a young woman in Akkora Khattak refugee camp: maternal mortality in Afghanistan is the highest in the world
RECENT NEWS ON WOMEN AND CHILDREN's RIGHTS IN AFGHANISTAN PAKISTAN IRAN
In this new section, we post articles of interest we would like to share with you
Voici des articles que nous estimons dignes d'intérêt sur des sujets qui nous réunissent
February 1st 2005: UNESCO website: Models and Realities of Afghan Womanhood, by Carol Mann, President of FemAid
Other articles, see below
These articles have been culled from many sources, but most of all from GSN (Global Sister Network), surely the world's best list for worldwide articles of interest for women: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~globalsn/
Amazing, indeed exceptional photos of Afghanistan by Luke Powell: he has taken hundreds of photos of Afghanistan scanning life from the 1970s to the present day. There are some particularly haunting photographs of women refugees. .
a good general and informative site: http://www.peacewomen.org/wpsindex.html
"State of World Population 2005."
United Nations Population Fund releases the report, "State of
World Population 2005."
In many ways, this report details how the world is falling short of
ambitious and important targets--known as the millennium development
goals--for lifting women out of poverty, disease, illiteracy and other
As part of this report, UNDP outline sconcrete examples of interventions that
have resulted in real improvements in the lives of individuals, families and
the countries in which they live.
The report can be found on the UNDP website http://www.unfpa.org/swp/swpmain.htm and it provides a complex picture of
the state of the world. There, we can also find clear-cut directives
including how to best help the women imperiled by this horrendous
October 24, 2005
AFGHAN WOMEN'S MAG EDITOR JAILED FOR ARTICLES AGAINST STONING TO DEATH AND
The editor of a respected women's magazine in Afghanistan has been
sentenced to two years in jail for "blasphemy" after the judge in the case
was ordered to imprison the editor by the Ulama Council, the country's
leading religious body which is dominated by conservative clerics, according
to reports from the Associate Press and regional newspapers like the Pak
The editor of Haqooq-i-Zan (Women's Rights), Ali Mohaqiq Nasab (left) was
arrested on Oct. 1 after he published articles in two issues of the magazine
denouncing the law making stoning to death for leaving the Islamic religion
a crime, criticized the practice of punishing adultery with 100 lashes, and
argued that men and women should be considered by law to be equals. ("In
some cases, the testimony of a female witness is considered to have only
half the value of a male," the AP noted.) In other words, saying that men
and women should be equal under the law and that stoning to death is wrong
are "blasphemous" statements for which one can be sent to the slammer for
Now, do you remember Laura Bush's "crusade" for women's rights in
Afghanistan, which was part of the Bush administration's propaganda campaign
to convince Americans the U.S. military invasion of the country was
justified? Remember how the CIA's puppet choice for president of
Afghanistan, the theatrically-dressed Hamid Karzai, was sent to sit next to
Laura during the State of the Union (left) and, once elected President, how
Karzai the "democrat" was applauded by both Houses of Congress (and both
parties) when he spoke to them?
Well, guess who ordered editor Nasab (who is also an Islamic scholar) to be
arrested? Why, the complaint was made by President Karzai's top adviser on
religion, Mohaiuddin Baluch, says the Committee to Protect Journalists,
citing a previous Baluch statement to the AP that, ""I took the two
magazines and spoke to the Supreme Court chief, who wrote to attorney
general to investigate." And the presiding judge of Kabul's primary court,
Ansarullah Malawizada, told the AP, "The Ulama Council sent us a letter
saying that he should be punished so I sentenced him to two years' jail."
So, here we have the spectacle, in what Bush & Co. insist on calling
Afghanistan's "democracy," of a top aide to the president ordering a
courageous editor put on trial for criticizing the barbaric policies of
stoning and lashing, and a judge acting on the orders of a group of
reactionary clerics and sending the editor to jail because such articles
Remember all that Bush rejoicing when the Afghanis passed their new
constitution? It was drawn up with the help of then-US Ambassador to
Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad (right) -- now performing the same role in Iraq
as the architect of its new Constitution. Well, the Khalilzad-sponsored
Afghani Constitution's Article 31 makes it a crime to criticize Islam in any
form, and that includes criticizing Islamic Sharia law. And it is under that
dictatorial Article 31 that editor Nasab has been put behind bars.
Afghanistan's slow progress, by Rasheeda Bhagaat
Frontline Volume 22 - Issue 13 June 18 - July 01, 2005
The war-torn country is slowly coming out of the dark days of Taliban rule,
but its reconstruction and the emancipation of its women will take a long
time despite international efforts.
All smiles, in the face of adversity. The Taliban legacy of gender-based
discrimination still has a strong influence on Afghan society.
THE Baghe Zanana (Women's Garden) in Kabul is about the only place in
war-ravaged Afghanistan today where women can walk in freely, throw away
their burqas, chat with friends and partake of a picnic lunch as their
children play in the park. Every Friday a few hundred women and children
assemble here to let down their hair, and remind themselves that it has been
over three years since their worst tormentors, the Taliban, have gone. The
regime that had devastated the lives of women and deprived them of any human
dignity whatsoever - forcing them to don the burqa (known as chadri in
Afghanistan), quit their jobs and take their daughters out of schools and
colleges, and making it haram (forbidden) for a woman to step out of her
house without being accompanied by a man - is history. Many educated and
qualified women, who had braved nearly 15 years of conflict and violence
under Soviet occupation and the mujahideen regime, fled the country during
the six-year Taliban rule which began in 1995.
This May, the Baghe Zanana got special visitors - three Afghan women doctors
who have been living and working in Germany for almost a decade. They had
come to their home country to check out for themselves the ground situation.
Prior to the visit to the garden, the doctors had taken a tour of Kabul's
dilapidated and ill-equipped hospitals that are struggling to offer even
minimal health care to the sick. They saw the pathetic state of the
buildings, the inadequate infrastructure, outdated medical equipment and
inadequate medicines, and above all, doctors from foreign countries,
including Indian doctors, working against all the odds to save lives.
"When they saw so many women assembled in the women's garden - women and
children chattering, laughing, spreading their picnic lunch under the trees,
and even singing - they made an important decision," said a woman
administrator at the Baghe Zanana. "They took out their German passports and
tore them to bits, saying we are not going to leave Afghanistan. It needs us."
But the challenges they, or anybody else involved in the rebuilding of the
war-ravaged country, face are daunting, to say the least. Afghanistan today
presents the picture of a bruised, broken and brutalised country that seems
to be administered more by international aid organisations - mainly United
Nations' agencies - than the Hamid Karzai government. With the road network
a pale shadow of what it once was, almost all non-governmental organisations
(NGO) depend on landcruisers for travel; in fact, the landmark white vehicle
has become the symbol of the NGOs here. Countless landcruisers crisscross
Kabul's roads and the miserable, almost unmotorable, tracks in interior
Afghanistan. Afghanistan is still "unstable", says Carol Martin, Programme
Director of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA), which was
established in 1980 as a humanitarian solidarity agency to support the
Afghan people against Soviet occupation.
The Taliban has destroyed Afghan women's confidence to such an extent that
it is almost impossible to find a woman on Kabul's streets who is willing to
talk to a stranger.
The SCA is the biggest international aid organisation working in
Afghanistan's 21 provinces. It has an annual budget of $22 million, a
portion of which is raised by the 3,400 members of the committee, with the
rest coming from Sida (the Swedish government aid agency), the European
Union and the U.N. According to Carol Martin, there have been times in the
last 20 years, when the SCA has virtually taken over the role of the
government in administering the country."
When asked if she would call today's Afghanistan a democracy or an occupied
country, she said: "Well, there is going to be a big conference in Stockholm
in November 2005 to debate this question. But I can tell you one thing: SCA
does not accept funding from the United States government because many of
our members think that Afghanistan is under U.S. occupation."
She herself thinks that the reconstruction of the country will "take a long
time, because this is a totally devastated country and there is no real
law-making government in Afghanistan. This is what causes a lot of
frustration among the Afghan people."
The World Bank's country chief in Afghanistan, Jean Mazurelle, was more
forthright when asked about the prospects of the fragile peace in
Afghanistan holding. Mazurelle, who has been in Afghanistan for a year,
feels that unless the Afghan government and the international community
speed up reconstruction efforts and make the change "visible", the people's
patience will run out. He "cannot understand why the international community
did not take care of this country much earlier. Why did we wait till the
situation came to the point of the Taliban and the Soviet occupation before
that? I can understand the resentment of the Afghans that they had to wait
till 9/11 before the international community took notice of Afghanistan. An
Afghan told me that 9/11 was a lottery ticket for them, and they would not
give away this lottery ticket. I felt very sad to hear this but can
understand their resentment against the entire world and why they want to be
Mazurelle admitted that international organisations like his were perverting
the labour market and wages because "there is so much competition among us
to get the competent and educated people".
OVER the past 25 years, educated Afghans fled the country, and three years
after the ouster of the Taliban regime, a small segment of them, such as the
Afghan-German doctors mentioned above, have begun to return. But they have
to accept the reality of earning a fraction of the money they used to make
in the U.S. or Europe. Majid Nabizada is one of them. He has returned from
France, where he earned 2,200 euro (Rs.1,23,000) a month, to work at the
Lycee Esteqlal High School in the heart of Kabul. This was battered by
decades of war but has now been rebuilt and is run by the French. His
present salary is a meagre $60 (Rs.2,600) and to pay his monthly rent of
$250 (Rs. 10,700) - as well as a year's advance - he had to fall back upon
his savings from his 22-year stay in France.
But other teachers do not have this luxury and so have to take on two jobs -
they work as taxi drivers or with NGOs - to make ends meet. The plight of
students is much worse. Most of the country's schools were destroyed by long
years of violence and in interior Afghanistan classes are being held in
dilapidated buildings without doors and windows, and sometimes not even a
roof. What this would mean in a country with extreme winters and summers can
Wali Mohammed, director of the Lycee Esteqlal High School, explains how the
"Taliban destroyed our education system", forcing qualified teachers to flee
the country. It warms your heart to see neatly dressed, bright-eyed young
girls in the school library. But in this Islamic country co-education is
rare and girls will have to leave this school, where 5,000 children receive
free education, after Class III to go to an exclusive girls' school.
Girls' education is another dismal story. During its six-year rule, the
Taliban banned girls' education and closed all girls' schools. While the
younger girls have returned to school, those in their teens are reluctant to
come back because they will now have classmates at least six years younger.
The Afghan administration will have to figure out a way of getting these
young women back into mainstream education through special classes.
ON the gender front, any visitor to Afghanistan cannot but come away with a
heavy heart. The Taliban left the scene in November 2001, but they destroyed
the Afghan women's confidence so totally that it is almost impossible to
find a woman on Kabul's streets - whether dressed in the burqa or without it
- who is willing to talk to a stranger. Even if a woman knows English, she
will pretend not to understand what you are saying and walk on, dampening
your initial feel-good feeling at seeing quite a few women sans the burqa in
Parveen, an activist of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of
Afghanistan (RAWA), which had put up a valiant fight for the rights of women
during the worst of times and particularly during the Taliban era, points
out that "even though the situation on the gender front has improved in
comparison to the Taliban era, much more needs to be done". The young woman,
who left the country during the Taliban years and worked for RAWA from
Peshawar in Pakistan, is sceptical about the "liberal stance" taken by the
Karzai government on the gender front and feels this is more out of pressure
from the U.S. "We find most people in the administration, including some of
the top Ministers in the government, fundamentalist at heart. Right now they
are just paying lip service to women's emancipation to please the Americans."
She adds that the Afghan woman is most persecuted within her own home. "The
father, the husband, the brother... these are the people who torture her the
most; in many homes there is a lot of domestic violence, the women are
forced to wear the burqa and girls are not allowed to go to school or
college or to work." RAWA has also charged that the country's top judiciary
is packed with male chauvinists who have gone on record as saying that a
woman can never be equal to a man.
Commenting on the gender situation and the role the international community
can play in improving the women's lot, Mazurelle says this is an area where
the Western aid organisations would have to tread cautiously. "It's going to
take a lot of time, particularly because we could be perceived as Westerners
imposing Western values. We have to be very careful not to create any
backlash from people who say the Westerners are trying to unveil our women."
But, adds the Frenchman, India is much better placed to make a difference on
He is all praise for the role India is playing in the reconstruction of
Afghanistan, particularly in putting the administration back on its feet. "I
have a lot of colleagues coming here from the World Bank in Delhi. In their
interaction with the Afghans, they are respectful of the environment here,
but at the same time they're able to convince the Afghans that things can be
changed in relation to gender issues. My Indian female colleagues are very
good at dealing with the Afghans. In the future, we'd like to see the
Afghans looking at India's development path rather than that of Iran or
Pakistan. Indian society is a tolerant society, unlike the countries
surrounding Afghanistan," Mazurelle notes.
At the Lycee Esteqlal High School in Kabul, which has co-education up to
All Indians visiting Afghanistan are in for a pleasant surprise. Afghans
just love India and Indians; not only Indian films and actors Shah Rukh Khan
and Aishwarya Rai, but also the country's record in economic development,
education, health care and promotion of a liberal ethos.
Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan Rakesh Sood pointed out that the Government
of India had put in $600 million from its aid budget to help the
reconstruction effort in Afghanistan. The Indian effort is visible all over
Afghanistan. "We were one of the first to get involved in infrastructure
building across the country when many donors were hesitant to go out of
Kabul owing to the security situation," he says. So whether it is the
rebuilding of the $90 million Salma Hydel Project; the laying of hundreds of
kilometres of roads and power transmission lines; the setting up of
Afghanistan's first cold storage plant in Kandahar so that this fruit bowl
can process and export its produce; the reconstruction of the famous Habibia
School in Kabul where Karzai was once a student; the setting up of CDMA
telephone lines at a cost of $10 million; the reconstruction of the 250-bed
Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health, the only paediatric hospital in
Kabul, at a cost of $3 million; or the training of teachers and Afghan
government staff, India is there.
While neighbours like Iran and Pakistan are looked upon with suspicion, if
not hatred, India is admired for a host of reasons. "Look at your education
system; you turn out such fine students from your institutions," says Haji
Abdul Hakeem, who owns two carpet shops in Chicken Street, Kabul's famous
shopping area. "And unlike other countries, India has never done anything to
hurt Afghanistan's interests. You're already helping us, but the best help
India can give Afghanistan is to pick up our boys - from Kabul, Mazar,
Kandahar, Bamiyan and so on - and give them education in India."
If Indian education is held at a premium, Indian doctors and medicines are
considered priceless. On our flight from Delhi to Kabul, there were at least
two medical teams bound for Afghanistan. While the private players,
particularly from the heart care institutions, are scouting for business,
the Government of India posts doctors from the Central Government Health
Services to put in a stint in Afghanistan.
Sood said that five Indian medical teams were working in hot spots such as
Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif. When asked if security was not a concern, he
said: "People just love Indian doctors and trust them and their judgment
implicitly. We find that there is great faith in both Indian diagnostic
skills and Indian medicine, because there is a lot of adulterated medicine
in the markets here. The general perception is that to get well one must go
to an Indian doctor and take medicines from him. Sometimes when medical
supplies run out, people will wait for a day or two for medicines from India
rather than buy from the local market."
January 15, 2005 VOLUME 8
E-ZAN VOICE OF WOMEN AGAINST FUNDAMENTALISM IN IRAN
To our readers,
The tsunami tragedy in Asia occurred on the first anniversary of the
devastating earthquake in Bam, Iran. While the shock and sorrow of this loss
is still incomprehensible, the world community can not lose focus on the
aftermath and rise of human trafficking in those areas. Let us hope the
current post-disaster situation in Asia will take the lessons from Bam in to
The Iranian women and girls from Bam can only offer their painful stories
and the promised aid that never reached them due to corruption within the
fundamentalist regime. According to the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan,
the $1 billion aid pledged to the ancient Silk Road city of Bam, where some
31,000 people died, never arrived.
The misogynous characteristic of the fundamentalist regime in Iran displayed
itself in post-disaster human trafficking, government corruptions and the
institutionalized socio-political and economic discriminations against
women. Unfortunately, the world community has chosen not to see the Iranian
regime for what it is. The women and girls in Iran will never be safe and
secure under this tyrannical regime and that is why they are taking matters
in to their own hands to end this regime. Womens rights and human rights
should be recognized as one of primary pillar of world policy towards
Iran.The world community should recognize the just cause that Iranian women
are fighting for and support their struggle to achieve democracy and
equality in their homeland.
E-Zan Featured Headlines
Amnesty International December 17, 2004
According to reports, Hajieh Esmailvand was sentenced to five years
imprisonment, to be followed by execution by stoning, for adultery with an
unnamed man who at the time was a 17 year old minor. Although the exact date
of her arrest and trial are not known, it is reported that she has been
imprisoned in the town of Jolfa, in the north west of Iran, since January
2000.The Iranian Penal Code is very specific about the manner of execution
and types of stones which should be used. Article 102 states that men will
be buried up to their waists and women up to their breasts for the purpose
of execution by stoning. Article 104 states, with reference to the penalty
for adultery, that the stones used should not be large enough to kill the
person by one or two strikes, nor should they be so small that they could
not be defined as stones. [WFAFI update December 24: Due to international
pressure and outcry, the Iranian regime has temporarily stayed the execution
by stoning of Hajieh while her case is studied by the judiciary pardons
commission. Her partner, identified only as Ruhollah G, has been sentenced
to hang and is still awaiting execution.]
Peyk-e-Iran Website December 18, 2004
Fereshteh Ghazi, an Iranian woman arrested for her opposition to the Iranian
regime, was released on bail due to deteroriating health conditions. Ms.
Ghazi was arrested in September and faced serious torture and beatings by
the Revolutionary Gaurds. She has suffered a broken nose and ribs. Ms. Ghazi
refused to sign a letter of regret denouncing her ciritcism of the regime
and has been deemed as a threat to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Her
temporary release has been limited to medical treatment and she is no
allowed to speak to media or any reporter.
Aftenposten Norway December 20, 2004
Iran's ambassador to Norway refused to meet the local head of Amnesty
International on Monday. Amnesty is among those taking up the case of a
young, retarded Iranian who's been sentenced to death. The 19-year-old,
known only as "Leyla M," was forced into prostitution by her own mother at
the age of eight. By age nine, she already was pregnant, and she's been
repeatedly abused, raped and even sold as a sex slave throughout her young
life. An Iranian court has since convicted her of immoral behaviour and
sentenced her to death by stoning and hanging. Both Amnesty International
and Norway's own embassy in Teheran are among those mounting protests.
Petter Eide, secretary general for Amnesty in Norway, had an appointment to
meet Iran's ambassador in Oslo at 11am Monday. Eide planed to deliver a
petition with thousands of signatures protesting the pending execution of
Leyla M. The ambassador refused to open the embassy's doors to Eide,
complaining that reporters were present. When reporters moved down the
street, Iran's embassy remained closed. "We were told that the police could
come and deliver the petition on our behalf, but we can't use the police as
messenger in a situation like this," Eide said. Around 100 people
demonstrated outside the embassy in Oslo earlier on Monday, protesting the
Reuters News Agency December 21, 2004
The U.N. General Assembly has criticised Iran for public executions,
torture, arbitrary sentencing, flogging, stoning and systematic
discrimination against women. Sponsored by Canada, the human rights
resolution was adopted on Monday by a vote of 71 in favour, 54 against with
55 abstentions in the 191-member assembly. The resolution also said there
was a "worsening situation with regard to freedom of opinion and
__expression and freedom of the media and noted the "targeted
disqualification" of reformists in Iran's parliamentary elections. Iran made
no comment on Monday. But in November when an assembly committee passed the
draft resolution, Iranian envoy Paimaneh Hasteh called the charges baseless.
She accused Canada of introducing the measure in response to a domestic
outcry over the death of Kazemi.
Zanan-e Iran Website December 23, 2004
A female reporter working with Iranian state-run media committed suicide.
The reporter worked in the news department of the Iranian state-run was only
21 years old and is said to be under a lot of pressure both at work and at
home. Her half-dead body was discovered 15 minutes after her suicide
attempt. She was taken to the hospital and was rescued.
