‘When I run free, You chase me like a hungry hunter, Your eyes spit needles at me,’ writes Sharifa. The young Kabuli poet, who tackles street harassment in Kabul in her work, is one of many women using poems to have a direct voice in the world – sometimes at great personal risk.

‘Being a poet isn’t socially acceptable for women,’ explains Hora Spesaly, who is part of a literary organization called Mirman Baheer that encourages women poets in Kandahar, Nangarhar, Wardak and Kabul.

Spesaly receives some 30 poems from members across the provinces for recital at her weekly literary gatherings for 25-30 people at a secret location in Kabul. ‘These women send us their writings at great risks,’ she says.

Poetry has traditionally been a powerful medium to comment on social and political life in Afghanistan, but women are ostracized for doing what was once culturally celebrated. More often than not, their poems are sent anonymously or using a pseudonym, as their family – and society at large – discourages their literary aspirations.

Not so the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (AWWP), a platform that encourages, trains and mentors women writers. Its website is home to English translations of Afghan women’s poems exploring taboo subjects such as child marriage, domestic violence and love.

Ruchi Kumar