Fighting for women’s rights in Afghanistan

March 30, 2011 § Leave a comment


Shabnam, 17, from Kabul: Photo Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam

Six Afghan women are training up to attend the 2012 London Olympics to represent their war-torn country – a fact which would have been imaginable in Taliban times, when all sport for all women was banned. Several are female boxers, who train in Kabul’s main stadium, where women used to be publicly executed for adultery. In such a short space of time the symbolism of the change of use for this building cannot be exaggerated.

But, let’s not get carried away. It’s still unusual for women to take part in sport, to compete internationally in sport – and a violent sport at that.  Many rural areas in particular do not allow women the opportunity to participate in sport, even since the overthrow of the Taliban. Women are often restricted by conforming to strict rules of purdah, which means they don’t leave their homes very often.

So, victories are to be celebrated and held up as examples. Afghanistan’s first female cricket team was also formed in January, training in a park with high walls where men are banned. They know if they train in public, even covered in headscarves, somebody will disturb them and try to stop them

And it’s interesting to read of older generations of women taking an active role in promoting the younger ones. 17-year-old Shafika’s mother was the one who encouraged her to get into boxing: “When I started boxing I felt myself free and comfortable and happy. In the name of Afghanistan, we should have some women boxing and get some medals.

“We want the Afghan flag to come up at all the medal ceremonies for women boxing.”

Other sports women are hoping to compete in at the Olympics include taekwondo and judo.

For women everywhere, let’s hope these competitors get through the qualifying stages and make it to London next year, and earn the right to take some pride in their country on a global stage, after years of persecution and war.


The women of Afghanistan – wives of the warriors

February 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

An interesting video from wisemanproductions here, with some fairly rare footage of women in Afghanistan talking about the situation in their lives, the history of women’s rights, and attacks against women in the country. Although it’s only recently uploaded, I think it might be older than that, but still well worth a watch to help tell these stories. Be warned though, some of the pictures in it are shocking.

Also helping to highlight life for women in Afghanistan is a new exhibition opening in the House of Commons in London this week with some beautiful photos and inspiring stories – you can take an online tour here.

Lack of coverage on “honour killings” shames us all

December 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Having the word “honour” associated with any type of crime is a contradition in terms, and honour killings have to be one of the least spoken about crimes against women, in my opinon.

A report from the UN finds today that Afghan women are still at massive risk of violence and “honour” crimes. The government is simply not doing enough to protect women – probably because they are not really adressing issues like education or financial independence, which have the power to place women in a much stronger position than simply bringing in a new law – which they have done. Laws are easy to bring in, but not to enforce, particularly in a difficult scenario like this which delves into the heart of private communities.

Women in Afganistan

The other day I was on the Stop Honour Killings site, and with less than five minutes on it you can see examples of recent honour crimes in Iraq, the UK, India, Kurdistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Sweden, Turkey and Uganda  – and it really hammers home that this is a worldwide  issue. This site has a gallery of victims on its homepage of honour killings, and it makes chilling viewing to see so many women assualted or killed in the most gruesome of circumstances, in cases that never made it into the papers.

Perhaps because it goes on typically within smaller or more private communities, or perhaps because they frequently take place in Islamic communities where the press is wary to probe, these crimes just don’t seem to get the press coverage you’d think they would.

Our real shame in these crimes is that we just don’t hear enough about them – shocking when the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that as many as 5,000 women and girls a year are murdered by members of their own families. Many women’s groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia suspect the victims are at least four times more. So, as many potentially as 20,000 women and girls are directly affected – and many reports suggest that incidents are increasing in the last 20 years. The victim’s family members – male and female, guilty or innocent – are affected. Their communities are affected, by implication their economies are affected, and the country is affected.  

How many more people have to be affected before this stops being a “women’s issue?”

Afghan women’s football team is a sign of progress

November 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Nice optimistic piece from the BBC here on the Afghanistan’s national women’s football team  – don’t forget that in the very recent past women were kept away from education and public life, and frequently kept indoors. The existance of this video, and the team in Afghanistan, is a triumph.

The health of a woman’s national sport side can be a good indication of the state of women’s rights within the country. Football in Iran has a rocky history, for example, with various political leaders deciding that women should not even be allowed to watch men playing the sport. The Iranian youth women’s team was also at the centre of a controversy about how to compete in international competitions whilst still following Iran’s restrictive dress code for women (Interestingly, women’s football in Iran was thriving prior to the Islamic revolution there in 1979). In Saudi Arabia, the decision to allow women to drive almost prompted riots from hardline conservatives in the country. And, in keeping with that – women are allowed to take part in football games. 

As long as the referee, linesmen, all the players and all the spectators are female.

Remembrance day needs more work to truely remember

November 14, 2010 § Leave a comment


I didn’t buy a poppy this year. Usually I buy one mainly for my grandad – he fought in World War Two and lost several members of friends and family. He is no longer with us, but I buy one in memory of him.

This year, I made a donation instead to a different charity – to the charity War Child, which does pretty much what it says on the tin. I don’t have anything against the Poppy Charity. But I resent the glorification of war – and I don’t think we think enough here in the UK whether we are remembering the right things. I don’t want to forget the freedom that was fought for. And I think what we really need to remember today are countries that don’t have that same freedom.

On this remembrance Sunday, I’d urge you all to remember the people nobody remembers, who don’t have memorials, and don’t get pages in the press. The thousands of women who have been raped in the civil war in the Congo  – the estimated 108,000 civilians killed since the beginning of violence in Iraq. More than 600 civilians killed in civil war in Liberia this year alone.

War Child says it “looks forward to a world where the lives of children are no longer torn apart by war.” The charity works in DRC, Uganda, Iraq and Afghanistan, with children who have been raped, abused, abandoned, orphaned, forced to become child soldiers, prostitues, beggers. I don’t have any problem with Remembrance Day. But please, let’s widen the remit to remember everyone who has suffered and sacrificed in wars worldwide – not just in the Western world.

Positive talking from NATO in Afghanistan – but will they deliver?

October 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

RAWA: Afghan woman with children

Call me cynical if you will. Comments from the Secretary General of NATO that the organisation will only support a political deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban if it respects the constitutional rights of women  are brilliant.

 And it’s true that there has been progress in terms of female education since the Taliban were ousted from government, and it’s very encouraging to see women represented in parliament. The trend is edging in a very positive direction.

But Anders Fogh Rasmussen was making a speech to a conference which was talking about women and security in Afghanistan. So, one could point out that he was hardly likely to say anything else – of course NATO is against inequality for women! It’s unlikely any head of NATO would fancy his reception being warm if he stood up and said NATO couldn’t care less about women in the country.

 But what is needed is action, political pressure, and more awareness. This site, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, is very interesting – a recent report here from Sky is a good example of women’s lives. And generally rather depressing reading, although I suspect the women behind this site are wonderfully inspiring and brave.

Recent figures suggest 2300 girls and women commit suicide in the country each year, and a third are suffering with depression. The healthcare advisor to the Afghan President, Faiz Mohammad Kakkar, blamed the civil wars, forced marriages, rape, domestic violence and widespread family poverty as the main reasons for the high rates of mental illness.

Talking the talk is easy. I will wait and hope that things continue to get better for women in war-ravaged Afghanistan.

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