Archive For The “Women” Category
There’s a steady stream of customers coming through the doors of Rahiba Rahimi’s fashion studio. The 25-year-old’s bold, intricate designs are fitted on mannequins and hung on rails around her showroom in Kabul.
Rahimi is the lead designer and co-proprietor of Laman, a clothing label she helped build in the Afghan capital five years ago.
Her customers are mostly Afghan women and men, together with a few foreign nationals who work in Kabul’s aid-driven economy.
“A lot of times we collaborate and co-design with customers because Afghans are very good at fashion. Even now, if you see on the street, you will see how Afghans express their creativity in colours and styles. We are here to help with the quality of that expression, with design, details, fabric,” she says, walking around the multistorey building that doubles as a workshop and studio.
“I haven’t studied fashion designing, this came about based on my love for colours and patterns and, in a broader sense, my love for the culture and heritage.”
Her designs are a world away from what might be considered, outside the wartorn country at least, the norms of Afghan fashion. Clothing styles in the country have traditionally been influenced by social norms formed over decades of conflict, violence and extremism. Yet that hasn’t deterred a younger generation of Afghans from pushing the boundaries, while also attempting to revive traditional handicraft and art.
“Fashion for me represents a strong statement in a conservative society. It is an expression of myself as a woman and as an Afghan youth. I should have the right to wear the colours I want to wear. It is a sign of freedom,” Rahimi explains.
Read full story The Guardian
The US invasion of Afghanistan toppled Taliban from power in October 2001 but since then, tens of thousands of civilians and security forces have been killed as the country descended into a civil war.
The US invaded Afghanistan after blaming the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, who was the alleged architect of the 9/11 attacks.
In the past 18 years, gender rights have improved, with more girls attending schools and women joining the workforce and entering politics – but the security situation remains precarious for common Afghans.
Young Afghans, in particular, have grown under the shadow of conflict, with both the US-backed government as well as the Taliban blamed for the rising civilian casualties.READ MORE
“The war has touched everyone and everything here, even me. I have lost family, and a dear friend died in my arms,” said Mohammad Tahir Basharyar, who turned 18 less than two months ago.
However, Basharyar admits that in contrast to the life his parents had lived under the Taliban, things are different, even better in certain aspects.
“During the Taliban period, people lived in poverty, and women were not allowed outside their homes. There was no access to modern science, no political stability, no freedom of expression, and no connection to the outside world,” Basharyar, who hails from Helmand province, told Al Jazeera.
‘The freedom to express’
He said that the US invasion undid the brutality of the Taliban rule, to some extent.
“I have the chance to learn modern science. I have the freedom to express and there has been much done for women’s rights. But it came at a cost of war,” he said.
Older Afghans who lived under the Taliban recall the dark days of economic hardship and strictly enforced laws defined by the group’s interpretation of Islam.
“I have personally witnessed the punishment of four people in the main football ground of our city. There was no economy to sustain the people, but we were all forced to pray five times a day,” said Norullah Reyazat, from the northern province of Baghlan.
The 47-year-old said that people thought the US invasion “could lead to a change for the better”.
“But that’s not what happened,” he said.
Read full story on Al Jazeera
The stadium in Kabul was packed, as thousands of football fans gathered to watch the latest edition of the Afghanistan Premier League (APL), which kicked off earlier this month. Not too long ago, this stadium was used as a venue for public executions, including that of women, by the Taliban, during their regime in the late 1990s.
However, since the fall of the extremist group in 2001, the city’s stadiums have come a long way, now reclaimed by the Afghan youth, including women, who attend as well as take part in several sports, on grounds earlier forbidden to them. This sentiment has reverberated across the stadium every year during the APL and other competitions that witness massive crowds. However, this season, the acclamations by women fans carried a stronger message — solidarity with their Iranian counterparts, who are still prohibited from entering a stadium. Several Afghan women, attending the APL on September 13, raised hand-drawn placards expressing support for the actions of Sahar Khodayari, a young Iranian woman football fan who had died after immolating herself just days earlier.
