“When they cut off my nose and ears, I passed out,” 19-year-old Bibi Aisha of Afghanistan says with chilling candor.
Her beauty is still stunning and her confidence inspiring. It takes a moment for the barbaric act committed against her to register in your mind and sight.
Wearing her patterned scarf and with roughly painted nails she shares her story.
“It felt like there was cold water in my nose, I opened my eyes and I couldn’t even see because of all the blood,” she remembers.
It was an act of Taliban justice for the crime of shaming her husband’s family.
This story began when Aisha was just 8 years old.
Her father had promised her hand in marriage, along with that of her baby sister’s, to another family in a practice called “baad.”
“Baad” in Pashtunwali, the law of the Pashtuns, is a way to settle a dispute between rival families.
At 16, she was handed over to her husband’s father and 10 brothers, who she claims were all members of the Taliban in Oruzgan province. Aisha didn’t even meet her husband because he was off fighting in Pakistan.
“I spent two years with them and became a prisoner,” she says. (Watch more of the interview with Aisha)
Tortured and abused, she couldn’t take it any longer and decided to run away. Two female neighbors promising to help took her to Kandahar province.
But this was just another act of deception.
When they arrived to Kandahar her female companions tried to sell Aisha to another man.
All three women were stopped by the police and imprisoned. Aisha was locked up because she was a runaway. And although running away is not a crime, in places throughout Afghanistan it is treated as one if you are a woman.
A three-year sentence was reduced to five months when President Hamid Karzai pardoned Aisha. But eventually her father-in-law found her and took her back home.
That was the first time she met her husband. He came home from Pakistan to take her to Taliban court for dishonoring his family and bringing them shame.
The court ruled that her nose and ears must be cut off. An act carried out by her husband in the mountains of Oruzgan where they left her to die.
But she survived.
And with the help of an American Provincial Reconstruction Team in Oruzgan and the organization Women for Afghan Women (WAW), she is finally getting the help and protection she needs.
Offers have been pouring in to help Aisha, but there are many more women suffering in silence.
The United Nations estimates that nearly 90 percent of Afghanistan’s women suffer from some sort of domestic abuse. This in a country where there are only about eight women’s shelters to provide sanctuary from the cruelty they face. And all of the eight are privately run.
“Bibi Aisha is only one example of thousands of girls and women in Afghanistan and throughout the world who are treated this way – who suffer abuses like this, like this and worse,” says board member for WAW, Esther Hyneman.
In 2001, the situation of Afghan women and Taliban brutality received plenty of attention. Now organizations like WAW say the international community is strangely silent on the issue.
Hyneman says not enough is being done to help the women in Afghanistan and that feeds into the hands of the insurgency.
“When you have … 50 percent of a population on their knees, it’s very easy for extremists, tyrants to take over a country,” she adds. “They have a ready-made enslaved population.”
Aisha is reminded of that enslavement every time she looks in the mirror.
But there still times she can laugh. And at that moment you see her teenage spirit escaping a body that has seen a lifetime of injustice