State-run ISNA news agency January 2, 2005
Head of the Women's Assembly of the Islamic City Councils expressed profound
concern over the rise in the number of women inmates giving birth to
children in prisons, ISNA reported.Sediqeh Qannadi warned that the society
would witness a growth in social disorders and the number of street
children, unless prompt action was taken to rein in the dilemma."Preliminary
studies reveal that wanted and unwanted pregnancies are on the rise even
among inmates with life imprisonment. Reports suggest that most women
sentenced to life imprisonment in Mashhad, Yazd, Kerman and
Sistan-Baluchestan become pregnant," she explained. "Assertions by judiciary
officials that the birth rate in prisons has declined are far from reality."
The Washington Times January 5, 2005
Iran's increasing meddling in Iraq and its defiance in its nuclear weapons
program pose the greatest challenge to peace and security in Iraq and the
whole Middle East, as we enter 2005. The Iranian clerics have never been so
close to realizing their decades-old dream of erecting a sister Islamic
Republic in Iraq. The deterioration of human rights in Iran has revealed new
depths of barbarity, where pregnant women and children are routinely
executed and floggings and amputations are an almost daily public spectacle.
Appeasement is not the way to contain or change this evil regime. Nor is it
the path to avoid another war. A nuclear-armed fundamentalist regime will
not spare the EU, either. Iran's missiles already can reach southern Europe.
The mullahs are now rushing to develop a third-generation missile system
able to reach Paris, London and Brussels. For once, we should side with the
millions in Iran whose cry is for freedom and regime change. A modern,
secular and democratic Iran would not only be the key to regional peace and
security, but also a long-term ally as we try to spread democracy across the
Middle East and the world.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty January 10, 2004
Iranian deputies are considering designs for a national dress. The idea was
first proposed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a way of
countering the influence of Western fashion. Supporters -- including
Khamenei -- point out other countries have a national dress and that it
reinforces pride. Detractors say the ideaa is not likely to catch on among
young people -- and may simply be a way for officials to tighten enforcement
of existing Islamic dress codes for women.
E-Zan Featured Reports
Violence Against Women in Iran: The Toleration of Routine Aggression
WFAFI Research Committee
December 20, 2004
In addition to institutionalized violence against women in Iran, majority of
women and young girls face domestic violence at home at the time that they
still live with their parents. The father and other elder male members in
the family are among the first who commit the aggression against the women
and young girls. According to the latest statistics, two out of every
three Iranian women have experienced discrimination and domestic violence
from the father or other male members of the family. For the vast majority
of Iraninan women, married life is the beginning of horror, pain, and
humiliation; she is the victim of her husband and his family members. 81
out of 100 married women have experienced domestic violence in their first
year of marriage. Even women with an ouststanding job and prestigious
social standing are subject to the violation. In most of the cases, this
abuse leaves permanent physical and psychological damage upon them for the
rest of their lives. Without saying a word and with much pain yet no
support, cimes against women in the private sphere has gone unnoticed. 90
out of 100 women suffer from a severe case of depression, from which they
ultimately commit suicide and 71% of those women experience nervous
breakdowns. Their methods of suicide include setting themselves ablaze.
This is the only way of escaping from segregation and humiliation. Each
month, only in Ilam, 15 girls set themselves ablaze, fighting against
oppression or depression. It is our responsibility to fight the oppression
against women. Female victims need to believe that they should not be
blamed. Our active participation in the organization to defend women's
rights and opposition to Islamic fundamentalism is the least we can do to
end the pain and suffering of victims of violence in both private and public
spheres in Iran. Violence against women, inhuman and brutal punishments
such as stoning as well as complete elimination of women from the political
and social arenas represent some aspects of the modus operandi of
fundamentalists leading to institutionalized violence. We believe that the
struggle for equality, safty and security cannot be separated from the fight
against fundamentalism in Iran.
Tank girls: the frontline feminists
December 28, 2004
As the coalition bombs hit the flat salt plains on the north-eastern border
of Iraq, members of a little known, female-led Iranian army huddled in a
bunker. While the earth shook, showering dust on their neatly pressed khaki
headscarves, 25-year old Laleh Tarighi and her fellow combatants tried to
protect themselves.Eighteen months later, recalling the terror of being
attacked by British and US bombers during the invasion of Iraq last year,
Tarighi, a former pupil of Parkside and Hill Road School in Cambridge, says:
"We were puzzled more than afraid. We knew our officers had sent messages to
the Pentagon insisting that we were neutral and shouldn't be attacked. We
were only in Iraq to overthrow the Islamic fundamentalist regime across the
border in Iran." It is hard to imagine that Tarighi was once a typical
British teenager who loved going to the cinema and socialising in cafés. Few
of her friends knew that when she was a child in Iran, her father had been
executed for being a member of the Iranian resistance, and that her mother
was a high-ranking commander in the National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA).
After A-levels, Tarighi had planned to study media at university, but then,
aged 18, she decided to leave the comfort of the home she shared with her
aunt to join her mother in the NLA in a military camp on the Iran-Iraq
border. The NLA is the military wing of the National Council of the
Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a female-dominated, Iranian parliament-in-exile
whose aim is to topple the Islamic fundamentalist regime and replace it with
a secular, democratic government. The NCRI is led by a charismatic Iranian,
Maryam Rajavi, 53. Security around her is tight for fear of assassination
attempts, and she very rarely appears in public. Her organisation has kept a
low profile until it recently started sharing intelligence reports on Iran's
nuclear programme with America and Europe. But, in spite of this
co-operation, the NLA is still considered a terrorist organisation by the
West. The coalition forces in Iraq have restricted its 3,800 combatants to
their camps, and their weapons have been confiscated. Women make up 30 per
cent of the NLA, but 70 per cent of the officers are female. The British
Army has just one female brigadier, while in the Navy there are four female
captains. Rajavi has long encouraged female participation in the army. She
argues that, as misogyny is the mainstay of the Iranian government, who
better to strike at it than women? Her female recruits, many of whom had
been tortured and imprisoned in Iran, train alongside men in all aspects of
frontline battle, including hand-to-hand combat and armoured vehicle
operation. With the backing of wealthy Iranian exiles, they are preparing
for the day when the order comes to march east over the frontier to liberate
their land from the mullahs. Tarighi is one of hundreds of sons and
daughters of Iranian exiles in Europe, America and Canada who have
volunteered to join the army since its inception in 1987, when Saddam
Hussein allowed the NLA to build its camps along the Iranian border. Until
Saddam's fall in March last year, the NLA had been able to build up its
military force under the watchful eye of its host. When Tarighi arrived in
Iraq in 1997, she was still sporting a stud in her tongue and wearing
trainers - very different to the army's uniform for women of khaki
headscarves, combat trouser-suits and boots. It was not her first visit to
the NLA camp at Ashraf; when her mother fled with her daughter in 1987, they
escaped to this camp, where they lived for four years. The Gulf War in 1991
meant that all the camp's children were evacuated to foster-carers in the
West. "I grew up in Cambridge from the age of 10. My life was pretty much
there," Tarighi says. "After I passed my A-levels, I decided to spend a gap
year in France before going off to university. "But I got news that my
mother had sent me a letter, care of the NCRI headquarters in Paris. It was
the first letter I'd received in a long time, and it was very affectionate.
I talked to NCRI members and decided to go and join my mother. We hadn't
seen each other for eight years. I knew her immediately I saw her, but she
didn't recognise me. I looked like any other British girl, and she wasn't
too pleased about my tongue stud. "At first it was difficult living back in
the camp, and I missed a lot of things, especially, believe it or not, the
English weather. I love rain, and there wasn't a lot of it in Iraq. But it
was the friends I made in the camp, and the support and encouragement I
received, that carried me through. I did marching drills and learnt to fire
a Kalashnikov. I had never seen a gun in England. I didn't join the NLA for
my mother, but for Iran. The regime murdered my father, and my grandmother
had been in prison there many times. Resistance is in my blood." Ashraf is
14 square miles of impeccable tidiness. The first impression is of a holiday
camp rather than a military base. Eucalyptus trees line long driveways, men
and women tend gardens, and there's the smell of bread from the bakery.
Since Tarighi arrived at the camp in 1997, a swimming pool and an exhibition
room have been built. But in that time the cemetery, decorated with plastic
flowers, has expanded. In the past 18 months, 40 soldiers have been killed
in coalition attacks and, after these assaults, by Iran's Revolutionary
Guards, who then found it easier to slip across into Iraq. The NLA tanks and
artillery that once patrolled and guarded the base have disappeared; in
their place, American military police guard the entry checkpoint with tanks
and patrol the base in armoured Humvees. The growing danger meant that
Tarighi left the camp soon after the bombing. Now she works in NCRI offices
around Europe, still hankering for her army life. But another British girl,
Sharobeh Barooti, 19, stayed on. She is one of several hundred combatants
with European passports or residency rights who remain at Ashraf. Born in
France, Barooti is an only child whose parents are in the Iranian
resistance. She doesn't know where they are, although she receives
occasional letters. Barooti moved to the UK in 1991 to live with an aunt and
uncle, but by the time she was 15, at Edgware High School in north London,
she knew she wanted to join the NLA. "I had heard a lot about the Iranian
regime from my aunt and uncle, and I began to feel I should do something. I
went to the NCRI office in London and told them I wanted to join. They gave
me information and arranged for my travel to Baghdad." She dropped out of
her GCSE studies and travelled to Iraq, where she was met by officials of
the People's Mojahideen of Iran (PMoI) - the most significant group within
the NCRI - and escorted to Ashraf camp. Sitting in the camp's library, she
recalls that her friends thought she was mad. "After all, families are not
torn apart in Britain, people aren't tortured, and women can achieve
anything," she says. "In Iran, women's lives are limited and they are
punished for the smallest things. "When I arrived here, it was the hardest
thing to obey different rules. It was so different from my life in London.
For a year, I thought about the future I could have had in Britain and
compared it to my future here. I had thought about travelling the world and
opening an art gallery." Several weeks after the fall of Saddam, the US
General Ray Odierno of the 4th Infantry division entered Ashraf camp to
negotiate the disarming of the NLA. He found himself in a room lined with
cream Regency furniture and Persian rugs, drinking coffee from white and
gold china cups and eating homemade sweetmeats with a group of female army
commanders considered to be terrorists by his government. In 1997, President
Bill Clinton had declared the PMoI and NLA to be terrorist organisations, as
a goodwill gesture towards Iran's newly elected President Mohammed Khatami.
Recently, the NLA's potential to be used as a bargaining chip by Washington
has been noted as tensions rise over Tehran's meddling in Iraq. But on his
visit the US general, clearly impressed, said that he thought the terrorist
status of the NLA combatants should be reviewed. The disarmed NLA keeps up
its training on computers, and the US military police in the camp are their
sole protection against attacks by the Tehran-backed groups now moving
freely around Iraq. "If the Americans don't protect them, there will be a
bloodbath," says Capt Ismael Ibrahim of the Iraqi National Gathering party.
Only in July, when the NLA came under the protection of the Fourth Geneva
Convention (relating to the protection of civilians in wartime), did its
members feel safer. They no longer face the possibility of being handed over
to Tehran by America in exchange for high-ranking al-Qa'ida members. As
Captain Ibrahim says: "I think in a few years the US may think of doing to
Iran what they have done to Afghanistan and Iraq, and will try to use the
PMoI and NLA." This is not what the resistance likes to hear, but in the
long term this thinking could help the NLA and PMoI lose their terrorist
tags. In May 2000, Britain included the PMoI in a list of 21 terrorist
organisations under the Terrorism Act. A year later, the European Union
added the PMoI to its list. Mojgan Parsai, the secretary general of the
PMoI, said in October: "From the outset, the terror label on the PMoI lacked
a legal basis. We are blacklisted in the framework of commercial and
political deals with Tehran." Her comments came as France, Germany and
Britain were reported to have promised Iran that if steps were taken to halt
work on completing its nuclear fuel cycle, the European side would continue
to regard the PMoI as a terrorist organisation. At a conference of
human-rights lawyers in Paris last month, Bill Bowring, professor of human
rights and international law at London Metropolitan University, said: "Under
the definition of the Terrorism Act, Greenpeace and Amnesty International
should be on the terrorist list. It was a completely arbitrary decision to
include the PMoI on the list." Also at the conference was the Danish
human-rights lawyer, Anne Land. Earlier this year, she visited Ashraf camp.
She is aware that the NCRI is accused by its critics of being a cult, and
that some consider both the NCRI and the NLA to be militarily and
politically ineffective. "The real importance of this army has been
overlooked," she says. "In Iraq, many women were able to go to school and
university, to work and to wear what they wanted. Now, they are being
intimidated in the streets for not covering their bodies, or for just being
outside their homes. Groups of men strongly influenced by Iranian
fundamentalists, who are apparently supporting some political and religious
groups in Iraq, are making their lives miserable. "The presence of a
female-dominated army prepared to fight the mullahs and Iran's Revolutionary
Guards is a powerful symbol to all women in the region. Its effectiveness is
not in its military might. The fact that the army exists at all is a huge
threat to all male-dominated fundamentalist regimes. It shows what women can
do. "The women in Ashraf say they don't want to leave until they have
overthrown the regime in Iran. Unfortunately, they don't see their courage
as having a wider, inspiring influence beyond Iran," Land says. It was the
treatment of women in Iran that moved Barooti and Tarighi to join the NLA.
"My aunt used to tell me how Revolutionary Guards would stop women in the
streets and wipe off their lipstick with the blade of a knife," Barooti
says. Tarighi says she cannot forget the harrowing pictures of a young woman
her own age buried to her neck and stoned to death by a crowd. She asks:
"Why am I a terrorist because I fight for my sisters' rights?"
European Parliament resolution censures Iran rights violations
January 13, 2005
Strasbourg, Jan. 13 - The European Parliament adopted a resolution by
majority vote today condemning human rights violations in Iran in the second
such move over the past six months. The toughly-worded resolution denounced
practices such as execution of juveniles and stoning carried out by the
Iranian regime. Parts of the resolution read, "the European Parliament
strongly condemns death sentences against and/or the execution of juvenile
offenders, pregnant women and mentally handicapped persons. The EP
resolution also expressed deep concern over "the worsening situation with
regard to freedom of opinion and _expression and freedom of the media,
especially the increased persecution for the peaceful _expression of
political views, including arbitrary arrests and detention without charge or
trial". The European Parliament censured the campaign by the Judiciary
against journalists, cyber journalists and webloggers leading to the closure
of publications, imprisonment and according to reports widespread torture
and forced false confessions. The resolution also pointed to the fact that
Iran is still not a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms
of Discrimination against Women and its Parliament recently rejected draft
legislation on gender equality, and called on Iranian authorities to give
evidence that they do implement their declared moratorium on stoning and
demanded the immediate implementation of the ban on torture. The
resolution also noted with concern the finding by the United Nations Special
Rapporteur Ambeyi Ligabo that the Iranian Press and Penal Code do not
conform to the permissible restrictions listed in the Article 19(3) of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
To send us your comments or op-ed on relevant topics for future issues,
For past volumes of E-Zan visit www.wfafi.org
Volume 8, January 15, 2005
The E-Zan © 2005
The Hindu -- Monday July 12 2004
Honour killing rife in Pakistan
By B. Muralidhar Reddy
ISLAMABAD: Over 4,000 men and women have been killed in Pakistan in the last
six years in the name of karo-kari or honour killing, a feudal tradition
under which women are punished for bringing so-called bad name to the clan.
The figure of 4,000 is official and the actual number is believed to be much
higher as several cases never come to light. Research by non-government
organisations has shown that in a number of cases `karo-kari' is an excuse
to target women with an eye on their economic assets. The Pakistan Interior
Minister, Faisal Saleh Hayat, told the upper House that the Government was
working on a draft law to curb the crime. The statistics placed before the
Senate showed that from January 1998 to December 2003, the number of women
killed in the name of honour was more than double the number of men
murdered. However, NGOs and civil society in Pakistan wonder if legislation
would help curb the menace. Senators from the treasury benches described the
`karo-kari' custom as anything but honourable. The information placed before
the House showed that Punjab had the highest number of `karo-kari' incidents
followed by Sindh, the North West Frontier Province and Balochistan.
November 16 2004
THE WAR AGAINST WOMEN: IN MEMORy OF MARGARET HASSAN:
By CAROL MANN, PRESIDENT OF FEMAID
On November 16th late at night, like so many of us, I read the news about aid worker Margaret Hassan’s assassination. Born in Ireland, she had spent the past 32 years in Iraq, running major humanitarian programmes for the benefit of Baghdad’s civilian population for CARE, the only organization that had remained in Iraq throughout the embargo. Married to an Iraqi whom she had met in a Palestinian refugee camp and a convert to Islam, she held dual nationality. There could not have been the slightest doubt as to her steadfast commitment to the Arab world, all the more remarkable as she had chosen to stay right through the present war. Some humanitarian programmes are run from afar, in plush offices, others operate on the street and this was the option she had chosen.
I did not know Margaret personally, though by now I feel I do. I know she did not want to see aid simply as the tool of Western power, as so many critics are apt to point out these days, in the now fashionable descontruction of the humanitarian institution. Whilst partially agreeing with Michael Ignatieff that “humanitarian projects cannot be kept distinct from imperial projects”, I know that this only part of the story which appears glibly coherent in articles or lectures in the West and more to the East, in the conference rooms of Al- Zarkawi Bin Laden et al. In July, a Taliban group justified gunning down five members of MSF (Doctors without Borders) in Afghanistan by claiming they were working for American interests. In theory, such links may be conjectured in view of the way logistics of aid are conceptualized in Geneva or New York, but on the field it’s a wholly different story.
The reality of refugee camps, of bombed-out cities, of a devastated landscape is a very particular one. The main victims are women, children and the aged as has been demonstrated time and time again. They suffer from the daily violence of war and especially its consequences, that is increased repression a their men attempt to make up for lost power in battle by oppressing the women in their household. This is where aid comes in and goes well beyond the random distribution of food parcels (which is often left to soldiers, thereby confusing the issue).
Humanitarian health programmes are far more complex and built on the long term. Establishing, in conjunction with local professionals, dispensaries, birthing units, mass vaccination that approximate the kind of basic health care we deem minimal in the West does not make aid the cynical agent of fiendish Imperial powers . Aid workers have left their homes and families to work, often in a voluntary unpaid capacity, in very difficult conditions . Nor are they latter -day patronizing colonialists or would-be missionaries for capitalism of any kind. Possibly these are the last representatives of my own generation, the starry eyed hippies brought up on the ashes on World War II who believe in working for a better world.
However volatile most countries living under Islamic governments may be, women as aid workers have, up till now, been respected even in patriarchal societies where women’s rights as the West envisages them are non existent. Humanitarian aid is perceived as a professional kind of mothering, about nurturing and caring. Indeed older women in the field are seen as generic mothers which is why Margaret was referred to as ‘Mama Margaret’ and yours truly is affectionately called Khala (Auntie- mother’s sister) by young Pakistani and Afghan people.
Nevertheless, the assassination of 59 year old Margaret Hassan marks the breaking of the last taboo. The cold, premeditated killing a mother figure is a major crime in any religion and certainly in Islam. Al Jazeera coyly declined to show this execution, just as the world press generally has been remaining discreet about the discovery of the other horrendously mutilated female corpse, probably that of Polish born Teresa Borcz, aged 54, who has also been a Iraqi citizen for the past 30 years. Hell has been let loose. On women of every age, in every capacity at present.
I cannot compare myself to Margaret Hassan, though by now she has become some kind of elder sister. She was a true professional, I at best, an inspired idealist, active for the past eleven years in two war zones, first Bosnia and more recently at the Afghan frontier. In both cases, whilst working full-time as a lecturer and writer, I started my own NGOs, Enfants de Bosnie, then FemAid, based in Paris where I live. This prompted me to try and understand what was going on a deeper level and go back to college to prepare a PhD on refugee women at the EHESS in Paris. So I have been striving to combine the theoretical with the practical, a definite ‘no-no’ with French academia.