Khodayari, who is now being referred to as the ‘Blue Girl’, a nickname given to her in reference to the jersey colour of the team she supported — Esteghlal FC — set herself on fire in protest against arrest for trying to enter a stadium. Ironically, the word esteghlal in Persian translates to ‘independence’ and the stadium that she tried to enter was called Azadi (freedom) Stadium. Khodayari’s death gave rise to a stronger call from the international community against Iran’s discriminatory policies, including from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. “What happened to Sahar Khodayari is heart-breaking and exposes the impact of the Iranian authorities’ appalling contempt for women’s rights in the country. Her only crime was being a woman in a country where women face discrimination that is entrenched in law and plays out in the most horrific ways imaginable in every area of their lives, even sports,” Philip Luther, director at Amnesty International, said in a statement, urging FIFA, and the Asian Football Confederation to take action.
Read full story on The Hindu
It is a warm August weekend day in the Afghan capital of Kabul, but that doesn’t slow down Soraya Shahidi, a 26-year-old Afghan nail and tattoo artist. Dressed smartly in her ripped blue jeans and long yellow coat, her hair pulled back, and sporting a lip piercing, Shahidi stands out in the sea of modestly dressed Afghan men and women, some covered in traditional long, flowing blue burqas. Her unique ensemble is only a part of her extraordinary personality as the first female tattoo artist of Afghanistan.
At great personal risk, Shahidi offers her services in a safe, nonjudgmental space to Afghan men and women who are defying social norms to etch their skin with delicate art, sentimental symbols, lines from Persian poetry, or simply the names of loved ones. “I always wanted to be a beauty artist, and since there are no such [female] tattoo artists in Afghanistan, that motivated me to be the first one in this country,” Shahidi says in an interview with Zora in a tiny borrowed studio built in an annex above a men’s hair salon.
The temporary space — a niche in a wall that barely fits four people — was provided to Shahidi by her friend so she can work part-time on her expanding client base while she figures out a suitable location for her own studio and finishes her undergraduate studies. Shahidi, who is also a single mother, another rarity in Afghanistan, is mentally preparing herself for the backlash and opposition she expects to receive when she starts her own studio. Already, she faces harassment online for her work. “Some people reached out to me and told me what I am doing is haram [forbidden in Islam]. They also have a problem with a girl doing tattoos on boys,” she says.
Ina deeply conservative society such as Afghanistan, which suffered considerably during the four decades of war and the extremist Taliban regime, tattoos, especially on women, are considered un-Islamic and taboo. Shahidi and her clients, especially the women who get tattoos, are outliers in an Afghan society that is changing, albeit slowly. Many Afghan women are opting to get their bodies inked, not just for aesthetics but also as a form of silent rebellion and empowerment. According to Shahidi, designs that Afghan women choose for their tattoos are often small, delicate, and reflective of their struggles, as opposed to the men, who typically pick larger, masculine motifs that are perhaps testaments to decades of war and patriarchy.
The little birds traced across 24-year-old Enjila Ibrahimkhel’s left arm are symbolic of her dreams. “Like those little birds who fly high, I want to soar. I consider myself as a free bird and have big hopes and dreams,” says Ibrahimkhel, an artist and manager of a popular art-themed restaurant in Kabul. Like many Afghans, she has lived a life in refuge in other countries due to the war and conflict that ravaged her own. She studied to be a doctor in Pakistan, her adopted home, and returned to Kabul last year. However, Ibrahimkhel was drawn to the burgeoning art and social scene of the Afghan capital and decided to pursue her passion in the restaurant industry instead.
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US President Donald Trump’s decision to suspend peace talks with the Taliban was met with relief by many Afghans, who questioned the absence of other interested parties including the government.
“These talks were based on American and Taliban interests and Afghans were only the audience,” said Mohammad Ilyas, a political activist from the eastern city of Jalalabad.
“An existing elected government was marginalised and they wanted to decide the fate of whole nation. We believed that these discussions wouldn’t have a favourable outcome.”
The top US negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, had said that a deal had been “imminent” and was only awaiting Mr Trump’s approval.
