Archive For The “Women” Category
The animated film, produced by actress Angelina Jolie, tells the story of an 11-year-old girl named Parvana and her family, who are struggling to survive in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. She must pretend to be a boy so she can work to support her family. The film is an adaptation of a book by Canadian author Deborah Ellis.
While the movie has been released in the U.S. as well as Canada, China, France, the U.K. and some countries in the Middle East, it has yet to be screened in the few theaters across Afghanistan. But last month, a small group of Afghans had a chance to see the film at the Canadian embassy in Kabul.
For many of the Afghan viewers, it was a deeply emotional experience, bringing back memories of the time when the Taliban ruled, from the late 1990s to 2001. The regime imposed a strict interpretation of Islam and severely restricted women’s freedoms.
“After the movie was over and the lights were turned back on, I saw tears in the eyes of many Afghans. I couldn’t stop my own tears,” says Abdul Rahim Ahmad Parwani, deputy country director of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, an organization that supports education for Afghan women and girls. “There was a short uncalled-for silence at the end of the film. That itself explains how the movie connected with Afghans.”
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Negin Khpalwak, a 20-year -old Afghan musician, often finds herself at odds with a society that isn’t particularly supportive of her career choices. For women like Khpalwak, who is the first female conductor of an all-girl orchestra, there are always those who criticise and oppose her, not least within her own family. “The constant fight can be very exhausting mentally,” she says.
But Khpalwak has one respite – a yoga centre for women that launched recently in Kabul. “Yoga has brought me peace of mind and helped me cope mentally with my circumstances,” she told The National after one of her daily sessions with Kabul’s first female yoga instructor, Fakhria Momtaz. “It has helped me develop a positive perspective, despite the chaos,” she says.
Momtaz, 40, started teaching yoga about two years ago at a women’s fitness club in Kabul. However, the popularity of her classes encouraged her to start her own yoga centre in the war-torn capital of Afghanistan.
“I have been learning yoga professionally for more than 10 years now, but I had been practising since I was a child,” she says, showing me photos of herself doing an impressive chakrasana at the age of two.
“I came from a family of athletes and they all encouraged my passion for yoga,” she says.
With the support of her husband, Momtaz opened the city’s first yoga and fitness club for women, on the premises of Momtaz Web Solutions, her husband’s company. “My husband has been my strongest support,” Momtaz says. “Even though he won’t practise yoga with me; he is a bit lazy that way,” she says with a chuckle. With no other similar institutions out there, Momtaz’s yoga centre quickly gained traction.
Read full story on The National UAE
The typical depiction of an Afghan woman looks like this: Timid and fearful, she is a victim of her extremely conservative and regressive society, unable to move around or do much without a man. But some Afghan women are busting these stereotypes, creating a niche for women to empower themselves and change the status quo.
A 36-year-old restaurant owner named Laila Haidary walks around the cafe gardens, carefully tending to the colorful foliage that grows generously around Kabul. She narrates her story of building a business in Afghanistan, a country governed by the rules of men. Overlooking the gardens is a midsize structure: a traditional Afghan house, with thick walls, large windows, and ample courtyard space, converted to a cozy restaurant with old tables and chairs and plenty of handmade rugs. The vibe is welcoming.
Haidary explains she wanted to provide a social space for artists and other young Afghans who want to interact with their culture and rich heritage. “This idea in itself had its own challenges because our extremely conservative society does not always approve of artistic expressions. Added to that, the fact it is run by a businesswoman makes many people uncomfortable,” she says.
Haidary’s cafe is among the many newer restaurants in Kabul, and around Afghanistan, that are either owned or managed by women in an otherwise male-dominated industry. Although data measuring this trend wasn’t available at the time of publishing, anecdotally, more women are entering the service industry: Within a two-block radius of my home in Kabul, I can count seven restaurants that have come up in the past year; that wasn’t the case in 2014, when I first came here.
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Dressed simply in a cotton salwaar kameez, (a long tunic with loose-fitting trousers), with her hair braided back, and minimal jewellery, 53-year-old Rajani Pandit looks like any other Maharashtrian housewife from the old suburbs of Mumbai city. When you walk into her little office in an apartment building in the heart of the bustling city, however, you are made aware that Pandit is no ordinary woman.
