This past week I finished reading Khaled Hosseini’s beautiful novel titled A Thousand Splendid Suns. In this stunning book, Hosseini brilliantly describes the history of Afghanistan dating back to the Soviet invasion, the rule of the Taliban, as well as a post-Taliban era.

What was most striking to me about the story was the deeply evocative account of the lives of the Afghan people — particularly those of young girls and women.   There were a handful of instances when I had to simply put the book down and give myself time to absorb the jarring contrast between being a woman in Afghanistan compared to being a woman born and raised in the United States of America.

The following are some stark facts about what it has been like to be a woman in Afghanistan — a nation consistently rated as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be born a woman:

  • More than 50 percent of Afghan girls are married or engaged to be married by the age of 12.
  • Nearly 60 percent of girls are married by the age of 16. Eighty percent of these marriages are either forced or arranged.
  • Most girls marry far older men — some in their 60s. Often they meet their husbands for the first time at their wedding ceremony.
  • Eight-five percent of girls and women have no formal education and are illiterate.
  • In many cases women and girls are required to stay home and can only leave if they are fully covered and accompanied by a male relative. In the cities, most women wear a burqa that completely covers them. Many are treated like servants or slaves, compounding their isolation.
  • The average number of live births per woman is six.
  • The life expectancy of an Afghan woman is 51.

As an American woman, these facts are disturbing on so many levels. At the very least, these statistics should serve as a stark reminder of the absolute blessing that it is to be born a citizen of the United States of America. Let’s face it, male or female, we have it made compared to our counterparts in many parts of the world.

So, the next time you find yourself complaining about how bad your life is, I suggest you review these facts and count your blessings. And, instead of spending hours on your smartphone all tangled up in the social media mess, put your phone down and pick up a copy of this book. It is, without question, a breathtaking, heart-wrenching and deeply moving read.