But the US president announced on Saturday that he was suspending the months-long peace effort over a Taliban bombing in Kabul two days earlier that killed a US soldier and 11 other people.
US officials have suggested that the talks could resume later, bringing hopes that the pause will allow the inclusion of excluded Afghan parties.
“The lull in the peace talks will give Afghan women the opportunity to further strengthen their position and regroup so that they can take a stronger part of the negotiations between the US and the Taliban,” said Zuhra Bahman, a women’s rights activist in Kabul.
For women, reintegration of the Taliban into mainstream politics raised fears for the fundamental rights they had established in the 18 years since the militants were toppled by a US-led invasion.
IN THE winter of 2009, as a young teenager, Soraya says she was raped by a 22-year-old male teacher at her English language school in Eastern Afghanistan. A few months later, she was spotted by Afghan police walking with her rapist on the street. After being taken to the police station, she was forced to call her father, who was informed that she had likely engaged in adultery. Soraya’s father hit her when he arrived at the station and insisted that she be submitted to a virginity test.
The test was administered by a male doctor at a clinic the next day. “He put his fingers in my vagina, he looked at me, and said you are not [a] virgin,” Soraya, now 25, recently recalled to a friend, who submitted the details in a letter to Undark on the condition that Soraya’s real name and whereabouts be withheld for fear of retribution from members of her still-estranged family. “He seemed to enjoy that — not just my suffering, but also touching me.”
For reasons unclear to Soraya — perhaps it was her tears and begging, or a bribe from her younger brother — the doctor agreed not to tell her enraged father, who was waiting in the next room. Instead he pronounced Soraya dokhtaret pak ast in her native Dari, or “the girl is pure.” But the experience left her devastated. She attempted suicide, and ultimately fled Afghanistan. “I was a good and a happy girl,” she said, “but the virginity test killed me.”
Soraya is far from alone. While many Taliban-era strictures have been dismantled, human relationships — and female sexuality in particular — remain matters of strict control in Afghanistan. Simply admitting publicly to sex with a man outside of wedlock remains an illegal and punishable offense in the country, and Afghan police routinely question men and women who fraternize in public. Failure to provide satisfactory answers or evidence of a legal, moral association can lead to an arrest and investigation — largely focused on the character of the woman involved.
One of the first actions taken in such cases is that the woman is subjected to an invasive and scientifically dubious “virginity test.” If it is determined that the woman has engaged in sexual intercourse, she can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
In 2013, the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) estimated that “half of all women in prison and about 95 percent of girls in juvenile detention in Afghanistan had been arrested on ‘moral crimes’ charges.” Virtually all of these women are believed to have been subjected to virginity testing. The practice has also been documented in nearly 20 countries, from the Middle East to parts of South and Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, and Europe, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The organization notes that amid increased globalization and migration, “requests for and cases of virginity testing are emerging in countries that have no known previous history of the practice, including Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden.”
Read full story on Undark
After a full day overseeing policy reforms in the mining sector of one the most sensitive and dangerous regions of the world, Nargis Nehan opens her door to friends and relatives for iftar.
As she sets the table, carefully arranging the cutlery and plates of food, Ms Nehan chats with her guests about current affairs and Afghanistan’s performance in the Cricket World Cup. After a short prayer, they break their Ramadan fast with a meal of aush – an Afghan noodle soup, mince kebabs and eggplant.
Even in such a relaxed setting, Ms Nehan’s indomitable personality stands out. As the acting minister for mining and petroleum, her friends around the table occasionally refer to her as “wazir sahib” – “respected minister”. She was given charge of one of the most crucial portfolios in the Afghan cabinet by President Ashraf Ghani in 2017.
It has been a long, difficult journey for Ms Nehan, 37. As a woman with strong ideas and very vocal opinions, she says she has learnt the hard way that there will always be critics of her work. “It’s not just me but all the women in the system who are undervalued for their abilities and contributions,” she says. “I find that men who are very smart, outspoken and opinionated are very appreciated. Those qualities are not seen as an asset in women, but a challenge that intimidates the rest. You have to do a lot of trust-building to change such a situation.”