For the past few years, I have been travelling to Pakistan, mainly on the Afghan border, in the refugee camps, working with RAWA, the only Afghan secular women’s organization : we look after an orphanage, two schools, including one in a refugee camp, we have set up various projects, including hygiene education for midwives in Quetta and vocational training for orphans. But I also wanted to include Pakistani children and women, once I realized that they were nearly as badly off as the refugees themselves: books, school supplies, medical aid, baby clothes have been sent to Peshawar, the Hunza Valley, Rawalpindi and Kabul alike. In conjunction with a militant Pakistani women’s group, we are hoping to help set up a burns unit for Pakistani and Afghan women who are routinely doused in petrol or vitriol. Tiny organizations like ourselves on both sides have to fight our way through rampant local inertia and corruption. Our money comes from dedicated private donors (many teachers like myself) from all over the world who have found out about us on Internet- we do not enjoy any funding or media coverage at all. We therefore cannot be accused, by pundits or extremists, of laundering Western guilt-money or cornering the media with prime-time sob stories. Does this nevertheless turn us automatically into emissaries of evil and/or puppets of the CIA? If not, are we less credible? There are countless other little NGOs like FemAid, working relentlessly on aid projects with local agents, balancing ideals with a family and a job and actually making things happen. What ever is being claimed by (male) academics and Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, humanitarian aid has empowered women in tribal, war-torn zones like nothing else ever has. A woman who discovers that she, as an individual, has a natural right to health is energized for life. A woman who realizes that it is not natural for her or her sisters, to die in labour, or to have her jaw broken by a husband or brother, or to be killed for having been raped, will help construct a better life for herself and her children. Once she has staked a minimum of ownership on her own body and her destiny, she will slowly claim dignity, if not quite for herself, for her daughters whom she will send to school. This does not mean that she will instantly drop her religious or tribal values no honest aid worker could possibly want or demand that- but that she will learn to renegotiate them in a workable framework.
It may well be for this reason that that the fanatics of Falludja needed to kill Margaret, just as Taliban zealots have kidnapped in Afghanistan Annetta Flanigan of Northern Ireland, and Shqipe Hebibi, a traditionally veiled Muslim woman from Kosovo, along with Angelito Nayan of the Philippines. These aid workers were offering possibilities of empowerment of women that are simply incompatible with Fundamentalist totalitarian principles.
Twenty-five years ago, the US, in the most suicidal policy ever, set out to spawn an army of Bin Ladens hatched in what amounts to laboratory conditions in Afghan refugee camps on the Pakistani border; now Bush’s invasion of Irak has unearthed a seemingly infinite nest of scorpions. The world is indeed threatened, not by a clash of civilizations, contrary to Samuel Huntington’s expectations, but by a Janus-faced monster, Alien 2004 if you will, which combines the new- fangled Fundamentalism reeking of religious pretence and appears to sprawl from Texas to Mesopotamia and back again. There is little room for women’s rights in this agenda, other than a cosmetic version, be it as a caricature of male brutality in the form of Private Lynddie England at Abu Ghraib or the simulated freedom of women briefly shedding their burqas in front of Western cameras in Kabul.
Thus the continuing dialogue between female health workers and the aid recipients in war zones has been brutally halted. CARE has pulled out, just as MSF has left Afghanistan after 24 years when five members of their team (including one woman, Helène de Beir from Belgium) were shot dead in July 2004 by a pro-Taliban group.
I was meant to return to the border area of Pakistan (NWFP) in the coming month, with a small convoy of medical equipment, but I have cancelled my trip. I have to say that I have never experienced fear in Pakistan: the bazar of Peshawar feels safer than the Paris subway in the rush-hour and it is perfectly possible to travel across the country in public transport, as long as one respects local dress codes. Likewise, I have enjoyed meals and discussions with one-time “freedom” fighters as well as fundamentalist patriarchs in refugee camps, without being troubled in the least.
But this is now over. Kidnapping, certainly an Iraqi speciality, is spreading in the region and anyone is game. The foreign aid worker or journalist, male or female, young or older has become a prime target because it’s so much more newsworthy than say, the simultaneously escalating “honour” killings, maternal mortality and rising drug consumption that make up the daily lives of women in Afghanistan, Irak and many areas between and around.
I am sad and angry to be disappointing the friends who are waiting for me over there. I am sad and angry because I have grown to love the star-filled sky that fits like a lid on top of “my” refugee camp, the sound of children running after me clamouring for candy, the literacy classes filled with women slowly and proudly writing words on the black board- even the howling hyenas at night. I will miss my ever-courageous RAWA family, Yasmin and Haroon and Leila and Sahar and Jahan, so amazingly articulate in the expression of their thoughts and feelings, even though they be practically children themselves, I will long for those wide-eyed infants, so much better brought up than our own, and their mothers re-inventing the future over endless cups of teas and mounds of pistachios. I have learnt so much from them, I crave their wisdom in these troubled times.. Not forgetting our friend and firm supporter, Pakistani journalist Khaled who was looking forward to having me meet his family in a village near Peshawar.
The work will go on, even from a distance, because half of the world’s population cannot be held to ransom by Fundamentalists of every ilk. Margaret Hassan and others like her have dedicated, indeed sacrificed their lives to keep the best aspects of humanity going in an increasingly desperate world. And today, the prime victims still are women and yet true resistance to war can only be effective if these self-same victims continue to be empowered by a continuous exchange between women East and West, North and South. And that is why groups like FemAid cannot and must not disarm, even though it is increasingly hard to retain even a shred of optimism these days….
President of FemAid www.femaid.org
November 19th 2004
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The following paper, by Ed Girardet provides a good over-view of the present difficulties of humanitarian aid
Christian Science Monitor
December 20, 2004, Monday
Security for aid workers - a missing link
By Edward Girardet
The release last month of three kidnapped United Nations election monitors
in Afghanistan does not mean that all is well for the international aid
community operating in conflict and recovery situations worldwide. Nothing
has really changed on the security front for aid workers.
Particularly in Kabul, many feared that the hostages would suffer the same
gruesome fate as those executed by extremists in Iraq. This, in turn, might
have prompted more aid agencies to leave Afghanistan just when the recovery
is beginning to make headway.
Once again, the incident underlines how both the international aid
community and governments are failing to grapple with the real issues at
hand in "security" zones ranging from Afghanistan to Chechnya and Burma. Aid
agencies need to begin providing appropriate security training for their
representatives, but also better awareness of the situations in which they
And governments must recognize the urgency of establishing broadly
recognized - neutral - "humanitarian spheres" without the involvement of the
military in areas where where aid agencies can operate without fear of their
workers being kidnapped or killed.
Key to protecting aid workers is the clear demarcation of the roles of the
military and the aid organizations. Guns and humanitarian assistance simply
do not go together. There is a dangerous blurring of the lines placing aid
workers, private consultants - as well as journalists - in the same caldron
as the security forces. For resistance or insurgent groups, there is
increasingly little difference between the military, including
government-employed mercenary groups, and the highly vulnerable relief
volunteers or reporters operating in the same crisis zones. All are seen as
The failure, too, of the UN to recognize the dangers of disregarding the
Geneva Conventions or due process under international law - such as the
illegal detention, treatment, torture, and deaths of alleged Taliban and Al
Qaeda prisoners held at Guantanamo and Bagram - has set a disastrous
precedent not only for soldiers captured by insurgents, but for civilians
too. Militants have cited such abuse as reason for capturing or killing aid
While the military may obtain good public relations by building bridges or
schools, such initiatives double as intelligence-gathering operations. This
makes the waters even murkier for those seeking to provide straightforward
humanitarian assistance. For the taxpayer, too, military involvement in
humanitarian aid makes little financial sense. The cost of deploying
so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams is dramatically higher than having
qualified aid agencies or contractors perform the same task.
At the same time, aid organizations, notably those run by the UN, urgently
need to assume responsibility for improving workers' safety in the field.
Frontline aid has become far more hazardous to operate in crisis zones today
than during the '80s or '90s.
Whether in Africa, the Middle East, or Asia, aid groups are indeed
stepping up security measures to protect workers. Employees are urged not to
frequent exposed locations such as restaurants and markets, and to stay in
well-protected compounds. Some, too, have had their vehicles repainted to
look less obviously foreign.
Such measures remain deceptively cosmetic. They threaten to dangerously
isolate aid workers from the very populations they aim to assist. Keeping in
touch with one's surroundings is crucial for security. The US aid missions
in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example, have almost completely cut themselves
off, blockading themselves within compounds. Many leave only with heavily
The disturbing reality is that few humanitarian agencies have bothered to
initiate even the most basic security awareness programs for staff prior to
missions. Some deliberately subcontract dangerous jobs to consultants to
avoid liability. Instead, aid organizations increasingly rely on security
companies for employee protection.
Some risk specialists have long maintained that physical protection isn't
enough. Aid groups, they argue, should refuse to send anyone into the field
until they have received proper security training, including background
political and cultural briefings enabling them to better understand their
Too often, aid workers are sent out shockingly ignorant. Most get little
more than 30-minute security briefings on arrival. Even though regularly
updated by security advisers, few are taught how to cope with the
hijackings, armed assaults, and abductions that they face in crisis zones.
Sometimes the organizations concerned have covered up the lives lost as a
direct result of negligence. Donors, too, have yet to make security
awareness a funding prerequisite.
One of the few major agencies to take such matters seriously is the
International Committee of the Red Cross. The Swiss humanitarian
organization is well known for its mandatory two-week awareness courses.
Disguised Swiss soldiers put candidates through highly realistic simulated
guerrilla attacks. ICRC officials maintain that such training has probably
saved the lives of numerous workers, despite horrendous attacks against its
personnel in recent years. Also, as part of their insurance coverage,
international journalists are having to undergo similar training prior to
leaving for war zones.
The face of international aid is changing rapidly for the worse. Not only
are security risks greater, but some governments are deliberately coercing
aid groups by requiring them to come under military command in return for
funding. If agencies are to perform their humanitarian duties properly, they
must remove themselves from the political or military fray. In turn, donors
need to accept that agencies aren't there to replace failed policies, but to
provide humanitarian or recovery assistance where it's needed most.
* Edward Girardet is a writer on humanitarian, conflict, and recovery
issues. He is also editor of the Crosslines Essential Field Guide to
Afghanistan: a nation abandoned to drugs
By Nick Meo in Jalalabad and Leonard Doyle
The Independent -- London - Friday November 19 2004
Country produces 87% of global opium. One in ten Afghans works in opium
trade. UN: state is world's second worst to live in
Three years after the fall of the Taliban, the United Nations issued a
dramatic plea for help yesterday, saying that Afghanistan's opium crop is
flourishing as never before and the country is well on the way to becoming a
The UN's annual opium survey reveals that poppy cultivation increased by
two-thirds this year, a finding that will come as a deep embarrassment to
Tony Blair, who pledged in 2001 to eradicate the scourge of opium along with
So alarmed is the UN that it is suggesting a remedy more radical than any
that has been put forward before - bringing in US and British forces to
fight a drugs war similar to the war on terror. It wants them to destroy
farmers' crops on a massive scale before they can be harvested.
The report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODOC) says the narcotics
trade is far bigger than anybody had realised. Most experts in Afghanistan
believe it is a more significant factor in the continuing violence and
instability than the Taliban insurgency.
On the eve of the Afghan war Mr Blair informed the Labour Party conference
that "90 per cent of the heroin on British streets originates in
Afghanistan". Despite evidence from the UN that the Taliban was suppressing
the drugs trade, Mr Blair said: "The arms the Taliban are buying today are
paid for by the lives of young British people buying their drugs on British
streets. That is another part of their regime we should seek to destroy."
There is growing evidence, however, that despite some improvements,
Afghanistan has become a failed state. It is now ranked by the UN as the
second worst country in the world to live in - after Sierra Leone.
British officials point out that the Afghan economy is booming, that three
million refugees have returned home and that four million children are in
schools. But yesterday's report reveals that the engine of economic growth
is opium production. Last year Afghanistan exported 87 per cent of the
world's supplies. Opium is now the "main engine of economic growth and the
strongest bond among previously quarrelsome peoples", according to the UN.
Most of the opium is smuggled across the Pakistan border, where the Taliban
and al- Qa'ida charge drug traffickers transit and protection fees.
The UN report for 2003 found that one in 10 Afghans - many of them
unemployed returned refugees - is involved in the drugs trade which last
year employed 2.3 million people, and made up 60 per cent of gross national
In just one year the area under cultivation increased by 64 per cent. Output
was estimated at 4,200 tons, a 17 per cent increase on last year with only
disease and bad weather acting as drag factors. The only year with bigger
output was 1999, before a Taliban edict completely stopped production.
Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of UNODC, urged Nato and the US-led
alliance to fight the drugs trade and gave a warning in words usually
reserved for war. "In Afghanistan drugs are now a clear and present danger,"
The US, worried about narcotics funding terrorism, is promising to spend
$780m (£420m) next year on a war against drugs. Some money will be spent on
alternative livelihoods for farmers, but most will probably go on measures
such as spraying poppy fields, currently being discussed in Washington, and
transporting drugs barons to US courts to stand trial.
Before going to war on the Taliban, Mr Blair promised Afghans: "This time we
will not walk away from you." Last week he vowed that a fresh assault on
Afghanistan's opium poppy trade is to be launched. Britain is leading the
international effort to stem production and has provided £70m over three
years to fight the trade.
The Independent -- London -- Wednesday June 23 2004
Murder cases under review to identify 'honour killings'
By Jason Bennetto and Terri Judd
Scotland Yard has identified at least 13 suspected cases of "honour
killings" in which young women who are often fleeing forced marriages have
The suspected killings were identified as part of a national review of
nearly 120 murders. Scotland Yard detectives are examining murder files
going back 10 years ? 52 in the London area and 65 in other parts of England
and Wales. Police and campaign groups believe that only a tiny proportion of
the killings are reported or detected.
A Metropolitan Police spokeswoman said that, so far, 13 suspected "honour
killings" between 1993 and 2003 had been identified. Among the cases being
examined were deaths involving women who were burnt to death or run over by
cars. In some instances, they were previously thought to have been
accidents. Many of the female victims were from south Asian communities.
Detectives are not reopening the cases but hope to learn more about the
scale and nature of the problem and develop future investigative techniques.
Motives for the murders often included relationships which the families felt
brought them dishonour. Police say some of the murders were carried out by
contract killers hired by the families. They also believe that so-called
"bounty hunters" were involved ? people, including women, who make a
business out of tracking down victims.
Commander Andy Baker, head of the Metropolitan Police's Serious Crime
Directorate and the chairman of a new strategic taskforce, hopes the review
will help future investigations. He said: "We are not reopening these cases
? many of them have been through the courts with convictions. It is a matter
of looking at these cases and learning how we can prevent killings in the
Last September British police released research into the culture surrounding
honour killings. The undertaking followed the conviction of Abdalla Yones, a
Kurdish Muslim, for the murder of his 16-year-old daughter Heshu after she
formed a relationship with a man of whom the father disapproved.
Europol, the European police agency, held a conference on the issue in the
Hague yesterday. Experts say "honour killings" are increasing in Europe. The
conference heard of the case of a young woman called Fadime. The 26-year-old
Kurd was shot dead two years ago near Stockholm, allegedly by her father
because of her relationship with a Swedish man.
The murder prompted calls for urgent action to protect young immigrants who
fall out with their families. Diana Nammi, the director of the International
Campaign Against Honour Killing, said: "I believe these killings are more
widespread than official figures suggest. We need to stop these murders and
this move by the police is very positive."
Ram Gidoomal, of the South Asian Development Partnership, called for police
to work alongside social services to prevent these killings. He said: "I
would like to see what
action has been taken already ? it is not as if we have just
been made aware of this issue. Everyone needs to be educated to look out for
early warning signals. All agencies need to share information."
Dr Aisha Gill, a lecturer in criminology and expert in the subject, agreed,
adding that honour crime in this country is a "growing phenomenon".
It is the culturally sensitive aspect of honour killings which, some say,
made it such a hidden crime for so long. The Muslim community, in
particular, feels it could be stigmatised by a crime that most members abhor
as much as anyone else.
Most cases involve families from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, but other
regions, including the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Kenya, Yemen, South
Africa and Somalia have reported incidents.
In a related problem, each year, a specialist Foreign Office unit deals with
about 250 cases of predominantly girls, a third of which are minors, taken
abroad to be married against their will. "We usually get a call from a third
party to say a girl has been taken overseas on the pretext of a holiday or
the death of a relative. When she gets there, she finds she is actually
going to be forced into a marriage," said Fawzia Samad, of the community
Often they are threatened with death if they fail to comply.
Embassy or consulate officials will now liaise with local police, often
travelling to remote villages to seek girls and bring them home if it is
found they are being held against their will. In some countries, such as
Pakistan, they turn to the courts for help.
The Muslim community makes a distinction between arranged marriages, where
compatibility is the key motivator, and forced marriages, where a university
student from Britain may be compelled to wed a man with little education
with whom she has little in common.
Father jailed for stabbing teenage 'jewel' to death
Heshu Yones barricaded herself in the bathroom, but her killer broke the
door down. As the16-year-old fought for her life, he stabbed her 11 times,
then slit her throat. The bent and broken knife police found in her neck
bore testament to the savagery of her death.
Her killer was her father, Abdalla, now serving life after being convicted
of her murder in September last year.
Days before Heshu died, Yones, a devout Kurdish Muslim who had fled Saddam
Hussein's regime a decade earlier, was sent an anonymous letter describing
his daughter as a slut who was sleeping with an
18-year-old Lebanese Christian boyfriend.
To the 48-year-old Yones, his bubbly daughter was his jewel but, as a "fish
out of water" in UK society, he disapproved of her increasingly Western ways
and beat her repeatedly.
In October 2002, he walked into the family's flat in Acton, west London, and
murdered the child he loved. Then he cut his own throat and threw himself
out of a window. At first, he told police members of
al-Qa'ida had broken in, knocked him out and killed Heshu. Days before the
Old Bailey trial he admitting he had murdered her, saying she had brought
dishonour on the family.
Heshu had planned to run away and had written a goodbye letter to her
father, saying: "Me and you will probably never understand each other, but
I'm sorry I wasn't what you wanted, but there's some things you can't change."
After Yones was sentenced, he said he had been forced to kill Heshu because
he had been put in an untenable position.
In Pakistan, Those Who Cry Rape Face Jail May 16th 2004
By Juliette Terzieff - WeNews correspondent
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (WOMENSENEWS)--Flies circle around hungrily as Zafran Bibi struggles to cook a simple lunch of roti (flat round bread) and lentils on a small open fire using the only utensils she has; a stained pan and a cracked wooden spoon.
As Bibi moves around the sun-baked courtyard of the day care center where she and her husband work as caretakers, her youngest daughter Zabnam (which means "morning dew" in Urdu) clings to her dress.
"We have nothing, but I am amazed we have even this," Bibi says cradling the two-and-half-year-old Zabnam.
Ensconced in a dusty slum on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, where the only buildings are rickety mud and straw huts that are home to Afghan refugees, her home might not be idyllic. But for the illiterate 30 year old, it is a lifesaving refuge from her family, her tribe and a society inclined to shun her.
In 2002, Bibi catapulted onto the world stage when a court in her native Northwest Frontier Province sentenced her to stoning by death under Pakistan's controversial Hudood Ordinances, which effectively equate rape with adultery. Despite Bibi's repeated charges that her brother-in-law had raped her on multiple occasions, the presiding judge convicted her of zina (adultery).
As is common in such cases, nothing happened to the man involved.
Promulgated through presidential decree by former military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in 1979 as part of his Islamization program to deal with a spectrum of sins ranging from theft, to false accusations, to adultery, the Hudood Ordinances are a volatile mix of Islamic decrees and Pakistan's secular laws and are part of almost every court's legal arsenal.
At Heart of Struggle for Justice
They are also at the heart of women's struggle for justice in this troubled South Asian nation.
"These laws have been a disgrace since they were introduced," says Majida Rizvi, a former Supreme Court judge and head of the National Commission on the Status of Women. The commission is a Islamabad-based council of religious scholars, government officials and legal experts set up by Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf in 2000 to examine laws pertaining to women's rights.
