A radio drama inspires conversation about the dowry system in Afghanistan
In Afghanistan, the popular radio program One Village, A Thousand Voices gives local communities the power to choose a new way of life beyond the harsh dowry-system.
“It only takes one family or one community to inspire change in others” – Nadia Rasuli, Script Writer for One Village, A Thousand Voices (OVATV)
That is what Rasuli and her team of scriptwriters for EAI’s radio drama program, “One Village, A Thousand Voices,” must remind themselves daily as they tackle the very private topic of dowry in Afghanistan, a practice that is rooted in cultural beliefs and norms passed from generation to generation and that is largely accepted as part of life.
Although numbers are hard to come by as disputes involving families are not usually reported, women and girls are commonly the victims of dowry-related violence committed by their families or in-laws-to-be. In Human Rights Watch 2017 World Report on Afghanistan, over 2,500 cases of domestic violence were reported in the first eight months of 2016, about the same as in the year before. If one were to include cases of dowry-related violence, one can safely estimate the numbers to be significantly higher. Despite the request for money by the bride’s family (known as the Walwar system) being technically illegal, increasingly high sums are demanded. Unfortunately, the practice is widely followed by communities and tolerated by local authorities across the country.
“We knew this was going to be a tough storyline,” said OVATV scriptwriter Nadia Rasuli, “but it is an issue that affects everyone, in every community across the country and we felt it was important to let listeners know that there were other ways.”
The dramatic storyline focused on a young man who, with the support of his family, village elders and religious leaders was able to negotiate with the bride’s family not to pay a large dowry.
The storyline clearly resonated with listeners. A listener, Mr. Alam Jan, said, “I found that the person who was in Qadir and Ahmad role was facing the same situation I was facing (they used) the power of elders and influences of the village… to solve what they were facing. This was a hint for me.”
After several meetings between his father-in-law’s family and the village elders, Alam Jan was able to get the dowry reduced and finally arrange his wedding. After struggling for four years, he is happy to be married and is now looking to the future: “I hope to be father within a few months.”
EAI’s OVATV community facilitators also focused on dowry legislation and violence against women. “Not having the basic legal knowledge and an understanding of what Islam says on the topic can leave people feeling ill-equipped to take a stand against the dowry system,” said EAI’s project manager. “When they know they have the law and God on their side, it certainly becomes easier.”
This was the case for Ms. Raihana whose daughter was assaulted by her in-laws after her family demanded a high dowry. Participating in the weekly OVATV listening circle sessions with other women in her village, she began to feel more confident. She said,
“I participated in the sessions and got knowledge about several topics related to the rule of law. I tried to get justice for my daughter and finally succeeded in convincing my husband to reimburse the amount of 250,000 AFN to (our daughter’s) husband.” With the money that was reimbursed to him, their daughter’s husband bought a taxi and is earning money for the family and their daughter no longer suffers.
The system of Walwar continues, but EAI program team working on OVATV feels that opening up more conversations within families and communities is the best way to end the system and the suffering it causes. As Nadia states: “We want to use our radio program to show listeners that they have a choice and support them to make that change through our listening circles. It may only start with one family or one community, but their stories will inspire others and eventually we hope the system will change.”
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