Afghan society, she says, is still not ready to see an outspoken woman working alongside men as equals.
Ms Nehan’s appointment as minister was rejected by parliament, falling six votes short of the 113 required for approval. She believes this was “partly because I am an outspoken reformist woman which shocks them”, but also “because of the rampant corruption in the system”.
Several people had urged her to bribe the MPs for their support. “But I told them that their vote is not their personal property that they can barter – it is the confidence of the people. I explained the work I intended to do and if that wasn’t good enough to get their votes, I did not want to indulge in such things.”
Despite the lack of parliamentary approval, President Ghani allowed her to run the ministry in an acting capacity.
Ms Nehan, a breast cancer survivor, is made of stern stuff. She does not let critics deter her from her goals for the country and says she lets her work speak for itself. “As a woman I realise I have to work very hard to prove to my colleagues that I know what I am doing and that I can deliver. I think that the kind of reforms I have brought in the system and the ministry have shown my calibre to my critics.”
Her appointment was met with as much enthusiasm as scepticism, thanks to her years of work with international organisations; in the transitional government set up after the 2001 US-led invasion toppled the Taliban; in various ministries; and as head of the Afghan treasury.
Read full story on The National UAE
As the sun set, we hurried through the streets of Dasht-e-Barchi on the western edge of Kabul. Our host, 40-year old Baqir Sangari, had called several times to check the instructions to his house in the largely Hazara Shiite community.
Arriving a few minutes after iftar, we were welcomed by Baqir and invited to sit for the wide and colourful spread of food. Baqir’s wife, Momina Sangari, four daughters and two sons sat waiting to start despite not having eaten since the sun rose many hours ago.
“There is a saying, the more people join you for iftar, the better the food will taste,” Baqir said, as Momina and two of his daughters begin serving generous portions of homemade bolani, a fried bread stuffed with potato and leek.
Baqir, from the Maidan-Wardak province of central Afghanistan, works as a taxi driver in Kabul. The family gets by on Baqir’s income of about AFN 14,000 (Dh 650) to 15,000 (Dh 695) a month – average for a driver but well under the amount needed to comfortably support a family of eight in Kabul.
As the family began to eat, the conversation moved between the girls’ education – they had to leave their afterschool English language classes because it was too expensive – and the deteriorating security situation of the country. “Each Ramadan becomes more difficult than the one before. There is more tension every time,” Baqir said.
“We try not to talk about such negative things around the children, but between ourselves, we often discuss how bad things keep getting,” 35-year-old Momina said. “Those conversations end with a prayer for a better future, because what option do we have otherwise?” she said, wearily.
For the Sangari family, the 18-year Afghan conflict comes with an additional challenge of being from a marginalized sect – the Hazara community has historically been persecuted for their Shiite faith.
While things improved after the fall of the hardline Sunni Taliban regime with the United States-led invasion in 2001, there is a new threat posed by a brutal and growing ISIS insurgency. The extremist group has been gaining ground and has targeted the minority several times in the last three years, conducting attacks on Shiite places of worship, political and civil gathering and even schools in the Hazara dominant areas.
UN figures for last year reported 747 civilian casualties after 19 incidents of sectarian-motivated violence against Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan – a 34 per cent rise in the toll from previous years.
Several of these attacks in Kabul took place in the neighbourhood where the Sangari family live, killing close relatives. In March, Baqir’s nephew was helping search people entering a gathering to honour the Hazara Shiia leader Mazari. He was patting-down a suicide bomber when the man detonated his device. Baqir’s nephew was the first of at least 11 people killed.
“We do feel very unsafe. It feels like we are in the middle of a war,” said Momina, who has lived her entire life in Dasht-e-Barchi but says it has never felt this dangerous.
Read full story on The National UAE
The grief of Talib Jan Mangal is insurmountable. His voice quivers with emotion as the 66-year-old Afghan fields calls from around the world. They are all asking after his 26-year-old daughter Mina, who shot dead in broad daylight in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Saturday.