The National Commission on the Status of Women voted overwhelmingly to repeal the Hudood in a mid-2003 report.
Since then, Musharraf has appeared reluctant to repeal the Hudood for fear of further antagonizing his important but tenuous political ties to religious clerics and their supporters. Musharraf angered clerics by siding fully with the U.S. war on terror, banning militant groups and seeking to reform Pakistan's 13,000 religious seminaries.
Those aligned with the clerics argue that the Hudood are God's law and term any tampering of them un-Islamic. "If there are any problems, it is with poor work by judges, lawyers or the police, not with the word of God," says Khurshid Ahmed, member of the six-party religious alliance United Action Forum.
Up to 80 percent of the 2,000 women now in Pakistani jails are facing charges related to the Hudood Ordinances, according to Rizvi. Many of the cases involve women being charged with adultery after they have allegedly been raped. Another case involves a woman seeking a divorce who has then been accused of adultery. While few are ever tried and convicted, the stigma and the ordeal can color the rest of their lives.
"These laws promote injustice and are un-Islamic, denying women the rights given to them in the Koran, and discriminating against the weakest sections of society; women and minorities," Rizvi says. "It is a flawed legislation that can't be fixed. Its drafting is flawed. Its motive is flawed."
Four Males Needed to Verify Rape
Under the Hudood, punishment of a man for rape must be preceded by his own confession or the testimony of four males of upstanding character who witnessed the act of penetration. Women and non-Muslim witnesses are considered worthless.
"Hudood cases involving rape can not be registered under the law without production of four witnesses" says Faqir Hussain, secretary of the Karachi-based Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan, which monitors Pakistani law.
However, according to Hussein, the police often register cases in which no witnesses were produced setting the victim up for possible prosecution. "At their best the Hudood are discriminatory and confusing, at their worst they are systematic tools for abuse."
Anti-Hudood activists say that Pakistan's secular laws served rape victims far better.
Before the imposition of Hudood, a case could be registered with police on suspicion alone, prompting an investigation that might or might not have resulted in formal charges. Such was the case with rape before the Hudood altered the crime from a private offense to an offense against the State.
The Hudood's discouraging effects on rape allegations were made conspicuous in the 1983 case of 15-year-old Jehan Mina, who became pregnant and alleged that she had being raped by her uncle and his son. After filing a complaint with police, she was charged and sentenced for illegal fornication on the grounds of her pregnancy. Because of her young age, the judge reduced her original sentence of 100 lashes to 10.
Punishments under the Hudood are severe; amputation for theft, whipping for drinking alcohol, hanging for rape and stoning for adultery. If the court rules there was no rape, the accuser is often sent to jail either convicted of adultery or qasf (false accusation).
The infant Zabnam was taken away to a state-run orphanage when Bibi was placed onto death row in a squalid Northwest Frontier Province prison. Months later--in mid 2002--she was acquitted by a higher court after an international outcry by the domestic and foreign press and nongovernmental organizations like the Women's Action Forum and the Aurat Foundation.
"My innocence was my protection, my savior, but this case destroyed our lives," she says as her husband, Zabnam, and two sons look on and the family sits down to eat their meager meal.
The family sold their home and possessions to pay for legal costs, but they still couldn't cover the bill. They still owe 200,000 rupees (about $3,500). After her release from jail, life in the village was uncomfortable under the watchful eyes of Zafran's in-laws. Nobody wanted to give the couple work as day laborers, nobody wanted to help them with a place to live and tongues wagged with incessant cruelty.
With the help of a sympathetic Islamabad-based lawyer, Zafran and her husband Naimat Khan secured work here earning them 4,000 rupees (about $70) a month and a place to live.
"What happened to me should not happen to any other living being," she says tearfully. "I am not an educated person, but if innocent people like me are being punished then obviously there is something wrong with the laws."
Juliette Terzieff is a freelance journalist currently based in Pakistan who has worked for the San Francisco Chronicle, Newsweek, CNN International, and the London Sunday Times.
For more information:
Asian Human Rights Commission-- - "Pakistan: The Women's Commission and the Hudood Ordinances": - http://www.ahrchk.net/hrsolid/mainfile.php/2003vol13no04-05/2292/
Human Rights Watch-- - "Discrimination under the Hudood Ordinances": - http://www.hrw.org/about/projects/womrep/General-90.htm
Inter Press Service News Agency-- - "Despite Sound and Fury, 'Hudood' Laws Still Stay": - http://www.ipsnews.net/interna.asp?idnews= 333
War Returns with a Vengeance as Allies Fail the Afghan People
George Bush and Tony Blair made grand promises when they took on the Taliban. They sound hollow now. What does it all mean for Iraq?
The Independent/UK, May 25, 2004
by Kim Sengupta
The road from the village of Ozbin Khol is safe no longer. The eight aid workers packed into a Toyota LandCruiser were keen to get to their destination, Sarobi, before nightfall. But a punctured tire stopped them. Two young men, carrying Kalashnikovs, their faces covered by keffayahs, came out of the darkness, lined up the passengers and opened fire, killing five.
The killings, in Paktika province, south-east of Kabul, were at the end of February. The next month, gunmen burst into a guesthouse near the southern city of Kandahar, killing three more aid workers. Two weeks ago, two Europeans, one with a Swiss passport, were stoned and stabbed to death at Bagh Chilsthan, just 15 minutes' drive from the center of Kabul.
Reports of the murders appeared in the international media, briefly, because the victims were either from the West, or had links with international relief agencies. There have been other deaths - 15 children killed by United States warplanes in raids while attempting to eliminate a warlord in December. Another dozen Afghans were killed in the next few weeks, either enemy combatants, said the Americans, or the result of collateral damage among civilians.
In Herat, internecine fighting between forces of the warlord, Ismail Khan, and the governor sent by Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul led to the deaths of 100 people, including Mr Khan's son.
These are snapshots of a continuing conflict in Afghanistan, a war of attrition taking place largely in the shadows with the focus of the world's media firmly fixed on Iraq.
The Afghan war was, of course, the first chapter of the War on Terror launched after 11 September. After a relatively quick and casualty-free campaign - for the American military, if not Afghan civilians - George Bush declared victory. Tony Blair pledged: "This time we will not walk away", as had happened following the war the mujahedin fought against the Russians with Western money and arms.
But that, say many Afghans, is exactly what the United States and Britain have done. And just as the official end to hostilities in Iraq has been followed by unremitting violence, so the war has returned with a vengeance in Afghanistan. With international interest concentrating on Iraq, aid money has dried up for the Afghans. The military bill for the Pentagon, so far, is $50bn (£27bn). The money for humanitarian work, on the other hand, has been $4.5bn. Out of that, much of the $2.2bn earmarked for this year has been diverted to military projects and emergency relief from long-term development.
Even where aid money is available, the security situation is preventing distribution. The five men killed in Paktika worked for the National Solidarity Program (SDF), which is now pulling out of 72 areas in the country.
Ihsanullah Dileri, the organization's head of co-ordination said in his Kabul office: "This is a very bad, very desperate situation. We had $60,000 to spend on each of those 72 areas, now this cannot be done.
"All these areas are badly deprived, with poor people lacking basic facilities. But I am afraid the security simply is not there for us to continue with our work. It is too dangerous."
Barbara Stapleton, of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) an umbrella body representing 90 national and international aid agencies, added: "We are very concerned about security and the deterioration of the situation. Impunity rules in the country. It's not just the NGO [non-governmental organizations] community, but the Afghan people at large who are exposed to these levels of insecurity."
There is also evidence that the American military is using aid as a means of acquiring intelligence. Delivering blankets and food to refugees at Dwamanda in the south, Lieutenant Reid Finn had no hesitation in telling journalists: "It's simple. The more they help us find the bad guys, the more good stuff they get." Teena Roberts, the head of Christian Aid's mission in the country, said: "The result of this is aid workers have become targets. I have not come across the use of aid in this way before."
After the fall of the Taliban, the streets of Kabul used to be busy until the 10pm curfew. Now they are deserted by eight in the evening, with the headlights of a few solitary cars hurtling through the darkness. Foreigners travel in convoys, with armed guards. Amanullah Haidar runs a stall 100 yards from the Mustafa Hotel in the city center, one of the few places deemed to be safe for the expatriate community to meet in the evening, where the two brothers who run it carry pistols in shoulder holsters, and guards with semi-automatic rifles man the main door.
"We are disappointed by lack of progress, lack of money, lack of jobs," said Mr Haidar, a Tajik former Northern Alliance soldier. "I remember all these people who came here from Europe and America and told us how they are going to help us. But where are the factories and the offices we thought we would get? What about the elections we were promised?"
President Hamid Karzai was forced to put back to the autumn elections because of the instability. Only 1.6 million out of 10.5 million eligible to vote have registered. In the Pashtun belt, where Taliban influence is still strong, the number of women registered is below 20 per cent.
The emancipation of women, subjugated by the fundamentalist Taliban, was one of the stated objectives of the West. Even before the war ended America's First Lady, Laura Bush, declared: "Because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women."
According to an Amnesty International report, however: "Two years after the ending of the Taliban regime, the international community and the Afghan transitional administration, led by President Karzai, have proved unable to protect women. The risk of rape and sexual violence by members of armed factions and former combatants is still high. Forced marriages, particularly of girl children, and violence against women in the family are widespread in many areas."
After the war, dozens of girls' schools reopened throughout the country. But an Islamist resurgence has seen many of them closed down through intimidation. Families who still dare to send their female children for education can pay a terrible price. Earlier this month, three young girls, aged eight to 10, were poisoned in eastern Afghanistan, apparently as punishment for attending lessons.
The government points out, however, that four million pupils are enrolled in schools this year - including one third of the country's female children.
Twenty-five years of war have destroyed what there was of Afghan infrastructure. In a number of regions, such as the Shomali Plain, the Taliban and their Pakistani allies destroyed centuries-old irrigation systems in a scorched-earth policy against the Northern Alliance.
Following the last war, attempts were made to restore water and power. But systematic strikes by the Taliban on power lines and irrigation projects, and murders of foreign engineers, has ground much of it to a halt. At present, just 9 per cent of the population have access to electricity. Safe drinking water is estimated to be restricted to 6 per cent. The World Bank has authorized a $40m loan for water projects, but while work can begin with the funds in the north and west, it is deemed to be too dangerous in the Pashtun belt of the south and east.
The UN has stressed irrigation is essential for agriculture in a country where the overwhelming majority of the population live in rural areas. However there is no shortage of one particular crop - opium. Poppy cultivation reached a new high last year. According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the area of cultivation has grown from 1,685 hectares in 2001 to 61,000 hectares in 2003. The country has the dubious distinction of accounting for 75 per cent of the world's output.
FACTS AND FIGURES THAT TELL THE STORY
Pregnancy: One woman dies every 20 minutes in pregnancy/childbirth
2002: Pregnancy and childbirth the leading cause of death in women
500 trained midwives for female population of 11 million
Under-five mortality rank:
Measles: 2000: 1,400 cases of measles per month
2003: 40 cases per month
1999: 27 reported cases
2003: 7 reported cases
2004: 3 reported cases
8,000 child soldiers in official army
Feb 2004: Government starts to demobilize 2,000 child soldiers
400 children killed each month from landmines
Four million children in education
1.2 million girls in education; aim to get a million more girls into education
Net primary school enrolment ratio:
1995-99: M:F 53:5
2004: M:F 42:15
Total adult literacy:
2001: 185 tons of opium (reduction of 96 per cent from 1999)
2003: Second-largest opium harvest (after 1999) with yield of 3,600 tons
Poppy cultivated in 28 of 32 provinces, involving 1.7 million Afghans. Drug trade income is $2.3bn, more than 50 per cent of Afghanistan's legal GDP
69 per cent of farmers surveyed intend to increase cultivation in 2004
Nearly 30 per cent of farmers plan to more than double production
43 per cent of non-poppy farmers intend to start cultivating in 2004
Sources: UNICEF SOWC (State of the World's Children) annual report); CARE International; Afghanistan Annual Opium Poppy Survey 2001); Afghanistan Farmers' Intentions survey 2003-04); Amnesty International
Bad treatment spurs women to suicide
By James Astill THE WASHINGTON TIMES May 8, 2004
KABUL, Afghanistan - White-bearded Nazir Shah sifts through a pile of magazines for teenage girls. "Look at what our sweet girls are suffering," said Mr. Shah, a retired Afghan army colonel, poring over the letters pages. "These are real stories about girls who are suffering so much. Look - 'My family's choice of husband is driving me to suicide.' "
Mr. Shah has a special interest in the trials of Afghanistan's young women. Six months ago, after being bullied by her in-laws too often, his 26-year-old daughter, Mallali Nurzi, soaked herself with gasoline and struck a match. Alerted by her screams, Mallali's baby daughter discovered her mother writhing in a ball of flame.
By the time the fire was extinguished, Mallali was burned black all over. It took her 24 hours to die. In a suicide note to her parents, Mallali explained why she had chosen such a horrific end. "Her husband's family were treating her like an animal," said Mr. Shah, tears trickling down his sunburned cheeks. "Every minute of every day, she was fetching water, growing crops, looking after animals and children, cleaning the house. She was patient, but it was too much for her: She was educated and sensitive. She found it hard to live like a slave." Mallali was not alone in her suffering, nor in the agonizing way she chose to die.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that several hundred young women burn themselves fatally in western Afghanistan every year. A government mission sent to investigate the problem in Herat, the main city of western Afghanistan, reported that at least 52 young, married or soon-to-be-married women had burned themselves fatally in the city in recent months. The youngest was a 13-year-old bride-to-be.
Mr. Shah says he knows of more than 80 cases of self-immolation in western Farah province - where Mallali took her life - in the past two years. A niece of his was among the victims. "There is not a village in Farah where a young woman has not burned herself to death," he said. Self-immolation is a traditional form of female suicide in several Asian countries. It is an _expression of despair, and its occurrence in Afghanistan seems to be rising dramatically. "In our culture, women have always burned themselves, because they have always been so badly treated," said Amina Safi Afzali of the Afghan Human Rights Commission. "But, this phenomenon was never as prevalent as it is today."
Behind the increase, said Mrs. Afzali, is disillusionment among many educated Afghan women that the two years since the Taliban's fall have brought little freedom. This is felt most keenly among former refugees in Iran, who had a freer life there. Most of the female suicides recorded in Herat, near the border with Iran, were of educated women, including several nurses and teachers. "There are many more pressures on young Afghan women today, because they have learned what freedom is from radio and television, but that is not what they have," said Mrs. Afzali. "In the past, every girl knew she belonged to the family, she existed only for her father or her husband. She knew she wasn't free. Now, girls know they should have rights and they are prepared to burn themselves to show society that they do not have them yet."
In Mallali's case, she had attended high school in Kabul and completed secondary school in Iran before being married off to live in a remote village. For 10 years, she suffered abuse from her in-laws, too loyal to complain but ultimately too sensitive to endure it. "Mallali knew what her rights were because she was from an educated family in Kabul," said her father. "But in the village she had no rights at all. She must have been suffering terribly, because she wasn't worried about the pain. She just wanted to die and be free."
Afghanistan's new constitution stipulates equal rights for men and women. But despite an increase in the number of girls attending school, most Afghan women have no more rights now than they did under the Taliban regime. Most of the country is not, in fact, controlled by the government, but by warlords as misogynist as the previous regime. "Women in this country are in a very bad situation, with forced marriages, families selling their daughters to pay drug debts, women being beaten all the time," said Suraya Sobah Rang, the country's deputy minister of women's affairs. "We have to change these things in our society. But what society wants and what women want are two different things," she added.
Herat's warlord-governor, Ismail Khan, recently tried to face up to the fiery suicides in his city. In a televised visit to the burn ward of Herat's main hospital, he met Shakiba, a 19-year-old bride burned over 90 percent of her body. Roused for a whisper to the cameras, she said she had tried to kill herself after her family forced her to marry a man who was still living with his first wife, for a $7,000 dowry. "My family was selling me and I didn't know what else to do," she said. Not long after Gen. Khan's visit, Shakiba died.
IWPR'S AFGHAN RECOVERY REPORT, No. 117, April 29, 2004
ABUSED WOMEN DRIVEN TO SUICIDE
Self-immolation is seen as the only way out for some who suffer physical violence and sexual abuse at their hands of their families.
By Lailuma Sadid in Kabul
On a chilly day in Kabul early last month, Gulmora, a 22-year-old mother of two, locked herself in the bathroom of her house, doused herself with fuel and set herself on fire.
By the time her husband noticed the smoke and broke open the door, Gulmora had burns over 98 percent of her body. He wrapped her in a blanket to put out the flames and took her to the local hospital. She died six days later.
Her case is hardly unique. Over the past 12 months, nearly 90 women in Afghanistan have reportedly attempted to take their lives this way, according to human-right officials. In most cases, they were the victims of physical or sexual abuse.
Karima Karimi, assistant director of women's rights development at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said forced marriages are a leading cause of such suicide attempts.
Since March, 2003, most of these attempted suicides have taken place in the western city of Herat. "Figures from the criminology register of the hospital show 56 incidents of burning, of which four were men, and 52 were women," Karimi said. "Of all these incidents, 32 women died and the rest survived."
A hospital in Kabul reported it had treated 30 similar cases; 3 other cases have been reported in the eastern city of Jalalabad, according to human-rights officials.
Many of these burn victims end up in a special surgical hospital in Kabul's Kart-e-Say district because it has the best surgery facilities in the country. "Most incidents occur because of violence [in] the families," said Dr. Hasan Kamal, assistant chief of surgery at the hospital in central Kabul.
Before her death, Gulmora, who had been married for seven years, talked to IWPR about what drove her to set herself on fire. Lying in a hospital bed with her skin blacked, her hands and arms were badly swollen. Her face was so swollen that she was unable to open her eyes. From time to time, she let out a low moan. At other times she would begin to ramble but she was also able to speak coherently.
"I would always be beaten by my husband," she said. "I could no longer put up with him, and had no way out other than suicide, so I set fire to myself."
She said that she had also been beaten by other members of her husband's family. "My brother-in-law beat me with a cable." She said that her husband threatened desert her and their children - a boy 18 months old and a girl 3 months old - and go to Iran.
Gulmora's husband, Najibuallah, acknowledged that he frequently fought with his wife and admitted that his brother slapped her because she was always complaining.
But he insisted that he was not responsible for his wife's actions.
"It is due to her stupidity that she had committed this action," he said.
Benafsha, Gulmora's mother-in-law, said she loved her like a daughter and insisted that the family did not have domestic problems. She said Gulmora was free to go to her parents' home at any time.
She agreed that often young brides in forced marriages can suffer, but said this was not the case with Gulmora. "There [is] much oppression of brides in some families, but no one [did] anything to cause her to destroy herself and her family."
But Gulmora's sister, Sheerpera, tells a different story. "She was even beaten with scissors on the head once, and she would always be ruthlessly beaten by her husband's family members, so she had no choice but to commit this," she said.
Sheerpera also said that, before her death, Gulmora had come to her parents' house and said she wanted a divorce. But her father, Wali Ahmad, refused to allow it, telling his daughter that no one in their tribe had ever been divorced and that would bring dishonour on the family. He advised her to simply tolerate whatever was going on in her marriage.
Ahmad told IWPR that he had already lost his wife and four of his seven children. While his daughter was still in the hospital, he said he would be relieved if she died. "I want God to give her death because they were committing cruelty to my daughter," he said.
A women who attempts suicide is considered to have brought shame upon the whole family. If she should survive, she would be scorned.
Rona, 27, has been married for ten years and has four children. She said she twice attempted suicide by walking into lit wood stove. During a third attempt, she said she was stopped and attacked by her husband.
"I was beaten by my husband until I fainted and then he threw boiling water over me and he tried to kill me," she said. "I was admitted to this hospital six months ago and throughout this whole time, my husband has not come to visit me nor has he let my children see me."
Tamana, 15, said sexual abuse drove her to attempt suicide. She said her father would kiss and fondle her while she slept and that when she complained, no one would believe her.
