Though the Taliban regime was ousted from power in Afghanistan more than a decade ago, oppressive tribal traditions have remained more powerful than the laws of the government there. These traditions specifically target women and their choices about whom to love and marry.
Our film, “To Kill a Sparrow,” which was produced and directed by Zohreh Soleimani, follows the story of an Afghan woman who was thrown in jail after she ran away from an abusive marriage. The woman, Soheila, had been given away in marriage to a much older man when she was 5 years old. The reason? She was considered compensation for her older brother’s crime of stealing the older man’s young third wife.
At the time, Soheila’s lover also was in prison, serving a six-year sentence. Niaz Mohammad said he tried to make peace with Soheila’s father, pleading with him to release her from prison and allow them to live with their young son. When her father refused, Mohammad turned himself over to police and entered the men’s prison.
Filmmaker Soleimani spent three years reporting this story – gaining the trust of the young woman and conducting difficult and sometimes personally threatening interviews with members of Soheila’s family.
Afghanistan wasn’t always a place that treated women this way. As Reveal host Al Letson notes in our new podcast with Zohreh, as recently as the 1990s, women made up 40 percent of doctors, 70 percent of school teachers and 50 percent of government workers. So what happened?
Listen to our new Reveal podcast to hear Al and Zohreh discuss the dangers, surprises and challenges of reporting about women in Afghanistan.