Archive For The “Women” Category
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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In a historic first, Forbes magazine featured three young Afghan women social entrepreneurs in their much-talked about ‘30 Under 30’ list for Asia. A total of four Afghans made it to the prestigious list, including the three women — Tamana Asey, 26, director of the Afghanistan Forensic Science Organization (AFSO); Shabana Basij-Rasikh, 29, founder of the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA); and Freshta Karim, 27, founder of Charmaghz, a mobile library in Kabul.
“Being named to the ‘30 Under 30’ list was an honour, but being named to it in the company of Freshta Karim and Tamana Asey was a joy,” said Ms. Basij-Rasikh, in picture, who as a teenager built SOLA, a boarding school for Afghan girls. Ms. Basij-Rasikh’s own struggles as she, disguised as a boy, tried to seek education under the Taliban regime led to her decision to found a school that provides quality education for girls along with extra-curricular experiences and skills training.
“There are as many as three million girls out of school in Afghanistan, and the illiteracy rate for Afghan teenage girls is 63%. Those two statistics alone speak volumes about why I do what I do. When you educate a girl, you change the world — I know this is true because I’ve lived it in my own life,” she said.
With much of the same sentiment, Ms. Karim created Charmaghz to fill a void in the education system in Afghanistan by making libraries more accessible to all communities of Kabul. Her mobile library, launched last year, and expanded this year, has gained tremendous following among children, who wait for the ‘Charmaghz bus’ to arrive in their areas. The mobile library provides not only books, but also conducts readings, group discussions, poetry recitations and board games.
Read full story onThe Hindu
The largest gathering of Afghanistan’s loya jirga or grand assembly, convened by President Ashraf Ghani to discuss peace with the Taliban, ended on Friday with a unanimous call for the insurgents to observe an immediate and permanent ceasefire.
The loya jirga is a traditional method of reaching a democratic consensus among Afghans on matters of national interest, bringing together prominent members of society such as politicians, religious leaders, tribal elders and civic representatives. The last such assembly was held in 2013 to discuss extending the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan.
This assembly was convened to discuss the peace negotiations with the Taliban, who have waged a bloody insurgency since the fall of their regime in 2001. The council passed a 23-point resolution which included demands to end violence, preserve women’s rights, open a Taliban political office in the country, open direct talks between the insurgents and the government, and setting a timeline for a “responsible” withdrawal of foreign forces.
As a peace gesture, President Ghani announced in his closing remarks that the Afghan government would release 175 Taliban prisoners for Ramadan. “I would like the Taliban to send their representatives to Kabul or any other city of Afghanistan so that these Taliban prisoners can be handed over in the true Afghan way. This is a gift of Islamic and human gesture,” Mr Ghani said.
He also urged the Taliban’s Committee for Prisoners to come forward for talks on the fate of the remaining prisoners.
The jirga was boycotted by many opposition leaders including Abdullah Abdullah, who holds the post of chief executive under a power-sharing arrangement with Mr Ghani. Former president Hamid Karzai last week voiced concerns that Mr Ghani had called the meeting to bolster his bid for re-election later this year.
Despite this, the assembly drew more than 3,500 participants from across the country who discussed various issues related to the peace talks over five days.
“This jirga showed that the Afghan people are united, smart, aware and intelligent and we unanimously, in one voice, seek to preserve all the achievements we made in the last 18 years,” Sahera Sharif, an MP from Khost province, told The National.
“Through the jirga, we were also able to establish that the national interest and unity are more important and valuable to us than ethnic and gender divisions.”
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The fifth phase of meetings between Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S.’s special envoy for peace, and Taliban leaders concluded earlier this month. Very little has been revealed about the nature of the proposed deal between the two parties, raising serious concerns among Afghans, especially women, who suffered greatly the last time the Taliban had control over the country.
The group’s leaders have made several statements assuring that they intend to uphold rights and freedom of women. “We consider woman as the builders of a Muslim society and are committed to all rights of women that have been given to them by the sacred religion of Islam,” Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, a Taliban leader, said during negotiations in Moscow earlier this year.
However, not everyone is convinced, owing not only to the group’s own past record but also to the many recent cases of mistreatment of women in regions it controls. In early March, a 32-year-old woman was publicly lashed for not wearing a face veil in the Sancharak district of the northern province of Sar-e-Pol. A few weeks later, the Taliban executed a 25-year-old pregnant woman in the same province after she condemned the insurgents. The Taliban has also been very vocal against who it refers to as “so-called women’s rights activists”.
A vocal campaign
In response, there is already a movement simmering in social and public spaces, led by women, seeking inclusion in the talks. A campaign spearheaded by Afghan journalist Farahnaz Forotan has been asking them to speak out about their “red lines” — values that are non-negotiable to them. “I am Farahnaz Forotan. I am a journalist. My red line is is my pen and my freedom of expression,” she tweeted earlier this month. Hundreds of Afghan women joined her later with demands that their rights be safeguarded in the peace negotiations.
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On a late September afternoon in 1996, Latifa (name changed to protect her identity) heard that the Taliban had entered Kabul, a city she was born and raised in. There had been rumours about this for weeks, in the neighbourhood, in her high school, even at home. But the 16-year-old did not know how radically her life was going to change.
“We were locked in our homes; prohibited by the Taliban from leaving the house. Our schools were closed and the radio was our only source of information,” she said, recalling the days living under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, after the brutal, bloody and prolonged conflict that had ensnared her country.