"At last when he wanted to rape me, I burned myself," she said.
Fariba is a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, RAWA, a group that is trying to deter women from resorting to suicides.
"We think that one of the reasons for self-burning is illiteracy and backwardness," she said. Her organization provides literacy training and handicraft centers to educate women and give them skills that will allow them to support themselves.
"RAWA strongly believes that it is only with the weapon of education that the women of Afghanistan can be empowered and triumph in their struggle against fundamentalism, which is the main cause of all miseries to women," she said. "We educate them [to understand] that suicide and self-burning brings nothing positive to them."
Because many regions of the country are still under the control of conservative leaders and have a weak legal system, many women have few ways to escape abusive relationships, she said.
"So [since] women actually have no other way to raise their voice against the crimes committed against them, they find the easiest way [is] to commit suicide," Fariba said.
"If justice is done in only a few cases, no one will then dare to brutalise women and deprive them of their very basic rights," she said.
Lailuma Sadid is a journalist with IWPR.
Plight of Pakistani Women
Thursday March 04, 2004 (0145 PST) Pak Tribune
THERE IS a species of Homo sapiens found in large numbers in Pakistan whose plight is worse than animals. Amazingly, the male of the species hunts its own female counterpart in a deadly blood sport. The females are killed, maimed and their spirits broken by their males in a variety of ways.
They are burnt, electrocuted, tortured till death, doused with acid, starved, sentenced to life confinement, humiliated privately, paraded and dragged naked in town squares publicly. They are punched, kicked and slapped into submission. Once broken in body and spirit, some are sold like cattle and some exchanged like property items to settle old disputes.
Last year 631 of this species was killed in the first eight months as reported by an independent Rights Commission. No statistics were available from remote areas in Pakistan where this blood sport is a favorite pastime. Like in the past, some of the favorite methods of killing remained stabbing, shooting, burning, hacking to pieces, strangulating and slitting open their throats with sharp weapons. Indications are that the customary figure of 1000 honor killings a year must have been beaten by a comfortable margin in the year 2003.
This species is none other than the hapless Pakistani woman. The proud recipients of last year's badge of honor were 247 husbands, 112 brothers, 54 fathers, 25 sons and two uncles. In other cases, as there is no mention of who carried out the killing, the badge of honor can safely be awarded to the whole family. Ironically, all this while these women continued to be called as mothers, sisters, wives and daughters.
In 1998 alone, 54 cases of women being stripped and dragged through the streets of Punjab in 'revenge' attacks were recorded. Between 1994 and 1999, almost 4,000 cases of women being badly burned were documented in the tiny twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi alone. An abysmally low percentage survives. The rest go on to a permanently disfigured existence. It is believed to be only the tip of the iceberg.
After General Zia's Hudood Ordinance, women have routinely become convicts in their own rapes for lack of evidence. Unable to produce four 'pious' male witnesses who have observed the act from close quarters, scores are now languishing in Pakistani jails with no hope of escape from their captors. Others have been publicly lashed and fined for their own rapes.
The judges alone are not having the fun. In one instance, even the village elders joined the spree. They condemned a woman on frivolous charges to be gang-raped by beastly men with the whole village in attendance. The ghastly sentence was carried out in letter and spirit. Incredibly, last year two six years old children too were found fit to be killed by their relations in the name of honor in the southern Pakistani province of Sindh. The disaster was averted only by timely intervention of local influential persons.
To escape death by hanging, four men from Mianwali district agreed to pay $130,000 and give eight of their daughters away in marriage to the victims' families. One angel-faced child named Iqra was only 5 years old. Fourteen years old Tasleem Khan was betrothed to a 55-year-old farmer.
The Pakistani male has two expedient modes to validate all this horror. Islam and/or prevalent culture in parts of Pakistan. He conveniently switches between these modes to justify all the suffering heaped upon the luckless women. When attention is drawn to the plight of women in Pakistan, ideologues are quick to refute such charges by painting a lofty picture of the high status of women in Islam. When Quranic Ayahs dealing with the subject of women are quoted exactly to women's benefit, the culturists are quick to come up with Pathan, Sindhi, Punjabi or Balochi culture as their second line of defense.
Every law, from God's to man's, grants men and women equal rights. Woman is recognized by Islam as a full and equal partner of man in the procreation of humankind. By this partnership she has an equal contribution in every facet of this process. She undertakes equal responsibilities and is, therefore, entitled to equal rights. In her are as many qualities and as much humanity as there are in her partner. God says:
And their Lord has accepted (their prayers) and answered them (saying): 'Never will I cause to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female; you are members, one of another...(3:195)
The status of woman is clearly given in the following Quranic injunction;
..And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage as in some cases of inheritance) over them (2:228).
This degree is not a license of superiority or an authorization of brutal governance over her. It is to match with the extra responsibilities of man and give him some compensation for his many responsibilities. It is these extra responsibilities that give man a degree over woman in some economic aspects. It is not a higher degree in humanity or in character. Nor is it a dominance of one over the other or suppression of one by the other.
Consider the following momentous verse, addressing men and women equally - as believers, as members of the community, with equal access to God's "Forgiveness and great reward":
"For Muslim men and women, For believing men and women, For devout men and women, For men and women who are patient and constant, For men and women who humble themselves, For men and women who give in charity, For men and women who fast (and deny themselves), For men and women who guard their chastity, and For men and women who engage much in God's praise, For them has God prepared forgiveness and great reward." (33:35)
Remarkably, all verses pertaining to Hijaab, Zina and Talaaq are almost memorized by heart by the Pakistani Muslim males. While this one, so profoundly dealing with the equality of Muslim males and females is perhaps one of the lesser known. Therefore, most Muslim men, and even women, grow up believing that their religious laws place women below men and more importantly, that this is an indisputable and absolute fact.
Well, it is not. From the Quran, it is abundantly clear that both men and women are promised the same reward for good deeds and the same punishment for misconduct. The Prophet (PBUH) necessitated the pursuit of knowledge for both Muslim men and women equally. To sum it up, in Islam there is indeed absolutely no difference between men and women as far as their relationship to Allah is concerned.
Man made laws too guarantee equality of both sexes. Both the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Pakistani constitution clearly, emphatically and unambiguously guarantee equality on grounds of sex.
On the governmental level, no whole hearted attempt has ever been made to translate these into honest legislation and ensure its strict enforcement, legally and socially, to eradicate the evil root and branch. As a people, we conveniently switch between the divine and the man made laws, throwing in culture for good measures, allowing no escape to these unfortunate creatures. Vis-à-vis Pakistani male, it's a heads-you-lose-tails-I-win situation for the Pakistani female.
To give just two examples of this convenient, but contradictory, arrangement consider the following:
There are clear injunctions in the Quran regarding women's share in their parent's property. A huge majority of Pathans, Sindhis, Balochis and even Punjabis in rural areas distribute their properties only among their male off-springs. The women inherit nothing. Reason given: Culture.
Yet, when Islam enjoins Hijaab on women, these very males are more than willing to even exceed the manner prescribed by God. They wrap them up in thick suffocating bolts of cloth with just two slits left open to peep out from. In parts of Muslim world, even a horse-like contraption is enforced on these women in public. Reason given: Islam.
Ironically, even while employing culture as the standard excuse, the Pakistani males are unabashedly selective. If killing has to carried out, why is there honor killing of women only? Why can't men be killed to vindicate the same honor? Is it because the men can retaliate and the women are weak and defenseless? Some men, some honor, some sense of fairness, some double bloody standards.
Perhaps time has come to call a spade a spade. Violence against the women of Pakistan has to be addressed forcefully and finally. The Government of Pakistan must actually honor its obligations under International law to protect women. All reports of honor killings and domestic abuse should be doggedly investigated and persistently prosecuted. Wide-ranging and sustained public awareness programs should be carried out on the state-run media to inform all Pakistanis of women's equal rights.
The people of Pakistan too need to carry out an honest hypocrisy check. The bigots must be effectively discouraged from negative portrayals of women and prejudices against them. In the name of God and in the name of honor the Pakistani women have been harried long enough. It is time they are restored to the venerated place they actually have in Islam.
Afghanistan: Self-Immolation Of Women On The Rise In Western Provinces
By Golnaz Esfandiari 1 March 2004
The Afghan government is expressing concern over the growing number
of women in Herat Province who have killed themselves through self-
immolation. Suraya Sobah Rang, Afghanistan's deputy women's affairs
minister, says forced marriages and a continued lack of access to
education is contributing to the growing despair among Herat's women.
Prague, 1 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Gurcharan Virdee is no stranger to
the hardships facing women around the world.
Virdee works with Medica Mondiale, a German-based international
organization supporting women in war and crisis situations.
"Before she committed suicide, my sister always said she hoped she
would never return to Afghanistan and experience the closed
atmosphere of Herat."The group is currently working on a program to
provide shelter to women living in the western Afghan province of
Herat -- an area where Taliban-era repressions are still very much in
There, Virdee met several women who had attempted to kill themselves
through self-immolation. The most tragic case, Virdee says, involved
a young pregnant woman who survived despite suffering severe burns
over 60 percent of her body.
"One of the women that I met, she was about 29. She already had four
children, [and] she was seven months pregnant when she burned
herself. She was experiencing problems with her husband and family;
they wouldn't allow her to go and visit her own family. She set fire
to herself. She then gave birth to a baby with no painkillers,
nothing. The baby girl was taken by her aunt to look after her, and
[the mother] died three weeks after giving birth," Virdee said.
A government delegation that traveled to Herat last week said at
least 52 women in the province have killed themselves in recent
months through self-immolation.
A Herat regional hospital last year recorded 160 cases of attempted
suicide among girls and women between the ages of 12 and 50. But
Virdee says the real number is probably much higher.
"The official statistics which the hospitals have are for the women
who have actually come to the hospital, who can receive treatment.
There are many other cases of women burning themselves in the
villages, in the city, in some of the provinces. But these are women
we can't give any estimates on, partly because they never reach the
hospital or because they die in their villages or city. These are the
cases that never come to the attention of any public authorities,"
Afghan officials say poverty, forced marriages, and lack of access to
education are the main reasons for suicide among women in Herat.
Domestic violence is also widespread.
"A lot of women are saying that their husbands don't allow them to go
and visit their families. There are severe restrictions on their
movement, and also there is violence towards them -- both physical
and psychological -- and intimidation and isolation," Virdee said.
During the five-year rule of the Taliban militia, women were not
allowed to work or study. They could not leave their homes without a
male escort and were forced to wear the all-encompassing burqa.
Since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, women have once again
been given the right to study and work. But activists say women in
many parts of Afghanistan -- including Herat, which is ruled with an
iron fist by provincial governor and warlord Ismail Khan -- still
face repression and harassment.
Virdee says the continued crackdown on women's rights is contributing
to the rise in self-immolation cases.
"The institutional repression of the women's movement is also a big
factor because women are not allowed to go on their own in taxi cars,
they are sort of socially policed if they are talking to other men,
they have to be in the burqa, they have restriction on freedom to
work. Just recently in Herat a women's shop which was employing a lot
of women was closed. The driving school for women was also closed,"
Ahmad Bassir is a Herat-based correspondent for Radio Free
Afghanistan. He says women see no difference between their lives now
and under the Taliban, and that desperation drives them to attempt
"They say we were hoping that after the fall of Taliban and after the
transitional authority took power, the situation would improve for
women, and there would be fewer restrictions. But we see that there
have been no changes, and women are using this very violent act [of
self-immolation] to show their protest. Most of these girls are
literate, they are knowledgeable, and several of them are students,"
Bassir adds that the despair is especially strong among women who
once lived as refugees in neighboring Iran, where women enjoy far
Mina, a Herat resident, told Radio Free Afghanistan that her sister
recently committed suicide after returning to Afghanistan from Iran.
"Before, we lived in Iran, and we were used to the life and
environment there, which was very good. But since we returned [to
Afghanistan], to Herat, there has been a lot of pressure on us.
Before she committed suicide, my sister always said she hoped she
would never return to Afghanistan and experience the closed
atmosphere of Herat. She also had family problems. She didn't like
her fiance, but she was forced to get engaged to him," Mina said.
The rise of self-immolation among women in Herat is causing concern
among the authorities and citizens. Herat Public Television last year
broadcast a program urging husbands to treat their wives with greater
consideration. Several NGOs are also trying to address the issue.
But Virdee says these are only small steps toward solving an endemic
problem. In many cases, she says, social restrictions continue to
prevent women from seeking what little help is available.
"At the moment, although there are lots of different women's NGOs and
the department of women's affairs all trying to raise some kind of
public awareness about this issue, the problem is that women are so
restricted that for them to even get out of the house, to be able to
seek support is also sometimes very difficult," Virdee said.
Nor is the problem restricted to Herat. Female suicide through self-
immolation is common in many parts of Afghanistan and throughout all
of South Asia.
But statistics are incomplete and largely anecdotal. There is a
strong social stigma attached to suicide in Afghanistan, and many
families are reluctant to seek help for victims of self-immolation or
talk about the reasons behind the attempt.
Afghan Women, Still in Chains
February 14, 2004
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
One of the bleakest, saddest and best movies I've seen
lately is "Osama," the tale of a girl in Taliban-run
Afghanistan who risks her life by pretending to be a boy so
she can leave her house and earn money for her widowed
mother. "I wish God hadn't created women," the girl's
mother moans - and then the girl is arrested, and the movie
really gets depressing.
Americans should be proud that we took on that world and
ousted the Taliban. As President Bush declared in his 2002
State of the Union address, "The mothers and daughters of
Afghanistan were captives in their own homes. . . . Today
women are free."
But they aren't. More than two years later, many Afghan
women are still captives in their homes. Life is better in
Kabul than under the Taliban, but in many areas our
triumphalism is proving hollow. Consider these snapshots of
the new Afghanistan:
A 16-year-old girl fled her 85-year-old husband, who
married her when she was 9. She was caught and recently
sentenced to two and a half years' imprisonment.
The Afghan Supreme Court has recently banned female
singers from appearing on Afghan television, barred married
women from attending high school classes and ordered
restrictions on the hours when women can travel without a
When a man was accused of murder recently, his relatives
were obliged to settle the blood debt by handing over two
girls, ages 8 and 15, to marry men in the victim's family.
A woman in Afghanistan now dies in childbirth every 20
minutes, usually without access to even a nurse. A U.N.
survey in 2002 found that maternal mortality in the
Badakshan region was the highest ever recorded anywhere on
earth: a woman there has a 50 percent chance of dying
during one of her eight pregnancies.
In Herat, a major city, women who are found with an
unrelated man are detained and subjected to a forced
gynecological exam. At last count, according to Human
Rights Watch, 10 of these "virginity tests" were being
I strongly backed the war in Afghanistan. President Bush
oversaw a smart and decisive war, and when I strolled
through Kabul in those heady days of liberation, I was
never more proud to be an American.
Yet now I feel betrayed, as do the Afghans themselves.
There was such good will toward us, and such respect for
American military power, that with just a hint of
follow-through we could have made Afghanistan a shining
success and a lever for progress in Pakistan and Central
Asia. Instead, we lost interest in Afghanistan and moved on
Mr. Bush has refused to provide security outside Kabul. So
banditry and chaos are rampant, longtime warlords control
much of the country, the Taliban is having a resurgence in
the southeast, and the U.N. warns that "there is a palpable
risk that Afghanistan will again turn into a failed state,
this time in the hands of drug cartels and
The rise of banditry and rape, often by the Afghan security
authorities, has had a particularly devastating effect on
women. Because the roads are not safe even in daylight,
girls do not dare go to schools or their mothers to health
centers. And when women are raped, they risk being murdered
by their own families for besmirching the family honor.
"Many women and girls are essentially prisoners in their
own homes," Human Rights Watch declared. And Amnesty
International quoted an aid worker as saying: "During the
Taliban era, if a woman went to market and showed an inch
of flesh, she would have been flogged. Now she's raped."
Change in Afghanistan was never going to come overnight.
Honor killings of girls and forced early marriages are
deeply ingrained. An Afghan proverb says, "A girl should
have her first period in her husband's house and not her
But we should have started the process of change - above
all, by providing security. We missed that opportunity (but
it's still not too late). So as we celebrate Valentine's
Day and enjoy our bonbons, let's remember Afghanistan's
girls, like the one in "Osama."
Even now, in the new Afghanistan we oversee, they are being
kidnapped, raped, married against their will to old men,
denied education, subjected to virginity tests and
imprisoned in their homes. We failed them.
Acid attack on boy who 'refused sex with Muslim cleric'
Daily Telegraph, London By Massoud Ansari in Karachi
On his hospital bed last week, 16-year-old Abid Tanoli sat listless and alone, half of his body covered by burns that all but destroyed both his eyes and left his face horribly disfigured.
The teenager talked, with difficulty, of how his life had been destroyed since the fateful day in June 2002 when he refused to have sex with his teacher at a religious school in Pakistan.
The boy was horrifically injured in an acid attack after he rebuffed the Muslim cleric's sexual advances. Now, he has alarmed Pakistan's powerful religious establishment by pressing charges against his alleged assailants.
A teacher at the school, who cannot be named for legal reasons, and two of his friends are in prison awaiting trial for attempted murder and rape. All three deny the charges. A fourth alleged attacker is still at large.
It is the first such case to be brought against a Muslim cleric and threatens to expose a scandal of sex abuse within Pakistan's secretive Islamic schools.
Abid was blinded and maimed in the assault, which he says came shortly after he rejected sexual demands from the Islamic teacher at a madrassa in a crowded, lower middle-class district of Karachi. "He threatened to ruin me for life," Abid recalled, "but I didn't take him seriously. I just stopped going to the madrassa".
Abid, who was 14 at the time, told neither parents nor friends what had happened because, he said, he was ashamed. A few days later, as he played with his brothers and sister at home, he said that his religious teacher - accompanied by three associates - broke into the house, bolted the door and threw acid over him, screaming: "This should be a lesson for your life."
Abid was taken to a public hospital, where doctors told him that he would be scarred for life.
Lawyers and campaigners against sexual abuse of children say that it is not uncommon in Pakistan, especially in the segregated surroundings of the country's estimated 20,000 religious schools, but cases involving members of the clergy are rarely - if ever - exposed.
"They are either hushed up and sorted out within the confines of school, or parents are pressurised not to report the incident to the media as it would give religion a bad name," said Zia Ahmed Awan, the president of Madadgaar, a joint project of LHRLA (Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid) and Unicef, the United Nations children's fund.
Haroon Tanoli, Abid's father, met strong resistance when he tried to take up his son's case with officials at the school. He says that they offered to help him secure a cash payment from the alleged attackers, provided that he did not involve the police. Since then, he has been threatened with harsh consequences for refusing to back down.
"I despise hypocrites who sport huge beards in the name of religion and hinder the passage of justice in the name of Islam," said Mr Tanoli.
"I had a beard, and all my four sons were studying in a madrassa. However, following this incident, the first thing I did was to pull my children out of the madrassa - and shave off my beard."
Even as Abid was receiving treatment, the religious authorities pressed the hospital to discharge him. Mr Tanoli managed to get him admitted to a different hospital, where he is being treated free, although the family cannot afford an operation to save his sight.
Mr Tanoli refuses to back down, despite being offered one million rupees (£12,000) by the teacher's relations if he withdraws the charges. He has moved to a secret location for his own safety.
The Guardian -- London --Wednesday February 11 2004
Rule of the rapists
Britain and the US said war on Afghanistan would liberate women. We are
Mariam Rawi in Kabul
When the US began bombing Afghanistan on October 7 2001, the oppression of
Afghan women was used as a justification for overthrowing the Taliban
regime. Five weeks later America's first lady, Laura Bush, stated
triumphantly: "Because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan,
women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. The fight against terrorism
is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women."
However, Amnesty International paints a rather different picture: "Two years
after the ending of the Taliban regime, the international community and the
Afghan transitional administration, led by President Hamid Karzai, have
proved unable to protect women. The risk of rape and sexual violence by
members of armed factions and former combatants is still high. Forced
marriage, particularly of girl children, and violence against women in the
family are widespread in many areas of the country."
