her family, society, religious authorities, and even her judicial system to protect herself and her children. In doing so she began to unravel the thread of shame and hatred in her society and will hopefully bring about the reform that women in Afghanistan have desperately been waiting for.
That is why I find it so imperative that we share our stories of bravery. When we see others conquer, we realize that the mountains we stand against don’t get to have the final say in our lives. We see that it is possible to pursue our dreams, even if things don’t work out the way we planned. (Image c/o medium.com)
I hope that stories of bravery like Khatera’s don’t stay dormant but that they start sparks. My dream is that we would begin to see societies and cultures transform, and that we would bring about the change that is necessary to treat women around the world with dignity and respect. And lastly, I hope that we would never forget the simple yet incredible value of kindness. Without Sahra and Khatera’s lawyer, Mahfuza, Khatera’s journey might have come to a close long before we ever met her on a big screen. Not only did their advocacy allow Khatera’s story to be heard, it started global conversations that would alter the lives of women everywhere. We may have believed that we are too small or insignificant to make a real difference in the world, but as we have seen through Khatera’s story, the generosity of a helping hand can be a defining moment of grace and love in another person’s life. I know that I am so grateful to have even heard this story of incredible bravery and I hope that her story would empower you to act in bravery and kindness in your own life.
We’d love to hear from you! Is there an area you want to challenge yourself to be kind or brave in spite of uncertainty or adversity? Share your stories with us on Facebook and Instagram @tahmina.international