While the conflict subsided to some extent after the Taliban takeover, the armed group ruled with an iron fist, deploying harsh laws and putting curbs on the mobility of women.
“Women could only be out of the house in a burqa and accompanied by a mahram [male escort who is a relative you cannot marry]. There was no negotiation over that. We never got the chance to protest,” she told TRT World.
After a few months under lockdown in her own country, Latifa had an urgent need to visit the dentist. “I had an unbearable toothache and I asked my mother to take me to the dentist, which was about a 10-minute walk from our house,” she said. However, none of the women in her family had worn burqa before. “We were four women in our house—I along with two of my sisters and my mother. But none of us owned a burqa. But my mother had one really old burqa that she inherited from her grandmother,” she added.
After much discussion, Latifa wore the old burqa and her mother covered herself with the chador—a really large shawl-like scarf—to visit the dentist. “My mother insisted that I take the burqa since being a young teenage girl, the Taliban were more likely to inspect my clothing. She thought that since she’s an older woman, they might not be so strict about her attire,” Latifa said, adding that her mother was around 55 years old at that time, and even in the strictest interpretation of Islam, rules for older women are often relaxed.
Dressed as conservatively as possible, Latifa and her mother set out to seek medical help. The streets of the central market, otherwise known to be a bustling crowded area, were deserted; Latifa and her mother were among the handful of people walking across their city streets that had been turned into a ghost town.
“A young boy on a cycle came towards us and told my mother, ‘ Amr bil Maroof [Taliban’s moral police] is on its way in this direction and they will not approve of your cover. Please turn around and go home before they catch you.’ We panicked, and immediately turned around to go back home,” Latifa said.
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The day she was flogged by members of the Taliban, Maryam was making her way to the local bazaar to shop for groceries – her face uncovered.
The 32-year-old housewife was born and raised in Afghanistan’s Sancharak district in Sar-i-pul – a northern province, where the Taliban shadow police has tried for some time to return to.
“I was on my way to the city [centre] when we saw the Taliban coming,” said Maryam, whose name has been changed to protect her identity. “Some people started to run, but I didn’t get the chance. One of them came up to me and three others and asked us: why aren’t you wearing a burqa?,” she recalled, referring to the long garment imposed by the Taliban, which covers women from head to toe.
As quickly as they appeared, the men issued their verdict – Maryam and three other women were to receive 30 lashes for stepping out in public without a burqa. “I was speechless. I am not sure how many times I was lashed, I lost count after a while. The pain was too unbearable,” she said. Meanwhile, a crowd gathered to witness the impromptu trial.
According to local reports, however, a group of men stepped forward to stop the Taliban. While Maryam was unable to corroborate this, Zabiullah Amany, the governor’s spokesman said that several male residents tried helping many of the women arrested by the Taliban.
“The Taliban wanted to lash the women, but people didn’t allowed them,” Mr Amany told The National. Unfortunately, Maryam and the three women were not among those who were rescued. According to him, they were accused of adultery and because of this, he implied, the local crowd was largely unsympathetic and did not help them like they did with the other women. Adultery is illegal in Afghanistan.
Maryam, however, insisted she was punished for not adhering to the strict Taliban dress code, which requires that women keep their faces covered at all times to preserve their modesty. “They lectured us about our duties. They told us you must cook food, you don’t have permission to go to the doctor without a mahram. I am so angry and upset at the way I was treated,” she said, using the Arabic term for a male guardian.
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Saina Hamidi, a psychological counsellor in Kabul, Afghanistan, says she was around nine years old when she first heard mention of women who bleed. Her older sister had come across one of their cousins washing bloodied clothes and told their mother about it. “I overheard my mother reprimand my sister for talking about it and tell her not to mention it to anyone else,” Hamidi recalled.
The message was clear, Hamidi added: “If we were to ever see it again, we should hide it.”
In Afghanistan, menstruation is referred to — on the rare occasion that it is mentioned at all — as zan marizi, which literally means “a woman’s illness.”
The tone of the conversation made Hamidi, now 24, believe that perhaps their cousin had done something shameful. “We both didn’t know what it really meant to bleed like that,” she said. “But between my sister and myself, we came to the conclusion that this probably happened to our cousin because she hadn’t been a good girl.” Neither Hamidi nor her sisters had any knowledge or access to information about the perfectly normal and expected physical changes their bodies were about to experience. In fact, they didn’t even know the word for menstruation or period, which in Afghanistan is referred to, on the rare occasion that it is mentioned at all, as zan marizi, which literally means “a woman’s illness.”
The experiences of Hamidi and her family are by no means isolated in this part of the world, where a prevailing pall of shame and dishonor still hovers over women’s puberty. Misinformation about the subject of women’s health and hygiene is widespread, and young women are nudged toward traditional — and often unhealthy — practices to cope with their biological development. These include everything from avoiding vegetables in the diet to not bathing for the duration of a period — a purported hedge against infertility. This, coupled with the lack of access to affordable hygiene products, has resulted not only in poor physical and mental health, but also in girls dropping out of school after they begin to menstruate.
In response, small but significant efforts to change these perceptions have recently taken root in Afghanistan. Most prominent among these is a campaign by the Ministry of Education with support from the United Nations to train teachers to help female students better understand and prepare for their periods.
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