In truth, the situation of women in Afghanistan remains appalling. Though
girls and women in Kabul, and some other cities, are free to go to school
and have jobs, this is not the case in most parts of the country. In the
western province of Herat, the warlord Ismail Khan imposes Taliban-like
decrees. Many women have no access to education and are banned from working
in foreign NGOs or UN offices, and there are hardly any women in government
offices. Women cannot take a taxi or walk unless accompanied by a close male
relative. If seen with men who are not close relatives, women can be
arrested by the "special police" and forced to undergo a hospital
examination to see if they have recently had sexual intercourse. Because of
this continued oppression, every month a large number of girls commit
suicide - many more than under the Taliban.
Women's rights fare no better in northern and southern Afghanistan, which
are under the control of the Northern Alliance. One international NGO worker
told Amnesty International: "During the Taliban era, if a woman went to
market and showed an inch of flesh she would have been flogged; now she's
Even in Kabul, where thousands of foreign troops are present, Afghan women
do not feel safe, and many continue to wear the burka for protection. In
some areas where girls' education does exist, parents are afraid to allow
their daughters to take advantage of it following the burning down of
several girls' schools. Girls have been abducted on the way to school and
sexual assaults on children of both sexes are now commonplace, according to
Human Rights Watch.
In spite of its rhetoric, the Karzai government actively pursues policies
that are anti-women. Women cannot find jobs, and girls' schools often lack
the most basic materials, such as books and chairs. There is no legal
protection for women, and the older legal systems prohibit them from getting
help when they need it. Female singers are not allowed on Kabul television,
and women's songs are not played, while scenes in films of women not wearing
the hijab are censored.
The Karzai government has established a women's ministry just to throw dust
in the eyes of the international community. In reality, this ministry has
done nothing for women. There are complaints that money given to the women's
ministry by foreign NGOs has been taken by powerful warlords in the Karzai
The "war on terror" toppled the Taliban regime, but it has not removed
religious fundamentalism, which is the main cause of misery for Afghan
women. In fact, by bringing the warlords back to power, the US has replaced
one misogynist fundamentalist regime with another.
But then the US never did fight the Taliban to save Afghan women. As
recently as 2000 the Bush administration gave the Taliban $43m as a reward
for reducing the opium harvest. Now the US supports the Northern Alliance,
which was responsible for killing more than 50,000 civilians during its
bloody rule in the 1990s. Those in power today - men such as Karim Khalili,
Rabbani, Sayyaf, Fahim, Yunus Qanooni, Mohaqiq and Abdullah - were those who
imposed anti-women restrictions as soon as they took control in 1992 and
started a reign of terror throughout Afghanistan. Thousands of women and
girls were systematically raped by armed thugs, and many committed suicide
to avoid being sexually assaulted by them.
But lack of women's rights is not the only problem facing Afghanistan today.
Neither opium cultivation nor warlordism and terrorism have been uprooted.
There is no peace, stability or security. President Karzai is a prisoner
within his own government, the nominal head of a regime in which former
Northern Alliance commanders hold the real power. In such a climate, the
results of the forthcoming elections in June can easily be predicted: the
Northern Alliance will once againhijack the results to give legitimacy to
its bloody rule.
In November 2001 Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, said: "The rights
of women in Afghanistan will not be negotiable." But the women of
Afghanistan have felt with their whole bodies the dishonesty of such
statements from US and British leaders - we know that they have already
negotiated away women's rights in Afghanistan by imposing the most
treacherous warlords on the people. Their pretty speeches are made out of
political expediency rather than genuine concern.
From 1992 to 2001 Afghan women were treated as cattle by all brands of
fundamentalists, from jihadis to the Taliban. Some western writers have
tried to suggest that this oppression has its roots in Afghan traditions and
that it is disrespectful of "cultural difference" to criticise it. Yet
Afghan women themselves are not silent victims. There is resistance, but you
have to look for it, as any serious anti-fundamentalist group has to work
semi-underground. The Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan
(Rawa), which was outlawed under the Taliban, still can't open an office in
Kabul. We still can't distribute our magazine Payam-e-Zan (Women's Message)
openly. Shopkeepers are still threatened with death for stocking our
publications, and Rawa supporters have been tortured and imprisoned for
distributing them. People who are caught reading our literature are still in
Feminism does not need to be imported; it has already taken root in
Afghanistan. Long before the US bombing, progressive organisations were
trying to establish freedom, democracy, secularism and women's rights. Then,
western governments and media showed little interest in the plight of Afghan
women. When, before September 11 2001, Rawa gave footage of the execution
Zarmeena, to the BBC, CNN, ABC and others, it was told that the
footage was too shocking to broadcast. However, after September 11 these
same media organisations aired the footage repeatedly. Similarly, some of
Rawa's photographs documenting the Taliban's abuses of women were also used
- without our permission. They were reproduced as flyers and dropped by
American warplanes as they flew over Afghanistan.
This piece first appeared in New Internationalist magazine (www.newint.org)
Mariam Rawi, a member of the Revolutionary Association of Women of
Afghanistan, is writing under a pseudonym (www.rawa.org)
The Hindustan Times -- Sunday February 8 2004
India can play a great role in helping Afghan women: RAWA
Saif Shahin (HindustanTimes.com)
New Delhi, February 7
PHOTO: Despite Miss Afghanistan's success, burqa remains a necessary part of
life for most Afghan women
India can play a huge role in helping women in Afghanistan, whose lot has
actually worsened in the two years since America's "war of liberation" ended
the Taliban regime, a visiting women's rights activist has said.
"Women in India have a strong voice. They can speak about our plight on the
world fora. They can financially support Afghan women's education, health
care and the fight for their rights, for which organisations like mine are
working undercover and with limited funds," Sahar Saba, a member of the
Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) told
"Women here are also earning an increasing role in politics," she says.
"They can help pressurise the Afghanistan government, which claims to
champion women's causes but does little on the ground, into providing at
least basic rights and security to women."
RAWA has been fighting for women's rights in Afghanistan against a plethora
of changing regimes for more than 26 years now. And, according to Saba, the
fight has become still more difficult since the American war and the take
over by the Hamid Karzai government.
"The change in regime has worsened the situation," she says. "There is no
security whatsoever for women now. US-supported warlords abduct, rape and
kill young women publicly and routinely across the country. Parading a
swimsuit-clad Miss Afghanistan across the world is a sham. Most women have
no rights, no education, not even access to essential health care. Many are
still forced to wear burqas. Beating women and treating them like animals is
a part of everyday life. The 5,000-plus American troops just turn a blind
eye to everything."
Fundamentalists and warlords have been persecuting the 2,000-odd women
activists of RAWA in Afghanistan and Pakistan - who try to provide education
and health care to women and raise their awareness about their rights. "Our
demonstrations are attacked. Many members have been targeted individually,"
says Saba. "Several of our male supporters have been arrested and mistreated."
"In fact, the fundamentalists have issued a common fatwa against us ? death
by stoning," she says. "And this is not a joke ? they kill us when they can.
Fundamentalists in Pakistan, hands in glove with mullahs across the border,
killed our founding leader Meena. We are all forced to work underground.
Many of us have to change houses, at times even the town or city we live in,
due to threats."
Making a difference
In spite of the odds, RAWA has been running schools in Afghanistan and
classes for children in the refugee camps of Pakistan. It has opened two
hospitals in Pakistan, and operates "mobile health teams" in both countries.
It is also running homes for the orphans of the war, and projects like
carpet-weaving to help Afghan widows earn their living.
Saba's own example shows the difference its work has been making. As a
teenager, Saba joined one of the refugee classes in Pakistan. "I learnt
history, political science and a smattering of English there," she says.
"But the biggest learning was about my own rights as a woman, and through
watching RAWA members fight for us. I knew I had to join them when I grew
up, and I did."
Saba is today a member of RAWA's foreign affairs committee, travelling
around the world for the last three years articulating the struggle of her
organisation. But help has not been forthcoming. "Western governments have
often refused us flatly. After 9/11, when the Tablian suddenly became a
hate-figure around the world, we found everyone looking out for us, dying to
hear our issues. But when the war ended, they were gone again, and so was
their concern and their promises."
"Sadly, India too has never really shown enough interest," she says. "The
government here never pushed our case with Kabul. We have tried to come here
several times to talk about our issues, but the government always refused us
visas. Even Indian activists haven't shown much sympathy for our cause."
"But they can still help us," she says. "Women have become more prominent in
India's political and social life in recent years, and we expect more from
them. There are several women's organisations here and the consciousness of
women's rights and freedoms is growing. These are just the kind of changes
we want to see in Afghanistan."
"Even though the Pakistan government refused to recognise us or help us,
activists like Asma Jehangir and Hina Jilani have provided us a lot of
support," she says. "We have learnt a lot from their own struggle in
Pakistan. Indian women can help us similarly. We are trying to reach out to
them. But they need to come forward and hold our hand."
An important article by the doyenne of Egyptian feminist thinkers, Nawal El Saadawi
22 - 28 January 2004
An unholy alliance
International capitalism, and a resurgent religious fundamentalism, combine
to further oppress women, argues Nawal El-Saadawi
I am writing this paper sitting at my kitchen table in Cairo. It is 11
January 2004. The grey light of dawn has not yet spread over the sky. I was
awakened by the call to prayer shouted out over the sleeping city by tens of
microphones hanging from the minarets of mosques in the popular district of
Shoubra where the majority are Christian followers of the Orthodox Coptic
The number of these microphones has multiplied steadily during the past
three decades with the rapid rise in the number of mosques built with money
from the petrol rich Gulf countries or from Egyptians who have spent many
years working there. They constitute the middle and upper class conservative
backbone of the Islamic fundamentalist movement in Egypt and the Arab
countries, its main economic and political force.
The call to prayer, when I first heard it as a child, was beautiful to hear.
It wafted over the city in soft and sometimes musical tones. Now it has
become a cacophony of strident voices, a threatening call shot through with
violence. The call to prayer, the sermons and religious teachings pouring
out in an incessant stream of loud and angry voices from 90,000 microphones
spread over the country encroaching on people's right to rest and to silence
are a form of war. This is one of the many wars unleashed on millions of
peaceful people since Sadat came to power in 1971 and reopened the doors to
American neo- imperialism.
It was Sadat, in agreement with the US administration of Nixon and
Kissinger, who encouraged and supported the political movement of Islamic
fundamentalism, helped it to flourish and grow. It was Sadat who reversed
the policies of Nasser, and paved the way for the World Bank, for foreign
multi- national capital, and for Islamic fundamentalism.
He needed an internal ally, the support of a political, economic, and
cultural Islamic movement to fight against the democratic and more socially
oriented parties and movements which opposed his policies. It was in this
way that during his regime international capital, spearheaded by the US in
alliance with the ruling class, reimposed its domination on women, men and
children and paved its way under the guise of restoring the values and
practices of Islam, of Islamic traditions and of the family unit as basic to
the health and prosperity of society. The multinationals and their
intermediaries hid behind the cloak of Islam, of a revived religious
fundamentalism. This was a war on the mind of people, a campaign launched to
control and domesticate their thinking, a religious brainwashing required to
facilitate and hide what capital was planning to do with their land and with
This war on the mind is a global phenomenon. The growing influence exercised
by political fundamentalist movements is a development that has taken place
in many countries in both the East and the West.
The invasion of Iraq in 1991 led to more than 150,000 deaths, most of them
women and children. The 13 years of economic embargo enforced on that
country, mainly under American and British pressure, led to two million
deaths, most of them children and women, always the first victims of
scarcity and hunger in patriarchal societies. Continued Israeli military
aggression against civilian populations in Palestine is taking a heavy toll
on the lives and health of women and children.
To prevent women from fighting back against war and increased exploitation
their organisations must be dissolved when they arise, as has happened so
often. More effective is to prevent them from arising by draconian laws such
as the law on associations promulgated two years ago in Egypt. But perhaps
best of all is to prevent them from thinking of change, of organising for
change, of seeking ways to resist. Hence the repeated banning of books and
articles, TV programmes discussing the situation of women, criticising
religious fundamentalist thought, exposing patriarchal values and practices,
extolling democracy -- real democracy and not the electoral farce of
capitalist pluralism -- or defending the rights of women. Hence also the
vicious attacks, the accusations of apostasy, the threats of physical
assassination and the campaigns of character assassination launched against
public figures, writers, journalists or activists, whether women or men, who
dare to defend the rights of women.
It is a ferocious war waged against the minds of both women and men, but
especially women because it is only women who can liberate women and in so
doing constitute a tremendous force for the liberation of society as a
In this war women are besieged by a double pincer assault -- that of
corporate consumerism and the free market on the one hand, and religious
political fundamentalism on the other: ostensibly at odds they actually
combine to maintain the subjugation of women, to control their minds and
their bodies by patriarchal imprisonment, veiling and domestication.
In our own region, though, the most dangerous and pervasive forces in the
war on women's minds are those of political religious fundamentalism. It
serves to conceal, to perpetuate, to reinforce and to rationalise the
economic, political, social and cultural exploitation of international
corporate capital and US imperialism.
Countries like ours are described as poor or backward or Third World. We are
not poor. Arab countries are among the richest countries of the world due to
their immense natural and human resources. But their riches in labour,
mineral, fossil or other resources continue to be poured into the pipe lines
of foreign plunder by the capitalist, corporate World Bank, World Trade
Organisation free market mechanisms of unequal trade balances, foreign debt,
speculation, currency devaluation and exchange, structural adjustment and
A military and economic war, a trade in arms, in human beings, an economic
genocide continues to drain the life blood of our lands.
In Egypt poverty has increased at an alarming rate as a result of open door
free market policies, and privatisation of industry as well as of many
services. Over 40 per cent of the population, mainly women and children,
live under the poverty line of $2 a day. The feminisation of poverty is
visible everywhere. Five million women are occupied as small producers in
workshops, in services, trade etc. Their monthly income often does not
exceed $40 per month for a working day of 10 hours. Their lot is almost
always worse than that of men because they are unorganised and have little
political power or representation. They constitute only two per cent of the
members in the People's Assembly and only one per cent of the members of
local assemblies, district and village councils.
In my own life-time I have lived through seven wars and now I am the
horrified witness of Israeli massacres in Palestine and the American and
British massacres carried out by the occupation forces in Iraq. Women and
children are the weakest section of our populations, the first and the most
numerous victims of these massacres. In my village Kafr Tahla many women
continue to wear mourning for fathers, brothers, husbands or other relatives
killed in war. Many of them find it hard to feed themselves after the loss
of a bread winner.
Wars have become terribly destructive due to the development of
sophisticated technologically advanced weapons. The worst are called weapons
of mass destruction but there are so called conventional weapons which are
almost as bad (two ton bombs, laser directed one ton rockets, cluster bombs,
bombs that suck up the oxygen around them where they explode, rockets coated
with depleted uranium etc..). Nuclear, biological and chemical weapons
threaten the lives of millions of people.
Yet perhaps the most lethal and the most dangerous weapons of all are those
that brainwash, anaesthetise or paralyse the mind -- the media, the
educational systems and above all the religious fundamentalist teachings
which create a "false consciousness" among men and among women. False
consciousness makes women obedient instruments of their own oppression, and
transmitters of this false consciousness to future generations of children,
of girls and boys. It is lethal because what it does to women's minds is not
visible. Unlike physical female genital mutilation it is an invisible gender
mutilation which destroys the dynamism, the capacity to understand what is
happening, to react and resist, to change, to participate in making changes.
It destroys the essential creativity of the human mind. It instills fear,
obedience, resignation, illusions, an inability to decide or else it leads
women to make decisions, to take positions, to defend values and ideas
inimical to their own interests, to the health and development of their
life. It makes women their own enemy, incapable of discerning friend from
During the first half of January 2004 a violent conflict burst out over the
veiling of young girls in the public schools of France. The French
authorities had announced that in defence of their traditional secular
system they were preparing to pass a law which banned young girls and boys
from wearing visible religious accessories or apparel which denoted their
belonging to a particular religious faith. This ban would include such
things as the Christian crucifix, the Jewish skull-cap and the Islamic veil.
Following this announcement a wave of protests broke out in the Arab world.
The argument was that wearing the veil by girls and women who were Muslims
was ordained by divine law and no woman or girl could be forced to disobey
what Allah had commended her to do. Religious dignitaries and sheikhs,
Islamic thinkers and scholars, heads of political parties or movements like
the Muslim Brotherhood and Jihad, parliamentarians and journalists joined in
the general clamour as though some terrible catastrophe had befallen the
Islamic faith and its followers although in the Qur'an there is absolutely
nothing to indicate that the wearing of the veil is a divine command.
So why this furore over a piece of material which is wrapped around the head
of women and conceals it? Why should the head of women in particular be
considered so dangerous that it must be made to disappear?
This is no more than the age old patriarchal struggle over women's heads,
the fear that they might begin to think and throw off the bonds of slavery,
of an inferiority enforced on them in all religions and in all societies.
For the Muslim men who raised their voice in protest this was an integral
part of their struggle to maintain men's control over women, men's control
over their minds. This was above all the desire of Islamic fundamentalists
to preserve the political power they exercise in society, a cornerstone of
which has always been power over women.
But in this political fray there were other players using women's rights or
lack of rights to their own ends. Chirac had his eyes on the polls, on
future elections. The American administration raised the banner of human
rights, of women's right to choose. Bush is preparing for the next election
and also found in this conflict a suitable occasion to hit back at the
French government with which he has been at odds since the war on Iraq.
Besides, one of Bush's declared aims in waging war first against
Afghanistan, then against Iraq was "the liberation of women". The British
government took the same position, probably in an attempt to retrieve some
of Blair's lost popularity amongst many people in England, including the
Strangest of all however was the spectacle of young women in the streets of
Paris and Cairo and other cities demonstrating against the French
government's announcement in defence of their right to wear the veil, and of
God's divine commandments in defence of this symbol of their servitude. This
is a signal example of how "false consciousness" makes women enemies of
their freedom, enemies of themselves, an example of how they are used in the
political game being played by the Islamic fundamentalist movement in its
bid for power.
During the month of September 2003 I met a group of Iraqi women in New York
and was astounded when they expressed their happiness at the "liberation of
Iraq" and its occupation by American troops. Perhaps they or their families
had suffered at the hands of Saddam Hussein and his tyrannical regime but
how could they fail to realise that the Iraqi people, and with them Iraqi
women and children, would suffer at the hands of a colonial military
occupation. Was it fear, this essential component of women's subservience in
a world growing ever more violent, or was it the false ideas installed by a
media system ruled over by men like Rupert Murdoch and Silvio Berlusconi, by
the neo-fascists of the Bush era.
The slogan raised by the girls and young women who demonstrated against the
announcement made by the government of France was "the veil is a doctrine
not a symbol."
Another argument used as a part of the brain washing process is to consider
the veil an integral part of the identity of Islamic women and a reflection
of their struggle against Western imperialism, against its values, and
against the cultural invasion of the Arab and Islamic countries.
Yet in these demonstrations the young women and girls who marched in them
wearing the veil were often clothed in tight fitting jeans, their faces
covered with layers of make-up, their lips painted bright red, the lashes
around their eyes thickened black or blue with heavy mascara. They walked
along the streets swaying in high-heeled shoes, drinking out of bottles of
Coca Cola or Sprite.. Their demonstration was a proof of the link between
Western capitalist consumerism and Islamic fundamentalism, how in both money
and trade ride supreme, bend to the rule of corporate globalisation. It was
an illustration of how a "false consciousness" is shot with contradiction.
-IWPR'S AFGHAN RECOVERY REPORT, No. 102, January 27, 2004
LOYA JIRGA: ROUNDUP OF PROCEEDINGS Historic assembly produced plenty of controversy and, in the end, a brand-new constitution. By IWPR staff in Kabul and London
The approval of a new Afghan constitution took weeks of wrangling between delegates at the Loya Jirga, or Grand Assembly, and represents a compromise between various interest groups.
The 502 members of the Loya Jirga, who had been debating amendments to a draft constitution since mid-December, passed the final version on January 4.