The walls of the mid-sized apartment that serves as the headquarters for the Rajani Investigative Bureau are adorned with certificates, photos and cut outs from newspaper and magazines featuring India’s very own Nancy Drew. With a career spanning over four decades, Pandit’s life has been one long pulp-fiction novel.
“I suppose I always had an inquisitive personality, one that often got me in trouble,” Pandit says. Her earliest “case,” she recalls, was when at the age of 11 she “investigated” a gift to her family from a relative that turned out to be a knock-off of a popular local brand.
“The producer was pleased that I found the shop selling imitation merchandise of his products, but the relative who gifted us the cheap counterfeit was furious!” she remembers with amusement.
But it was many years before she would consider the idea of pursuing a career as an investigator. In fact, the story of what inspired her passions as a detective is a rather cringe-worthy account of an interfering busybody.
“I was in college in the early 1980s, where I suspected that one of my classmates had a questionable character,” she narrates. Pandit’s classmate, much to her shock and displeasure, indulged in smoking, drinking and “hanging with bad boys.”
Pandit did what she thought was the responsible thing and informed the girl’s parents. “They did not believe me. But I was concerned because I was afraid that the girl was being taken advantage of by the boys,” she reasoned. Pandit, not one to give up easily, took matters into her own hands and started to follow the wayward teen after classes.
“I used the daily allowance my parents gave to track them after classes and map their usual hangouts and activities. I even took photos of her with the boys. I then took this evidence to the girl’s father, who later accompanied me to catch his daughter red-handed,” she explains, with a hint of unironic pride in her younger self.
Pandit’s unsolicited “investigation” left the parents of the girl she was “investigating” very confused. Upset and baffled, the girl’s father asked her, “Kya aap jasoos hain? [Are you a spy?]”
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I was unsure of what to expect the first time I stepped into a women’s gym in Kabul. While I’ve known a lot of women in Kabul to be vivacious (contrary to how the media often portrays them)—especially in gender-segregated spaces—there are still few who are considered to be athletic. Of course, there are Afghan women who’ve consistently broken stereotypes and excelled as athletes, yet they remain a minority that has to continue to struggle against a system that works against them.
As I approached the tiny office of the gym instructor at the end of a wide room filled with all sorts of exercising equipments and the women working on their gains, I wondered if we were still in Kabul. Many were dressed in tracksuits with matching sneakers, others in shorts and tank tops, and yet others in the traditional salwaar kameez native to this region.
There was music playing—Justin Bieber, I think—and there was a lot of chatter. In the corner, there was a crib that held three children between the ages of 1 and 3 being looked after by a teenage girl who also appeared to be running the juice bar next to it. As I changed into my basic gym wear, I noticed that the coat rack held long black coats, black abayas and the blue burqas. A lot of the women tell me they’re required permission from their families, especially their male guardians, to be able to go to the gym. This also meant that, for some, attending the gym was an act of defiance—moving in and out of the establishment discreetly and anonymously.
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A group of girls and women pore over their books by the light of the weak winter sun pouring in through a window. The tiny classroom has neither electricity nor heating and the students huddle close together on toushaks, cotton-stuffed mattresses popular in Afghan households, to keep warm.
“When it starts to be more cold, we will have to stop classes for a few months,” Maryam, their teacher, tells The National as she sits at the head of the classroom in Markaz-e-Amozish — Local Centre for Learning — a community-based school in Kabul’s destitute Dasht-e-Barchi district with more than 250 female students.
The students in the classroom range in age from 12 to 40. Zakia, the oldest and also the most enthusiastic, recalls the day she decided to go back to school.
“I was in the market and lost my way, and I couldn’t even read any of the sign boards. I was so embarrassed and scared to have to ask for directions back to my own home,” she says.
She says she now realises the importance of education for women.
“Working women should be literate so they are not cheated out of their hard-earned [money] just because they can’t count or keep record.”
For many of the older women at Markaz-e-Amozish, their education was cut short during the war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s. The younger ones were born into communities that upheld conservative patriarchal views and opposed women’s education. Schools such as Markaz-e-Amozish, have provided these women with safe spaces to learn and develop.
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In his 22 years in journalism, Yogesh Pawar can recall many instances when he was abused, physically assaulted, and even came close to death in 2001 as a result of his reporting on the powerful and well-connected.
“I had gone to report on a communal flare-up in a district in Maharashtra along with a photojournalist but the police denied us any access to victim’s family,” the 48-year-old tells Splice.
