Women’s Rights in Afghanistan: Perseverance in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns

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Women’s Rights in Hosseini’s Narrative: The Trials of Mariam and Laila

Throughout history, Afghanistan has been a country in chaos. War, discrimination, and Taliban rule have all had an effect on Afghan people, yet more so on women. In the novel, “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini, women are portrayed less than men. Women are seen as a joke, and men are seen as superior. Women in this novel have faced constant trials. Hosseini’s novel is a powerful narrative that combines the horrific story of two women by the name of Mariam and Laila. Both girls in this novel come not only from toxic relationships but also from the atrocities of the Taliban.

Women’s Rights Eclipsed: Mariam’s Struggle for Acceptance & Autonomy

Laila and Mariam, two of the women in the story who suffer greatly under Taliban rule, live two completely different lives. “Mariam was five years old the first time she heard the word “harami.” This is how the main protagonist of the novel is introduced. Harami meaning a bastard. This one sentence gives the readers an idea of the type of life that Mariam will live in the upcoming pages of the novel. Mariam, the main protagonist of the story, is the one who lives a life so horrifically that she doesn’t even know how to handle her own existence. Mariam is the daughter of Jalil. She seeks her independence from her father. Despite what she refers to as unconditional love from her father, her mother constantly reminds her of how unwanted she is.

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Her mother will not let her attend school, yet she has someone go to teach Mariam how to read the Koran. “Nana’s bitterness stems from her experience with rejection time after time throughout her life.” The relationship that Mariam shares with her father gives her a sense of hope. A sense of hope that she is able to abscond from such a patriarchal situation. Until one day, he makes her sleep outside. This then changes the way that she sees her father. When her mother passes away, Mariam is bound to have an arranged marriage. Her father arranges that she marry a man twice as old as her.

“It wasn’t easy tolerating him talking this way to her, to bear his scorn, his ridicule, his insults, his walking past her like she was nothing but a house cat. But after four years of marriage, Mariam saw clearly how much a woman could tolerate when she was afraid. And Mariam was afraid. She lived in fear of his shifting moods, his volatile temperament, his insistence on steering even mundane exchanges down a confrontational path that, on occasion, he would resolve with punches, slaps, kicks, and sometimes try to make amends for with polluted apologies and sometimes not. This passage suggests the central theme of the story as Mariam goes through with her marriage and marries a man who is utterly disgusting. Her life with Rasheed is a testimony enough to validate Nana’s warnings that women have no place in a country like Afghanistan.

The Shadows of Women’s Rights: Laila’s Youth and Love

Laila is a girl who is growing up in Kabul. There, in her neighborhood, she becomes extremely close to a boy named Tariq. They grow a connection like no other. Sooner than later, they develop a romantic relationship that eventually sparks feelings between them both. During this time, war strikes on Afghanistan, and Kabul is bombarded by attacks. Both families of Tariq and Laila decide to reside somewhere else and leave Kabul. The breakage of their relationship brings sadness to Laila. While packing to leave Kabul, Laila’s home is bombed, which results in the death of her parents. Laila, who gets severely injured, soon discovers that she is pregnant with Tariq’s baby. Laila is subsequently taken in by Rasheed and Mariam.

The Bond Beyond Suppression: Women’s Rights & Female Solidarity in Crisis

In the novel, Rasheed claims that he wants a young and beautiful second wife to have his baby. He then marries Laila. Mariam’s life goes into shambles when Rasheed takes in Laila as his second wife. “She is no more enthusiastic about this than Mariam.” This is what Mariam and Laila share. They are two women who have been dragged down by the society they live in. Both these women are married to Rasheed not because they love him but because they have no choice. Rasheed is an abusive husband who believes that women are meant to be slaves to men.

Defiance and Sacrifice for Women’s Rights: Mariam’s Ultimate Choice

Later in the novel, Laila learns from Abdul Sharif that Tariq has died. Part of the reason she wanted to marry Rasheed is to make people believe the baby is his and not Tariq’s. Laila gives birth to a little girl, which upsets Rasheed so much because he wants a boy. Laila giving birth to Aziza results in Rasheed abusing her. After one of Rasheed’s outbursts where he lost control of himself, Laila and Mariam knew they were no longer enemies but two girls fighting the same battle to make it out alive of Taliban rules. This marriage seems to be Mariam’s salvation. This reflects the trials that the women of Afghanistan face on a daily basis. Mariam and Laila become two girls who once hated each other, two girls who knew that the life they were living in Afghanistan was a disaster.