The document sets out the basic institutions for a constitutional democracy in which Islam is accorded a central role, and in theory should make it possible to hold elections this year, as envisaged in the original Bonn agreement of December 2001.The document proscribes a strong presidential system with a two-chamber national assembly.
Observers say the new constitution could help bolster the rights of Afghan women and help resolve ethnic rivalries within the country.
Although some have expressed reservations about the way in which the document was drafted and amended - often far from the floor of the grand tent - it has been widely hailed as a step forward for Afghanistan.
IWPR carried daily updates of the proceedings and analysis of the issues raised at the Loya Jirga. Following is a round-up of events at the meeting, as covered in our reports. There are links to relevant stories.
ORGANISING THE LOYA JIRGA
The adoption of a new Afghan constitution marks the end of a long process which began on October 2002, when Karzai appointed the Independent Constitution Drafting Commission to prepare an initial draft.
A Constitutional Review Commission, set up in April 2003 to organise public involvement in the process, organised over 500 gatherings nationwide at which the constitution was discussed by around 150,000 people, giving officials a chance to gauge public opinion on the matter. Radio programmes, posters and a magazine were also produced in an effort to make the document more accessible to the general public.
After a series of delays, the draft constitution was finally presented to the Loya Jirga for debate on December 14. At this sitting, the assembly consisted of 502 delegates, 450 elected to the post and 52 appointed by the president. They met in a vast marquee on the grounds of Kabul Polytechnic.
On the first day of the sitting Sibghatullah Mujaddidi, a moderate ally of Karzai and one of the president's 52 handpicked delegates, was voted chairman. Four deputy chairpersons, including female delegate Safia Saddiqi, were also selected. (See ARR No. 85: Moderate Chosen to Chair Gathering. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_85_5_eng.txt)
The Loya Jirga was now ready to begin debating the constitution, amending and approving the draft piecemeal until all delegates approved of its content.
The assembly was broken up into ten working committees, each of which chose its own head. The committees then debated the legal provisions in private and their views were passed on to a coordinating committee whose 38 members were made up of the leaders of the working committees and their deputies, representatives from the drafting commission, observers from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the elected leadership of the Loya Jirga.
The commission had the task of formulating revised drafts of constitutional articles in light of the feedback from the working committees, and presenting them to the whole Loya Jirga assembly so they could be accepted or rejected.
RESERVATIONS ABOUT THE PREPARATIONS
A number of observers were critical of the way the Loya Jirga, and the drafting and public consultation processes leading up to it, were organised.
Some resented the enormous influence wielded by the former militia commanders and many even said the former mujahedin representatives - or "jihadis" - were so powerful that they were afraid to disagree with them. (ARR 99: Delegates, Journalists Report Threats, Intimidation. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200401_99_2_eng.txt)
One female delegate,Malalai Joya from Farah province, caused outrage on December 17 when she spoke out against the mujahedin leaders, saying many of them were war criminals who should face trial. Delegates called her a communist and an atheist - both serious insults in Afghanistan - and Mujaddidi tried to have her removed, although he later said he had simply been concerned for her safety. (See ARR No. 91: Outspoken Joya in Defiant Mood. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_91_1_eng.txt; ARR No. 90: Joya Speech Breaks Wall of Silence. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_90_1_eng.txt; and ARR No. 87 Mujahedin Denounced. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_87_1_eng.txt)
Mohammad Ashraf, a delegate from Mazar-e-Sharif, told IWPR that the way the assembly had been broken down into working groups increased the influence of the mujahedin. "I am opposed to these committees and groups," he said, "because all the jihadis stand at the top of the groups and they want to impose their beliefs on others." (See ARR 93: "Jihadi Groups Win Key Constitutional Points. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_93_1_eng.txt; ARR No. 90: Jihadi Presence Questioned. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_90_2_eng.txt; ARR No. 89: Jihadis Boycott Committee Work. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_89_1_eng.txt; ARR No. 88: Concern Jihad Chiefs Given Political Clout. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_88_1_eng.txt)
Others were unhappy that former Taleban officials were allowed to take part in the assembly, although Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission said it had no problem with this because they had been elected by the people. (See ARR No. 95: Taleban Officials Come to the Table. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_95_2_eng.txt)
Some female delegates also said they felt intimidated by the atmosphere in the assembly. (See ARR No. 88: Women Still Silenced. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_88_3_eng.txt); (ARR No. 88: Leading Female Delegate Denied Platform. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_88_4_eng.txt)
Other observers expressed reservations about the processes leading up to the Loya Jirga sitting. The International Crisis Group think-tank said the drafting process was undemocratic and favoured factions already in power. Others said the election of delegates was badly organised and there were also signs that the attempts at public consultation had been largely unsuccessful. See ARR No. 86: Election 'Cattle Market' for Delegates. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_86_7_eng.txt; ARR No. 92: Villagers: High Hopes but Few Specifics. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_92_2_eng.txt; ARR No. 90: Provincial Election Trouble. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_90_7_eng.txt)
PRAISE FOR ASSEMBLY'S ACHIEVEMENT
These expressed reservations notwithstanding, reactions to Afghanistan's new constitution have been largely positive.
While chairman Mujaddidi waxed lyrical about the "pious and beautiful" conclusion to the Loya Jirga, President Karzai said the aspirations of all Afghans had found a place in the new constitution.
"I want Afghanistan to be cleared of prejudice and hate," he said. "I want an Afghanistan in which everyone respects each other."
But he noted that there is much work still to be done. "The constitution cannot exist just on paper," he said. "The constitution will be law when it is practiced. And I will implement this law. And if I don't, remove me." UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told delegates at the ceremony that the UN was pleased with their work. "Is the constitution perfect? Probably not," he said. "Will it be criticised? I feel it will be, inside Afghanistan and outside Afghanistan. But you have every reason to be proud and see this as a new source of hope."
(See ARR No. 99: Afghans Approve a New Constitution. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200401_99_1_eng.txt; ARR 100: Against the Odds, National Unity Prevails. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200401_100_1_eng.txt)
Laying the foundations for future Afghan politics, the new constitution describes a presidential system with a two-chamber parliament, the National Assembly. The assembly consists of the Wolesi Jirga, or House of the People, whose members are elected, and Meshrano Jirga, or House of the Elders, made up of a mixture of elected and appointed representatives.
The president is directly elected and, as head of both state and government, appears to have wide-ranging powers. There will be two vice-presidents, named as running-mates when presidential candidates declare themselves. The president has to be over 40, and a Muslim.
Former king Zahir Shah is named "Father of the Nation" - a purely ceremonial title which will disappear on his death.
Whilst largely carrying this system through from the original draft, delegates added the proviso that parliamentary approval be required for the president's decisions concerning matters of state policy. It remains to be seen how this will be interpreted and whether it will hamstring the president, or prove to be a mere formality. (See ARR No. 86: President's Powers Questioned. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_86_6_eng.txt; ARR No. 86: Strong Central Government Urged. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_86_5_eng.txt)
The new constitution requires that "every effort" be made to hold the first round of parliamentary and presidential elections at the same time. In the meantime, the current government will fulfil the roles assigned to the national assembly in the constitution. This has been amended from the original draft, which required that parliamentary elections be held within a year of presidential elections.
The final document also contains a provision for a commission to oversee the implementation of the constitution itself, apparently intended to replace the Diwan-e-Aali, or High Council, a supervisory body proposed by delegates from the former mujahedin parties, or "jihadis", at an earlier stage in the proceedings.
It is not entirely clear what the alternative commission's role will be, or whether it will have the power to rule on the constitutionality of new laws - a task otherwise assigned to the Supreme Court - but its creation was an important compromise in accommodating to some extent the wishes of the mujahedin delegates. Many had feared that the proposed Diwan-e-Aali would be dominated by mujahedin leaders, giving them free rein to interpret and implement the constitution on their own terms. (See ARR No. 97: Articles Altered in Constitution. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200401_97_2_eng.txt)
ROLE OF RELIGION
Discussion of religious issues throughout the three-week sitting was heated and a number of delegates took part in a boycott on January 1. The boycotters gave a variety of reasons, though many of them were jihadi leaders or their supporters. Another group was protesting that assembly chairman Sibghatullah Mujaddidi called them atheists for suggesting that the word "Islamic" should be left out of the proposed title "The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan". (See ARR No. 97: Delegates Boycott Vote on Constitution. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200401_97_3_eng.txt)
The final document states explicitly that "The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam", thus putting the faith at the heart of the state as well as its people.
Whilst Islamic law is given an explicit place in the final draft it is, at least on the face of it, a limited role. Article 130 says that Hanafi jurisprudence - the school of Sunni law that prevails in Afghanistan - should provide a guide when no explicit laws apply. At the same time, Article 131 says Shia jurisprudence should be used in personal matters affecting the minority religious community, or when no other laws apply. (See ARR 100: Shia Make Constitutional Gains. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200401_100_3_eng.txt)
The overarching system described is a civil law system. The clergy have no official status as such, and it is also stated that, "Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of the law".
But much could depend on Article 3 - "In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the sacred Islamic beliefs and commands" - which some say could, in the hands of a conservative Supreme Court, open the back door to Sharia law. (See ARR No. 95: Islam Awarded a Greater Role in Government. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_95_3_eng.txt; ARR No. 84: Constitution Must Have Islamic Framework. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_84_3_eng.txt)
Women were far better represented in the latest Loya Jirga than at the emergency session held in June 2002, where only 200 of the 1,650 delegates were female. This time there were 100 women out of 502 members. Two female delegates were elected by assemblies of women in each of the 32 provinces, with another six representing special groups including Kuchi nomads, domestic refugees and Afghans living in Iran and Pakistan. Another five were elected in general provincial elections, in which they ran along with male candidates. A further 25 were appointed by President Hamed Karzai himself.
Women were also represented in the leadership of the Loya Jirga. Mujaddidi appointed female delegate Safia Sediqi as one of four deputy chairpersons, and two of the assembly's four secretaries were women. (See ARR No. 88: Women Still Silenced. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_88_3_eng.txt)
The final constitution produced by the Loya Jirga provides for better political representation for women in Afghanistan than they have had in the past.
The document was amended to state explicitly that the term "citizen" in the phrase "The citizens of Afghanistan have equal rights and duties before the law" applies to both men and women, an important revision in a country where women have in the past been denied civic rights.
The approved constitution also requires that the Wolesi Jirga include two female representatives from each province, compared with one per province in the original draft. This means that a minimum of 64 of the lower house's' 250 members will be female. At just over 25 per cent, this is higher than in most Western democracies.
The final draft makes no mention of gender in the qualifications necessary to be president and, in places, makes it quite clear that in theory a woman can fill the role. Massouda Jalal, who stood for the presidency during the 2002 Emergency Loya Jirga, has said she intends to run again in the next round of presidential elections.
Besides allowing Afghan women greater political representation, it is hoped the new constitution will also safeguard them against a number of controversial traditional practices.
Article 54, which is primarily concerned with the family, says the state should strive to eliminate traditions which are contrary to Islam. This could be used to outlaw forced marriage and the practice of paying for brides. (See ARR No. 87: Forced Marriage Ban Possible. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_87_2_eng.txt; ARR No. 95: Women Would Gain Constitutional Protections. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_95_4_eng.txt)
The rights and demands of Afghanistan's constituent ethnic groups proved contentious throughout the Loya Jirga discussions.
Following a particularly bad period of stalemate which concluded with a walkout, Mujaddidi formed a working group - made up of three representatives from each province and the leaders of the ten Loya Jirga committees - which he hoped would help resolve some of the most controversial sticking points.
But the group's discussions collapsed into a series of bitter shouting matches over a range of questions, including the language to be used for the national anthem and the suggestion that Pashtu should be given elevated status as Afghanistan's "national language". (See ARR No. 97: Loya Jirga Falls into Disarray. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200401_97_1_eng.txt)
The original draft of the constitution said simply that the national anthem should be in Pashtu. But some delegates argued it should be sung in a variety of languages and a number even took part in the boycott on voting on January 1 because of the issue. As a compromise, it was eventually agreed that the anthem should be in Pashtu only - but would include the names of all the ethnic groups of Afghanistan and the Muslim phrase "Allahu Akbar" - "God is great" - associated in this context with ex-mujahedin groups.
Other delegates took part in the boycott on January 1 because they felt so strongly that Pashtu should be named the national language of Afghanistan, but that argument was eventually dropped after Pashtu delegates met on January 4 and their leaders persuaded the rank-and-file to withdraw the demand for the sake of compromise.
Besides the issue of a national language, arguments raged around the question of which should be named "official languages", to be used in government communications. Where the original draft named Dari and Pashtu, it was eventually concluded that six further languages including Uzbek, widely spoken in the north, should also be official in the areas where they are most widely spoken.
The northern leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum was influential in promoting language rights for the Uzbeks - his own group - and the related Turkmen. President Karzai said that in return, Dostum had agreed to allow thousands of Pashtuns who have been displaced from their homes in the north over the past two years to return, and to free hundreds of Taleban prisoners in his hometown of Shiberghan. (See ARR No. 86: Uzbeks Want Their Language Official http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200312_86_4_eng.txt; ARR No. 99: Afghans Approve a New Constitution. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200401_99_1_eng.txt; ARR 100 Compromises Anger Delegates. http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200401_100_2_eng.txt)
Compiled by Mike Farquhar, an editorial intern with IWPR in London. The report is drawn from material gathered by the Loya Jirga reporting team in Kabul.
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The Daily Times - Pakistan -- Saturday January 24 2004
Honour killings blot the face of Pakistani society
By Shahnawaz Khan
LAHORE: An honour killing is a murder of a woman accused of or actually
involved with a man, or one whose behaviour is perceived as immoral. This
happens when one or more male relatives suspect or note that the woman is a
blot on the face of the family for her perceived illegal sexual activity.
Honour killings are the result of infidelity, flirting or other instances
perceived as a family disgrace and the woman is killed by a male relative
for the sake of their family's prestige and honour in the community. This is
most often practiced in tribal areas, but cities are also caught up in this
Many women are killed on assumed suspicions and are not given the chance to
defend themselves. The allegation alone is seen to defile the family's
dignity and, therefore, is enough to justify an honour killing. These
murders are committed in obstinacy and in most case the culprits go
unpunished, sometimes by courts of law.
During year 2003 around 1,261 cases of honour killings were reported with
938 committed against women and 323 against males. Of a total 1,261 cases of
violent crimes related to so-called honour, 94 were reported in January, 82
in February, 120 in March, 92 in April, 148 in May, 135 in June, 86 in July,
170 in August, 107 in September, 106 in October, 53 in November and 68 in
According to a human rights report, published in March 1999, honour killings
claimed the lives of about 888 women alone in Punjab alone. The Human Rights
Commission of Pakistan said 300 women were killed in Sindh in 1997.
Well-known human rights activist Hina Jillani said, "Those who kill for
honour in Pakistan are almost never punished. In rare instances these cases
reach courts and the killers are sentenced for just two or three years."
Shazia Shaheen, another human rights activist, from non-government
organisation (NGO) ASR Resource Center, said poverty was the root factor in
honour killings. She said a poor man had nothing to hold onto except his
respect, and if it got blown by a family member, it was seen as inseparable.
"Further the man is left with no choice and finds the right to slay a person
in the name of saving his honour," she added.
Kid Slaves Break Back in Pakistan's Labor Camps
Tue Jan 20, 6:55 AM ET
Ahmad Naeem Khan, OneWorld South Asia
LAHORE, Jan 20 (OneWorld) - Thousands of innocent people, including
hundreds of young children, are subjected to unspeakable torture in
slave camps in the lawless tribal areas of Balochistan province and
the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, bordering
"Kidnapped children are kept in fetters and forced to break rocks and
work in road and bridge construction," says 39-year-old Zakir Hussain
who escaped and arrived home after 29 years in a Balochistan camp.
Hussain maintains that many of these camps, commonly called Kharkar
Camps, in remote and inaccessible areas of far-flung Pakistan are run
in collusion with local law-enforcing agencies.
Still in a state of shock, Hussain gives details about the slave
camp, which he says had 250 girls and 500 boys.
"Girls and women are sold in the flesh markets of Afghanistan and
Pakistan. Among them was the daughter of a police officer of the
southern Punjab city of Bahawalpur. The 25-year-old, attempted to
flee twice but failed," narrates Hussain.
Hussain's harrowing tale began in 1976 when he went to the Pakistani
port city of Karachi with a mason Allah Bakhsh Awan to find work.
Awan sold him to a trafficker from the tribal area who took him to
Naushki, a remote town in Balochistan.
Imprisoned in a bonded labor camp, Hussain was chained to a
donkey. "Later I was forced to crush stones for the construction of a
road near Quetta, the provincial capital," he says.
It was a Dickensenian nightmare from the start. "The inmates had to
work 12 hours and were served only once a day - bread and pickle,"
"To prevent us from escaping, the traffickers put some kind of drops
in our eyes before going to bed, rendering us blind for the entire
night," he says.
Torture was routine and inmates were subjected to electric shocks to
blunt their memory. Tongues were chopped off so that the inmates
would not communicate.
"When an inmate died, they removed his kidneys and threw the body to
wild animals," Hussain shivers as he speaks of the horrifying
incidents. "The punishment for escape was death."
Hussain was lucky. He fled the camp along with seven others, but four
were shot dead by the captors. He walked barefoot for 16 days to
reach the Afghan-Pakistan border town of Chaman where the border
militia detained him and gave him warm clothes.
He was shifted to Quetta where he was handed over to a police
inspector. The officer, Riaz Shah, who belongs to Faisalabad in
Punjab province, sent him to his hometown of Khanewal in southern
"Kharkar Camps are slave labor camps where kidnapped children are
housed and trained as human zombies to perform odd jobs," laments the
secretary-general of the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL),
Three categories of persons are involved in the trade - the
kidnappers, the go-betweens and the camp-manager. "The kidnappers
sell the children to the go-betweens, who sell them to the camp-
managers where children are trained and used as slave labor," Malik
In theory, all bonded laborers should have been freed under the
Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, 1992 and those responsible for
keeping them in bondage should have been prosecuted.
But in practice, the political and financial strength of tribal lords
in Balochistan and NWFP allows them to continue using bonded laborers
with impunity, feels legal expert Naveed Saeed Khan.
He adds that such camps exist because the writ of the federal and
provincial government is weak in semi-autonomous tribal regions.
According to NCCL data, over 15,000 children are lost every year and
at least 2,000 of them are victims of kidnappers. Malik says, "These
children are between ages five-15. Kidnappers prowl the low-income
and working-class localities and lure children from their homes and
Of the 600 inquiries made by NCCL regarding lost children, the police
responded only in 189 cases, which shows the callous attitude of the
administration Malik says.
A senior police official put the blame squarely on parents. He says
people do not report cases of missing children on time because they
try to find the children on their own, which gives kidnappers ample
time to flee with their prey.
Malik adds, "Many children are in labor camps for so long that they
forget their addresses which makes it difficult to re-unite them with
Psychologist and social activist Nadeem Malik says joint efforts by
parents and authorities could save thousands of children from the
agony of Kharkar Camps. His advice, "Surveillance by parents and
rapid police reaction to kidnapping complaints is necessary."
DAWN REVIEW -- Pakistan
Sunday January 18, 2004--
Health for all but mothers
By Hina Shahid
Maternal morbidity is depriving the country of a prosperous future. And
nobody seems to be bothered by it.
The thin jute curtain was about to fall as a bunch of half-naked kids clung
to it. It was getting dark outside and yet, nobody called them inside. Pale
and feeble, the bodies of these children were missing the touch of their
"Our men do not have any entertainment outlets," Rafia noted
tongue-in-cheek. "They are frustrated by lack of interaction, and of course,
we are not supposed to oppose attempts by men to approach physically."
Rafia, holding a two-month-old baby girl of her sister-in-law, who died
recently during delivery at Jinnah Post-Graduate Hospital, Karachi, seemed
to have a point there.
Forty-year-old Rafia herself is a mother of 10 children. And managing all of
them is quite a task. She lives in a one-room house in one of the
shantytowns of the country. It's a typical case where hunger, poverty and
little choices to survive, have become the fate of the women living in
Third-World countries. A large number of urban and rural under-privileged
Pakistani women suffer from multiple factors of mortality; they are
undernourished, illiterate and forced into early childhood marriages.
