In some parts of Afghanistan, groups of women meet in secret places, pulling out hidden notebooks, they risk their family honour, their safety and their own lives, to put pen to paper.
In Jalalabad, Afghanistan Mudassar Shah met a group of Pashtoon women who are committed to turning passion into poetry.
Twenty two year old Mursal reads her poetry. This is a patriotic verse, dedicated to young people who have made sacrifices in war for Afghanistan
Mursal’s name means Messenger. She hopes her poetry can help bring an end to bloodshed.
But even with that subject, as a woman, writing is dangerous for her.
“I never share my poetry with my family because they disapprove,” she confessed.
She carries her notebook as though she’s holding something stolen and dangerous; her eyes are furtive and fearful.
Mursal has been writing poetry for four years, but it’s a closely guarded secret. And she says some subjects are completely off-limits.
“I avoid writing romantic poetry because society does not encourage women to express love, even in the form of poetry.” She continued, “some female poets have been tortured for writing romantic poetry.”
When Afghan women write about love, they are often accused of adultery, and of compromising the honour of the entire family.
In 2005, Afghan poet Nadia Anjuman was killed by her husband, after a book of her romantic poetry was published.
Mention of her death still strikes fear among women. But it hasn’t stopped them from putting pen to paper.
Najiba Paktiani, 51, has been writing poetry for over a decade. She says it’s an antidote to the difficulties of life.
“My life used to be in turmoil, full of sadness. I started expressing my sorrow through poetry. That’s how I started writing poetry,” she told me.
For centuries, poetry has been an important part of Pashtoon culture, and it is often passed down by women through songs sung to children and at weddings.
But Najiba tells me she’s frustrated that women are now cut out of poetry. And even when they manage to write, they’re judged harshly, while male poets are widely respected.
Toor Paikay describes how it’s considered a great sin for women to want an education, or to want to make decisions for themselves. Toor is a keen writer, but she too keeps it a secret from her family.
“The insecurity in my country, gender based violence and murders of women – those are the main themes that I explore in my poetry,” Toor said.
“I focus on women’s issues because women face many challenges, and their rights are rarely recognised. I want to be their voice. I want to highlight women’s issues through my poetry,” she told me.
Pashto poetry and culture is full of admiration for Malali of Maiwand, a female independence fighter who resisted British colonisation in 1880.
Malali is a national hero, but today women are still struggling for their own independence.
Under Taliban rule, from 1996 to 2001, public life was completely closed to Afghan women. They were confined to the home, and punished for minor discretions.
After the fall of the Taliban, women began to make their way back into society, although they still face many limitations.
Zar Lakhta Hasini is one of the lucky few – she’s now preparing her second book of poetry for publication.
“My school teachers encouraged me when I first shared my poetry with them. Then my family started supporting me, he helped me to publish my poems in local newspapers and magazines,” Zar said.
She’s pushing for women’s right to write to be respected across the country.