"A girl has to fight for her rights from the day she's born until the day she dies", explains Nargis. She and her friends bravely spread the message of equality in a country where the hanging and beheading of women remains commonplace. Facing conservative jibes for walking out without head scarves or for driving a car, these girls must also deal with the bigger worry of random terrorist attacks: "Who knows whether we'll be the next victims", they say.
Women make up roughly half of the 42 million Pashtun people in the borderland. The kind of hardship they know is rare. Some are bought and sold, others killed for perceived slights against family honor. But this doesn’t render them passive. Most of the Pashtun women I know possess a rebellious and caustic humor beneath their cerulean burkas, which have become symbols of submission. This finds expression in an ancient form of folk poetry called landay. Two lines and 22 syllables long, they can be rather startling to the uninitiated. War, drones, sex, a husband’s manhood—these poems are short and dangerous, like the poisonous snake for which they’re named.
"Women get flustered under fire. They're too fragile, too emotional. They lack the ferocity required to take a life. They can't handle pain. They're a distraction, a threat to cohesion, a provocative tease to close-quartered men. These are the sort of myths you hear from people who oppose the U.S. military's evolving new rules about women in combat. But for women who have already been in combat, who have earned medals fighting alongside men, the war stories they tell don't sound a thing like myths" [more inside]
Saving Aesha She came to America after the Taliban hacked off her nose and ears, a symbol of the oppression of women in Afghanistan. Since then, she's been passed around by well-meaning strangers, showcased like a star and shielded like a fragile child. The fairy-tale ending everyone hoped for has remained elusive.
A documentary by Ariel Nasr, "The Boxing Girls of Kabul" (National Film Board of Canada trailer), profiles a group of young Afghan women training to compete in women's boxing in the 2012 Olympics (which will feature boxing for the first time as a women's event). Radio Netherlands interviews 18 year old Shabnam Rahimi, and the Toronto Star has a photo album on the athletes. If all that inspires you, petition President Hamid Karzai's government to support the team, via this petition page. (Nasr is also known for his documentary, "Good Morning Kandahar".)
Since the spring of 2010, all-volunteer units called Female Engagement Teams have been doing what male soldiers can't: speak with women and children in rural Afghani communities, both to gain information and to foster trust. These soldiers may carry M4 rifles, but their toolkit includes sidewalk chalk and jump ropes, too. The FETs, trained for this specific mission grew out of more ad hoc programs like the Lioness program for traffic checkpoints in Iraq. "The FET mission to me is so critical that if I had to exchange blood for it, I would," said Sgt. 1st Class Sawyer Alberi, an FET team leader for the National Guard. "The FET mission is nested very closely in the COIN mission, and unless you do it, you're not doing the whole COIN mission." First Lieutenant Quincy Washa, platoon commander for the Female Engagement Team with Regimental Combat Team 1, describes the teams' role. Despite the apparent importance of the FETs' work, the program is still an experiment; it is unclear whether it will continue after the current teams' deployment.
"She wants the world to see the effect a Taliban resurgence would have on the women of Afghanistan."
"I showed it to my two young sons, 9 and 12, who both immediately felt sorry for Aisha and asked why anyone would have done such harm to her." [WARNING: Graphic image.] Richard Stengel, managing editor of Time magazine, on why he chose to run on the magazine's cover a photo of a young woman whose nose and ears had been cut off at the insistence of the Taliban. It accompanies the article "Afghan Women and the Return of the Taliban."
"Sixteen-year-old Sabera, with a pretty yellow head scarf, frets that she is missing school. 'I was about to get engaged, and the boy came to ask me himself, before sending his parents. A lady in our neighbourhood saw us, and called the police,' she explains. She was sentenced to three years but, in an act of mercy, it was shortened to 18 months . . ." The BBC reports from an Afghan women's prison. [more inside]
Acid attacks and wife burnings are common in parts of Asia because the victims are the most voiceless in these societies. graphic pictures under the fold
87 percent are illiterate. 44 years is their average life expectancy. 70 to 80 percent face forced marriages.
"At an age at which I should be putting on a wedding dress, I am asking for someone's eyes to be dripped with acid,"
Four years ago, a spurned suitor poured a bucket of sulfuric acid over [Ameneh Bahrami's] head, leaving her blind and disfigured. Late last month, an Iranian court ordered that five drops of the same chemical be placed in each of her attacker's eyes, acceding to Bahrami's demand that he be punished according to a principle in Islamic jurisprudence that allows a victim to seek retribution for a crime. The sentence has not yet been carried out.[more inside]
"Far away from the Taliban insurgency, in this most peaceful corner of Afghanistan, a quiet revolution is gaining pace. Women are driving cars — a rarity in Afghanistan — working in public offices and police stations, and sitting on local councils. There is even a female governor, the first and only one in Afghanistan." Carlotta Gall writes about promising developments in Bamian. (NY Times; print version.)
American-Dutch photographer Peter van Agtmael and English photographer Olivia Arthur are the two newest nominees recently welcomed into Magnum Photos. Agtmael's images of Afghanistan and Iraq are very powerful - he discusses his work in Conscientious. Arthur's recent work has focused on women's experiences in what she calls the Middle Distance. [more inside]
WebWoman is a global, on-line community designed to promote professional development of Afghani and Iranian women.
"Please, my dear brothers, let your wives and sisters go to the voter registration process," Karzai told a gathering to mark International Women's Day. "Later, you can control who she votes for, but please, let her go." The liberation of Afghanistan's women continues.
Women in Afghanistan are still widely oppressed, opium production is flourishing, Kabul is running out of money, and elections may have to be postponed (Karzai denies this). Afghanistan is still a mess.
AFGHAN DRAFT CONSTITUTION WORRIES CIVIL-SOCIETY ADVOCATES Ah, the women. Again. I was unable to come up with some flash item to go with martinis so instead posted this. "The draft constitution of Afghanistan seeks stability in an ethnically diverse country whose infrastructure barely survived 22 years of constant war. It outlines a central government with a strong president and embraces principles of independent media and civil law. However, gaps in the draft worry advocates for women and for religious freedom. " And then there is the huge new opium crop.
"'The best thing is being able to write my name,' says Siddiqa, 18...." Simple and powerful lessons are being taught in Afghanistan.
The Taliban's Bravest Opponents (via Salon) article/interview about the women's underground movement in Afghanistan and Pakistan.