The XX Factor

Stories to Change the World

Ms. magazine reports a brief story today about the suspiciously high number of women registering to vote in Afghanistan’s upcoming election. Officials are starting to think something is up, given that some of the areas reporting record registration are regions where women don’t travel.

Normally, that headline wouldn’t merit my second glance, but today it held me. Late last night I finished reading Åsne Seierstad’s 2003 account of her infiltration into an Afghani home, The Bookseller of Kabul. Her glimpse into the kitchens, bedrooms, and walled-in courtyards that make up the entire world of many Afghani women is terrifying and tear-inducing.  It provides the backstory to today’s news and reveals exactly why those officials sense fraud.  They know that women don’t have the freedom to show their faces, fall in love, or earn money, let alone to vote.  And when I read the headline, all I could think about was the stories of Leila, Sharifay, and Sonya.

Stories trigger paradigm changes the way news can’t. So just wanted to give a shout-out to all the women journalists out there, like Åsne, whose work transforms far-away issues into intensely personal ones. Let’s hope future presidents around the world have the chance to echo what Abe Lincoln supposedly said when meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin , “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War!”