Despite his sorrow, Mr Mangal answers every calling journalist, repeating the same story. After all, his deceased daughter had once been a journalist – renowned across Afghanistan – and she would have done just that.
“It was around 7:30 am on Saturday and Mina had just left home heading to her office,” he told The National. “She was on the main road when two men on a motorcycle stopped and shot her.”
Mina was so close to home that her mother heard the gunshots and asked her husband to go check. “I came out to see what the commotion was and found her on the street covered in blood,” he said. “She had died but I took her to the hospital.”
The violent death of a woman is not rare in Afghanistan but Mina’s murder has made waves across the country, a patriarchal society where rates of gender-based violence are high.
Mina, a former journalist, worked as a political adviser to the lower house of the Afghan parliament, and had recently left an abusive marriage. Her parents have accused her ex-husband and his uncle of killing her.
Over half of Afghan women have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partners, the UN estimates. Other international organisations suggest the figure could be as high as 87 per cent.
“About two years ago, we married Mina to her fiance, they had been betrothed for nearly 10 years. However, he and his family were very violent and abusive to her,” Mr Mangal said. “She left her husband six days after their marriage.”
Since then her ex-husband had continued to threaten her, and two years ago kidnapped Mina, her family said.
“He and his relatives beat her and drugged her several times to make her unconscious and took her Paktiya province,” Mr Mangal said, referring to the eastern province where her ex-husband came from. “They tortured and beat her there.”
Despite concentrated efforts from various international rights groups and local civil society organisations, the country’s record for gender base violence remains dismal.
“Unfortunately, Ms Mangal is not the only victim of cultural oppression in Afghanistan,” said Spozhmai Stanakzai, an Afghan activist with a background in law. “The number of such victims are higher in rural areas but since women outside of cities don’t have access to formal justice and social media, their tragedies go unnoticed.”
In conservative Afghan society, women face a range of gender-specific problems and threats including forced marriage, child marriage, abductions, domestic violence, self-immolation to escape domestic abuse and violence.
After Mina escaped her abusive relationship, she filed for divorce. But it was only finalised nine months ago, and not until she approached several courts, lawyers and prosecutors.
Divorce is socially unacceptable in Afghanistan and obtaining one is particularly difficult for women.
Mina was vocal in her journalism, and later on social media about the difficulties she faced in obtaining a divorce, as well as her experiences of being in a forced, abusive marriage, another taboo subject for Afghan women.
Read full story on The National UAE
Five-year-old Sayeed Rehman does not know what resilience means, a word used several times over the last few days to describe him. The young Afghan is just happy that he can dance again with his new prosthetic leg, one of many that he has worn during his short life.
“I like to dance, and I am very happy with my new leg. Do you want to see me dance?” he offers, while talking to The National at Kabul prosthetic clinic on Tuesday.
A video of a cheerful Sayeed Rehman dancing at the International Committee of the Red Cross orthopedic centre went viral after it was published on Monday.
Ahmad received artificial limb in @ICRC_af Orthopedic center, he shows his emotion with dance after getting limbs. He come from Logar and lost his leg in a landmine. This is how his life changed and made him smile.41.3K11:27 AM – May 6, 201913.5K people are talking about thisTwitter Ads info and privacy
Despite Sayeed Rehman’s happy demeanour, the youngster has had to overcome a violent past. When he was eight-months-old, Sayeed Rehman was caught in crossfire between government and insurgent forces in his home province of Logar, 60 kilometres outside the Afghan capital.
“We were caught between an ongoing battle between the Afghan forces and the Taliban. Rehman and sister got shot at. While my daughter suffered bullet wounds to her kidney and legs, Rehman’s right leg was badly injured,” Sayeed Rehman’s mother Raesa told The National. Raesa, who like most Afghans goes only by one name, also lost her brother and nephew in that same attack.
“We rushed the injured to the Emergency clinic at the provincial centre; Rehman’s injuries were so severe he had to be hospitalised for a month-and-a-half,” she recalled.
Soon after his leg was amputated.
Read full story on The National UAE