Despite their differences, they were motivated by each other to try and survive a life so horrific. Marian and Laila try to escape Rasheed and Kabul but get caught at the bus station. Rasheed finds this as a good excuse to abuse both Laila and Mariam. He even starves them for days, leaving them without any water.

Redefining Women’s Rights: Laila’s Rebuilding Journey

A few years pass, and Rasheed finally gets what he wants. Laila gives birth to Zalmai, Rasheed’s son. During this time, the power of the Taliban rose and set rules on the Afghan population, which prohibited women from appearing in public without a male figure. Many things in Afghanistan are falling apart during the birth of Zalmai. Living conditions in Kabul become extremely hard due to the drought. Rasheed loses his workshop, which then forces him to find jobs he does not like. He decides to send Aziza, Laila’s daughter, to an orphanage, which results in Laila being beaten multiple times on the streets in an attempt to see her daughter.

Laila figures out that Rasheed hired someone to tell her that Tariq had died when, in reality, he did not. Rasheed just wanted Laila to marry him. Laila sees Tariq outside her house, which reunites them both. When Rasheed gets home, Zalmai informs him about the visitor, which sparks anger within Rasheed. He beets Laila. As the climax of the story rises, Mariam decides to kill Rasheed as he is attempting to kill Laila. “He’s going to kill her. He really means to. And Mariam could not allow that to happen. He’d taken so much from her. She would not watch him take Laila, too.”

Mariam kept wondering if what she was going to do was the right thing. As stated in the novel, “Mariam raised the shovel high. She turned it so the sharp edge was vertical, and, as she did, it occurred to her that this was the first time that she was deciding the course of her own life.”

Those lines speak to readers on a different level. They allow readers to see that women in Afghanistan have no rights whatsoever and no never do anything for themselves but do things they are told to do, or it will result in their deaths. “The story of these two women, which reaches its climax in an act of extraordinary generosity and self-sacrifice.” After killing Rasheed, Mariam stays in Kabul to take the blame for his death. Mariam gets killed by the Taliban in a horrible act to save the life of Laila. Mariam’s death symbolizes Laila’s future. “Yet, Laila’s knowledge that Mariam not only chose this fate but chose it for Laila’s well-being gives Laila a sense of purpose and allows her to grow beyond the tragedies she has experienced and to choose to devote her life to others and to something as seemingly impossible as the reconstruction of Kabul and Afghanistan.”

Women’s Rights Reclaimed: Laila’s Journey Beyond Kabul’s Shadows

After Mariam’s death, Laila and Tariq make the decision to leave Kabul and move to Murree, where life is much safer. Laila is finally living the life that she constantly dreamed of with Tariq. Yet, one day, they heard about the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and everything the news was saying about Afghanistan and the Taliban. This event scared Laila and Tariq, that they decided to move back to Kabul. They return to Kabul, where they rebuild the town and renovate the orphanage. Laila becomes a hero in her town and is constantly talked about. Laila turned Afghanistan around and helped so many people overcome the atrocities that the country faced. At the end of the novel, Laila is said to be pregnant.

Hosseinis’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns” is a remarkable novel that embarks on the life of women in Afghanistan. The author does a remarkable job of allowing the readers to vividly imagine what the women have to face on a daily base. Through oppression, abuse, and neglect, readers are able to grasp an idea of the trials that the Taliban rule brings upon women. Yet this novel brings people to the realization that women are stronger together than apart.


  1. Hosseini, K. (2007). A Thousand Splendid Suns. New York: Riverhead Books.

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Women's Rights in Afghanistan: Perseverance in 'A Thousand Splendid Suns. (2023, Aug 25). Retrieved from https://edusson.com/examples/women-s-rights-in-afghanistan-perseverance-in-a-thousand-splendid-suns

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