“’I can’t say any poems in front of my brothers,’ she said. Love poems would be seen by them as proof of an illicit relationship, for which Meena could be beaten or even killed.
“Pashtun poetry has long been a form of rebellion for Afghan women, belying the notion that they are submissive or defeated. Landai means ‘short, poisonous snake’ in Pashto, a language spoken on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The word also refers to two-line folk poems that can be just as lethal. Funny, sexy, raging, tragic, landai are safe because they are collective. No single person writes a landai; a woman repeats one, shares one. It is hers and not hers. Although men do recite them, almost all are cast in the voices of women. ‘Landai belong to women,’ Safia Siddiqi, a renowned Pashtun poet and former Afghan parliamentarian, said. ‘In Afghanistan, poetry is the women’s movement from the inside.’”
In rural Afghan villages, education remains beyond the reach of most young women and girls. While the U.S. and its allies have made significant gains elsewhere in Afghan women’s rights, young rural women still face a significant uphill battle against violence and oppression. The article’s discussion of landai is a refreshing glimpse into the independent, soulful, and sometimes bawdy tradition of women and poetry in rural Afghanistan’s strict post-Taliban society. But it also demonstrates just how precarious life remains for Afghan women, even as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw.