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To Get Positive Out of Negative: Opening Women’s First Internet Café In Afghanistan

Esmael Darman 

MD, MS Clinical & Counseling Psychology

You probably remember who Sahar Gul is and what happened to her. A 15-year-old child bride who was mutilated and kept in toilet prison for months after she refused prostitution. It was one of the extreme cases of complex psychological and physical trauma that came to spotlight. A tragedy that brought tears to the eyes of many people across the world and enraged many others.

The sad thing, however, is that there are many cases, either similar or a bit different to the case of Sahar Gul, that are never reported. You never know what happens in some houses. I have always emphasized that if you are not aware of something like this, it does not mean it is not happening. If you are not informed about a crime, it does not mean that crime did not take place. If you are not apprised of a violent behavior, emotional abuse, drug use, etc. it does not mean they don’t happen! Sometimes people buy into the myth that moral corruption is less in Afghanistan. I usually ask: what is your proof? Simply not knowing about a phenomenon does not prove your point is valid.

There are two things I would like to highlight here. One is the role of environmental factors in causing and/or worsening mental illnesses, and one is the ability to get positive results out of a tragedy.

Numerous studies have proven that environmental factors play a crucial role in our mental well being. The more facilities and resources you are offered, the better your emotional well being – simply because you face fewer challenges and vice versa. Therefore, factors such as poor economy, social and economic segregation, violence, loss of property, intimidation, instability, etc. negatively impact one’s psychological health, contributing to a higher incidence of mental problems. Remove these factors and you see how the rate of depression and anxiety drops. This theory also explains why a large number of Afghans, particularly women, suffer from mental disorders.

Research proved people could show their intelligence once they are provided with enough opportunities. (Credit iStockPhotos)

Therefore, it is unfair to simply rush to the conclusion that women are the weaker sex because they suffer from such mental illnesses more than men. It is unfair to claim women are less intelligent because they are unable to reach higher positions. Well, if opportunities are not provided for the people, and in this case women, how should one expect them to function on a satisfactory level? Let me give you another example: How can you expect a person to read and write when s/he is not allowed to go to school?

Years back in other parts of the world, there were some racist claims indicating that the blacks (African Americans) were less intelligent than the whites. Once the opportunities were provided equally to both black and white children, they noticed that there was no difference in their level of intelligence! As a result, when we pass a judgment on such cases, we need to take into account all the factors that directly or indirectly impact a person’s life.

And now the ability to get a positive out of a negative.  How is that possible? The inauguration of the first ever internet café for women in Kabul shows it is possible. Sahar Gul’s case caused reaction among the majority of people, but among some few individuals, it caused inspiration. She just became a figure of empowerment. As much painful as her experience was, it simply inspired some human rights activist to take a wonderful initiative and not only show empathy to Sahar Gul but to take a step further and name after her the women’s first internet café in Afghanistan inaugurated on March 8.

The inauguration of Sahar Gul Internet Cafe. Image courtesy of YWC

This initiative shows you can bring a positive change even out of a tragedy. The credit goes to the Young Women for Change, an organization aimed at challenging street and sexual harassment, child marriage, etc. They will probably need some more time to improve the depth and quality of their work. But for the time being, the Sahar Gul internet café can ensure that Sahar Gul’s name, bravery, resilience, and integrity will never be forgotten. It will also provide an opportunity for women to go to the café and use the internet with peace of mind, helping the project remain sustainable.

Last but not least, the ability to contribute to the society and benefit from resources is a major component of mental health for both men and women and we will not have a progressive society unless both men and women understand each other, appreciate each other, and stand by each other.

Feature image retrieved from: http://anicechange.com

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Rawan Online is the first website on psychology and mental health for Afghans covering a wide range of topics related to health and relationships.

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