Archive For The “Women” Category
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.”
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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
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.”
Read full story on The National UAE
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.
Read full story on The Hindu