Not one to give up easily, Pawar and his colleague found a way to visit the family by taking a different route.
“We had been talking to the family for about 45 minutes before the police got wind of us [being] there,” he recalls.
“We were beaten and forcefully pushed into a police jeep, taken to the outskirts of a sugarcane field, where we [were] hit some more. The inspector pulled out his gun threatening to shoot us, asking us what we had heard and what we were going to write,” Pawar says.
Read full story on The Splice Newsroom
Mahdia Rasa knew from a young age that she wanted to be a journalist. During her childhood in Afghanistan, she had seen foreign reporters flock there to tell the story of her homeland as troops reclaimed her country from the clutches of the Taliban. “But there is so much more to tell, and I wanted to be the one to tell it,” the 21-year-old says.
Yet she faced a deeply conservative society in which many would prefer women to stick to defined gender roles. She recalls long arguments at home after announcing her decision to pursue journalism.
“But this is what I had wanted and I wasn’t going to allow anyone to come in the way of my dreams,” Rasa says. And for the past year, she has been working as a news presenter at Zan TV, a television station run in large part by Afghan women.
But female journalists like Rasa don’t just face challenges from their families. “Apart from the usual security issues, being a woman creates additional challenges for us in journalism, and you can’t always find the support you need from co-workers,” says Freshta Mahori, who has been working in the Afghan media industry for nearly five years.
Read full story on The Splice Newsroom
“Before I was married, I couldn’t have imagined I was capable of tolerating as much abuse as I did,” shared Batul Moradi, 36.
Moradi is a writer and a survivor of domestic abuse who struggled for years to escape an abusive marriage in Afghanistan.
“It’s so strange how common it is in this society, that it has become normal. I got so used to it that I forgot that it hurts; that it’s not normal,” she recalled.
In a deeply conservative society like Afghanistan, stories of women caught in domestic abuse are far too many, and considered, even by those affected, as a way of life. As abhorred the idea of divorce is by men and women, abuse is rarely an acceptable as grounds for separation, even within a legal structure. Moradi realized this first hand.
She was born and raised as an Afghan refugee in Iran. Her family had fled the Soviet invasion in the late ’70s. It would be over two decades before she set foot in her country. Educated and with larger than life aspirations, Moradi returned to Kabul in 2003, two years after the fall of the Taliban regime.
“I started work at publication called Seda-e-Mardom (People’s Voice) where I first met my future husband; he was a well-known writer, popular in Afghan elite circles,” she recalled. Enamoured by his charms, intellect and drive, Moradi agreed to marry him the same year.
It wasn’t long after the wedding that things began to change.
“It started with small things at first; my husband would read my diary, my writings; he wanted to know who I met with,” Moradi recalled. She says she initially found his jealousy endearing. “I thought that he behaved protective since he was in love with me.” But then the restrictions came. “He wouldn’t allow me to meet my friends; even my emails were monitored,” Moradi said. The pattern of control eventually turned brutish.
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Despite the exceptionally warm afternoon, the auditorium in Kabul was packed; young Afghans, mostly girls, filled even the narrow steps by the aisles, craning to see Shaista Waiz: the first female civilian pilot of Afghan origin.
Waiz is the first Afghan woman to attempt to fly solo around the world. She started in Florida on 13 May and has, so far, made it to 11 destinations. She has 24 more stops in store before arriving back in Florida in September on her 2001 Beechcraft Bonanza A36.
Although born in Afghanistan, Waiz is a refugee who escaped the war against the Soviets 30 years ago and was raised in the United States.
“Kabul wasn’t listed on my travel itinerary, but I always planned to come to Afghanistan,” she told The Independent. “I couldn’t fly the aeroplane here because of the high elevation, but I really wanted to see Afghanistan so I left the plane in Dubai and took a commercial flight here. I had to come one way or another.”
Waiz is something of a celebrity in Afghanistan – perhaps even a heroine, especially for the young girls who aspire to higher goals in a society that continues to remain largely patriarchal and conservative.
Earlier, teenagers had jumped up excitedly when they spotted Waiz outside the auditorium. Some brought her flowers; others just wanted to shake her hand and kiss her cheeks. “I’m just like you guys,” she told the room – first in Pashto, then in Dari, then reiterating it in English. “If I could do it, so can you.”
Read full story on The Independent UK