There are approximately 32 million women in the reproductive age group
(15-49 years). Majority of them belong to poor families. An estimated four
to five million births occur annually with eight to nine babies born every
minute. The maternal death rate per 100,000 live births is 300 to 600. That
means that in Pakistan, one woman dies every 20 minutes, or one in 38.
Compare this to one in 230 in Sri Lanka, one in 5100 in the United Kingdom
and one in 6000 in Sweden and you'll get a clear picture of where we stand.
The causes of such a high count are delay in medical aid, anaemia, blood
pressure, infections, ruptures in uterus, sepsis, unskilled attendant,
absence of emergencies in rural areas and unavailability of equipments,
financial constraints, etc.
According to reports, about 25 per cent of all babies born are of low birth
weight i.e. less than 2.5kg. Every year, 400,000 - 500,000 babies are either
born dead or die within the first week of birth. Discrimination against girl
child from birth, preference for a male child, inadequate breast-feeding,
early marriages, high fertility rates, poor birthing methods, poor ante and
postnatal services are the problems that women face in this region. Some 13
million under-5 children die each year in the developing countries. And
seven million of these pre-natal deaths are not only due to problems during
pregnancy and labour, but due to poor health status of the mother.Our
gynaecology departments in different government and private hospitals take
the cases very casually, as they say bearing a baby is a natural process and
it can take place anywhere anytime.
"My mother had never used contraceptives or visited any family planning
clinic. She always said that it is God's wish. So, how can I be thankless,"
said 20-year-old Sajida, who somehow did not want to admit it, but seemed
all too worried about her nine sisters and four brothers. Her mother expired
during the birth of her 14th baby. The father of those kids works as a
labourer from early morning till late evening, to feed his huge family. A
large percentage of such men depends on alcoholic liquids, charas and other
contrabands to escape the harsh realities of life.
Most of the families living in slums comprise of five to six children, who
never have access to education, proper health facilities and nutrition. A
rural girl-child is perennially neglected and overworked. She bears
children, prepares food, searches for fodder, collects fuel and shares the
burden of working in the fields. The socio-cultural practices force the
families to have births at home. In many cases, from the medical point of
view most of the deaths are preventable, if only these people manage to
reach the hospital in time. All this would have been possible if effective
maternity services existed in all large population centres and had a link
with a tertiary care service.
Pakistan is now the 5th most populated country in the world, with an
estimated population of 140 million. Pakistan is a male-dominated society.
Our females are living under some of the worst conditions, nearly as bad as
in Sudan, where according to reports, the nastiest living conditions
prevail. These conditions are the result of more than two decades of war and
traditional inequality prevalent due to callous power structure.
"We are poised on the threshold of the 21st century. Modern knowledge
concerning genetics, immunology and endocrinology, is available to most of
the developing and the Third-World countries. But in this age of high
technology, majority of our population is deprived of the basic needs", this
was stated by Prof. Dr Sadiqua Jafery, who is the president and also the
founder member of the National Committee on Maternal Health.
This committee was formed during the era of ex-Prime Minister, Benazir
Bhutto. It also works as an extended arm of the federal government. The
committee has prepared a manual on Emergency Obstetric Care, and Unicef
funds the project. World Health Organization (Who) is working with
authorities in China, Myammar, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos and the Philippines
to implement the use of contraceptives to curb HIV/Aids.
Most of our people, whether urban or rural, do not have a proper knowledge
of these safe techniques, that are necessary to avoid complications and
risks. Though the media campaign was launched years ago by the National
Health Ministry to somehow arrest the alarming population growth, lack of
education and illogical approach of the traditionally superstitious natives
has been the cause of the failure of the drive.
Induced abortions are common in our society, one that many doctors,
midwives, skilled and unskilled nurses do undertake such risks of life. Less
than 30 per cent married women use contraceptives and just 54 per cent of
the pregnant women are fully immunized against tetanus. Some 95 per cent of
births take place at home that are attended by untrained and illiterate
traditional birth attendants.
Recently in China, the population policies that encourage rural couples to
limit themselves to two children have increased the female fetus abortions,
as they do not want a female child. Which means that in the coming 20 years
of so, there will be a situation where millions of young Chinese men will be
unable to marry because of lack of women!
The government has signed CEDAW and CRC, and is committed to "Health for
All" and "Education for All". Yet we are nowhere near the targets that
should have been achieved. President Musharraf has announced a training
programme for the midwives, called a National Community Midwives Program
(NCMP). Still, the demographic pointers do not display a very encouraging
picture. The less-privileged of the society feel that the government, at any
cost, must help them get economic assistance, health care, education and
The practice of purdah, or seclusion makes it difficult for women to access
services outside home and it is difficult for female health workers to
travel alone or in the company of men in certain areas of the country. The
change in concepts and attitudes is required, and that can only come through
education of the entire society, both men and women.
According to the doctors of government hospitals, patients who live near the
hospitals do not reach in time. This is, of course, due to the combination
of social and economic factors. Accountability for saving women's lives must
be strengthened through institutionalization. Professional and support
personnel must uphold women's right to pride and self-worth. Mobilization
and community-based development projects are needed to help poor survive the
difficult conditions and gain resources and opportunities. Orientation and
training of all birth attendants; development of a strong system of referral
to our hospital, and information, education and communication (IEC)
programmes are badly needed. A countrywide drive should be launched to avoid
high number of teen pregnancies, and at the same time, deficiencies should
be removed in order to provide effective support to health system and access
to Emergency Obstetric.
Perhaps not quite about our main subject, but what Arundhati has to say can only be of the greatest possible interest The Hindu - Sunday January 18 2004
Do turkeys enjoy thanksgiving?
By Arundhati Roy
It's not good enough to be right. Sometimes, if only in order to test our
resolve, it's important to win something. In order to win something, we need
to agree on something." After a tour d'horizon, the author of The God of
Small Things calls for a " minimum agenda" as well as a plan of action that
prioritises global resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Here is the
text of her speech at the opening Plenary of the World Social Forum in
Mumbai on January 16, 2004:
LAST JANUARY thousands of us from across the world gathered in Porto Allegre
in Brazil and declared reiterated that "Another World is Possible". A
few thousand miles north, in Washington, George Bush and his aides were
thinking the same thing.
Our project was the World Social Forum. Theirs to further what many call
The Project for the New American Century.
In the great cities of Europe and America, where a few years ago these
things would only have been whispered, now people are openly talking about
the good side of Imperialism and the need for a strong Empire to police an
unruly world. The new missionaries want order at the cost of justice.
Discipline at the cost of dignity. And ascendancy at any price. Occasionally
some of us are invited to `debate' the issue on `neutral' platforms provided
by the corporate media. Debating Imperialism is a bit like debating the pros
and cons of rape. What can we say? That we really miss it?
In any case, New Imperialism is already upon us. It's a remodelled,
streamlined version of what we once knew. For the first time in history, a
single Empire with an arsenal of weapons that could obliterate the world in
an afternoon has complete, unipolar, economic and military hegemony. It uses
different weapons to break open different markets. There isn't a country on
God's earth that is not caught in the cross hairs of the American cruise
missile and the IMF chequebook. Argentina's the model if you want to be the
poster-boy of neoliberal capitalism, Iraq if you're the black sheep.
Poor countries that are geo-politically of strategic value to Empire, or
have a `market' of any size, or infrastructure that can be privatized, or,
god forbid, natural resources of value oil, gold, diamonds, cobalt, coal
must do as they're told, or become military targets. Those with the greatest
reserves of natural wealth are most at risk. Unless they surrender their
resources willingly to the corporate machine, civil unrest will be fomented,
or war will be waged. In this new age of Empire, when nothing is as it
appears to be, executives of concerned companies are allowed to influence
foreign policy decisions. The Centre for Public Integrity in Washington
found that nine out of the 30 members of the Defence Policy Board of the
U.S. Government were connected to companies that were awarded defence
contracts for $ 76 billion between 2001 and 2002. George Shultz, former U.S.
Secretary of State, was Chairman of the Committee for the Liberation of
Iraq. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Bechtel Group. When asked
about a conflict of interest, in the case of a war in Iraq he said, " I
don't know that Bechtel would particularly benefit from it. But if there's
work to be done, Bechtel is the type of company that could do it. But nobody
looks at it as something you benefit from." After the war, Bechtel signed a
$680 million contract for reconstruction in Iraq.
This brutal blueprint has been used over and over again, across Latin
America, Africa, Central and South-East Asia. It has cost millions of lives.
It goes without saying that every war Empire wages becomes a Just War. This,
in large part, is due to the role of the corporate media. It's important to
understand that the corporate media doesn't just support the neo-liberal
project. It is the neo-liberal project. This is not a moral position it has
chosen to take, it's structural. It's intrinsic to the economics of how the
mass media works.
Most nations have adequately hideous family secrets. So it isn't often
necessary for the media to lie. It's what's emphasised and what's ignored.
Say for example India was chosen as the target for a righteous war. The fact
that about 80,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since 1989, most of
them Muslim, most of them by Indian Security Forces (making the average
death toll about 6000 a year); the fact that less than a year ago, in March
of 2003, more than two thousand Muslims were murdered on the streets of
Gujarat, that women were gang-raped and children were burned alive and a
150,000 people driven from their homes while the police and administration
watched, and sometimes actively participated; the fact that no one has been
punished for these crimes and the Government that oversaw them was
re-elected ... all of this would make perfect headlines in international
newspapers in the run-up to war.
Next we know, our cities will be levelled by cruise missiles, our villages
fenced in with razor wire, U.S. soldiers will patrol our streets and,
Narendra Modi, Pravin Togadia or any of our popular bigots could, like
Saddam Hussein, be in U.S. custody, having their hair checked for lice and
the fillings in their teeth examined on prime-time TV.
But as long as our `markets' are open, as long as corporations like Enron,
Bechtel, Halliburton, Arthur Andersen are given a free hand, our
`democratically elected' leaders can fearlessly blur the lines between
democracy, majoritarianism and fascism.
Our government's craven willingness to abandon India's proud tradition of
being Non-Aligned, its rush to fight its way to the head of the queue of the
Completely Aligned (the fashionable phrase is `natural ally' India, Israel
and the U.S. are `natural allies'), has given it the leg room to turn into a
repressive regime without compromising its legitimacy.
A government's victims are not only those that it kills and imprisons. Those
who are displaced and dispossessed and sentenced to a lifetime of starvation
and deprivation must count among them too. Millions of people have been
dispossessed by `development' projects. In the past 55 years, Big Dams alone
have displaced between 33 million and 55 million people in India. They have
no recourse to justice.
In the last two years there has been a series of incidents when police have
opened fire on peaceful protestors, most of them Adivasi and Dalit. When it
comes to the poor, and in particular Dalit and Adivasi communities, they get
killed for encroaching on forest land, and killed when they're trying to
protect forest land from encroachments by dams, mines, steel plants and
other `development' projects. In almost every instance in which the police
opened fire, the government's strategy has been to say the firing was
provoked by an act of violence. Those who have been fired upon are
immediately called militants.
Across the country, thousands of innocent people including minors have been
arrested under POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and are being held in jail
indefinitely and without trial. In the era of the War against Terror,
poverty is being slyly conflated with terrorism. In the era of corporate
globalisation, poverty is a crime. Protesting against further impoverishment
is terrorism. And now, our Supreme Court says that going on strike is a
crime. Criticising the court of course is a crime, too. They're sealing the
Like Old Imperialism, New Imperialism too relies for its success on a
network of agents corrupt, local elites who service Empire. We all know
the sordid story of Enron in India. The then Maharashtra Government signed a
power purchase agreement which gave Enron profits that amounted to sixty per
cent of India's entire rural development budget. A single American company
was guaranteed a profit equivalent to funds for infrastructural development
for about 500 million people!
Unlike in the old days the New Imperialist doesn't need to trudge around the
tropics risking malaria or diahorrea or early death. New Imperialism can be
conducted on e-mail. The vulgar, hands-on racism of Old Imperialism is
outdated. The cornerstone of New Imperialism is New Racism.
The tradition of `turkey pardoning' in the U.S. is a wonderful allegory for
New Racism. Every year since 1947, the National Turkey Federation presents
the U.S. President with a turkey for Thanksgiving. Every year, in a show of
ceremonial magnanimity, the President spares that particular bird (and eats
another one). After receiving the presidential pardon, the Chosen One is
sent to Frying Pan Park in Virginia to live out its natural life. The rest
of the 50 million turkeys raised for Thanksgiving are slaughtered and eaten
on Thanksgiving Day. ConAgra Foods, the company that has won the
Presidential Turkey contract, says it trains the lucky birds to be sociable,
to interact with dignitaries, school children and the press. (Soon they'll
even speak English!)
That's how New Racism in the corporate era works. A few carefully bred
turkeys the local elites of various countries, a community of wealthy
immigrants, investment bankers, the occasional Colin Powell, or Condoleezza
Rice, some singers, some writers (like myself) are given absolution and a
pass to Frying Pan Park. The remaining millions lose their jobs, are evicted
from their homes, have their water and electricity connections cut, and die
of AIDS. Basically they're for the pot. But the Fortunate Fowls in Frying
Pan Park are doing fine. Some of them even work for the IMF and the WTO so
who can accuse those organisations of being anti-turkey? Some serve as board
members on the Turkey Choosing Committee so who can say that turkeys are
against Thanksgiving? They participate in it! Who can say the poor are
anti-corporate globalisation? There's a stampede to get into Frying Pan
Park. So what if most perish on the way?
Part of the project of New Racism is New Genocide. In this new era of
economic interdependence, New Genocide can be facilitated by economic
sanctions. It means creating conditions that lead to mass death without
actually going out and killing people. Dennis Halliday, the U.N.
humanitarian coordinator in Iraq between '97 and '98 (after which he
resigned in disgust), used the term genocide to describe the sanctions in
Iraq. In Iraq the sanctions outdid Saddam Hussein's best efforts by claiming
more than half a million children's lives.
In the new era, Apartheid as formal policy is antiquated and unnecessary.
International instruments of trade and finance oversee a complex system of
multilateral trade laws and financial agreements that keep the poor in their
Bantustans anyway. Its whole purpose is to institutionalise inequity. Why
else would it be that the U.S. taxes a garment made by a Bangladeshi
manufacturer 20 times more than it taxes a garment made in the U.K.? Why
else would it be that countries that grow 90 per cent of the world's cocoa
bean produce only 5 per cent of the world's chocolate? Why else would it be
that countries that grow cocoa bean, like the Ivory Coast and Ghana, are
taxed out of the market if they try and turn it into chocolate? Why else
would it be that rich countries that spend over a billion dollars a day on
subsidies to farmers demand that poor countries like India withdraw all
agricultural subsidies, including subsidised electricity? Why else would it
be that after having been plundered by colonising regimes for more than half
a century, former colonies are steeped in debt to those same regimes, and
repay them some $ 382 billion a year?
For all these reasons, the derailing of trade agreements at Cancun was
crucial for us. Though our governments try and take the credit, we know that
it was the result of years of struggle by many millions of people in many,
many countries. What Cancun taught us is that in order to inflict real
damage and force radical change, it is vital for local resistance movements
to make international alliances. From Cancun we learned the importance of
No individual nation can stand up to the project of Corporate Globalisation
on its own. Time and again we have seen that when it comes to the
neo-liberal project, the heroes of our times are suddenly diminished.
Extraordinary, charismatic men, giants in Opposition, when they seize power
and become Heads of State, they become powerless on the global stage. I'm
thinking here of President Lula of Brazil. Lula was the hero of the World
Social Forum last year. This year he's busy implementing IMF guidelines,
reducing pension benefits and purging radicals from the Workers' Party. I'm
thinking also of ex-President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Within two
years of taking office in 1994, his government genuflected with hardly a
caveat to the Market God. It instituted a massive programme of privatisation
and structural adjustment, which has left millions of people homeless,
jobless and without water and electricity.
Why does this happen? There's little point in beating our breasts and
feeling betrayed. Lula and Mandela are, by any reckoning, magnificent men.
But the moment they cross the floor from the Opposition into Government they
become hostage to a spectrum of threats most malevolent among them the
threat of capital flight, which can destroy any government overnight. To
imagine that a leader's personal charisma and a c.v. of struggle will dent
the Corporate Cartel is to have no understanding of how Capitalism works, or
for that matter, how power works. Radical change will not be negotiated by
governments; it can only be enforced by people.
This week at the World Social Forum, some of the best minds in the world
will exchange ideas about what is happening around us. These conversations
refine our vision of the kind of world we're fighting for. It is a vital
process that must not be undermined. However, if all our energies are
diverted into this process at the cost of real political action, then the
WSF, which has played such a crucial role in the Movement for Global
Justice, runs the risk of becoming an asset to our enemies. What we need to
discuss urgently is strategies of resistance. We need to aim at real
targets, wage real battles and inflict real damage. Gandhi's Salt March was
not just political theatre. When, in a simple act of defiance, thousands of
Indians marched to the sea and made their own salt, they broke the salt tax
laws. It was a direct strike at the economic underpinning of the British
Empire. It was real. While our movement has won some important victories, we
must not allow non-violent resistance to atrophy into ineffectual,
feel-good, political theatre. It is a very precious weapon that needs to be
constantly honed and re-imagined. It cannot be allowed to become a mere
spectacle, a photo opportunity for the media.
It was wonderful that on February 15th last year, in a spectacular display
of public morality, 10 million people in five continents marched against the
war on Iraq. It was wonderful, but it was not enough. February 15th was a
weekend. Nobody had to so much as miss a day of work. Holiday protests don't
stop wars. George Bush knows that. The confidence with which he disregarded
overwhelming public opinion should be a lesson to us all. Bush believes that
Iraq can be occupied and colonised as Afghanistan has been, as Tibet has
been, as Chechnya is being, as East Timor once was and Palestine still is.
He thinks that all he has to do is hunker down and wait until a
crisis-driven media, having picked this crisis to the bone, drops it and
moves on. Soon the carcass will slip off the best-seller charts, and all of
us outraged folks will lose interest. Or so he hopes.
This movement of ours needs a major, global victory. It's not good enough to
be right. Sometimes, if only in order to test our resolve, it's important to
win something. In order to win something, we all of us gathered here and a
little way away at Mumbai Resistance need to agree on something. That
something does not need to be an over-arching pre-ordained ideology into
which we force-fit our delightfully factious, argumentative selves. It does
not need to be an unquestioning allegiance to one or another form of
resistance to the exclusion of everything else. It could be a minimum agenda.
If all of us are indeed against Imperialism and against the project of
neo-liberalism, then let's turn our gaze on Iraq. Iraq is the inevitable
culmination of both. Plenty of anti-war activists have retreated in
confusion since the capture of Saddam Hussein. Isn't the world better off
without Saddam Hussein? they ask timidly.
Let's look this thing in the eye once and for all. To applaud the U.S.
army's capture of Saddam Hussein and therefore, in retrospect, justify its
invasion and occupation of Iraq is like deifying Jack the Ripper for
disembowelling the Boston Strangler. And that after a quarter century
partnership in which the Ripping and Strangling was a joint enterprise. It's
an in-house quarrel. They're business partners who fell out over a dirty
deal. Jack's the CEO.
So if we are against Imperialism, shall we agree that we are against the
U.S. occupation and that we believe that the U.S. must withdraw from Iraq
and pay reparations to the Iraqi people for the damage that the war has
How do we begin to mount our resistance? Let's start with something really
small. The issue is not about supporting the resistance in Iraq against the
occupation or discussing who exactly constitutes the resistance. (Are they
old Killer Ba'athists, are they Islamic Fundamentalists?)
We have to become the global resistance to the occupation.
Our resistance has to begin with a refusal to accept the legitimacy of the
U.S. occupation of Iraq. It means acting to make it materially impossible
for Empire to achieve its aims. It means soldiers should refuse to fight,
reservists should refuse to serve, workers should refuse to load ships and
aircraft with weapons. It certainly means that in countries like India and
Pakistan we must block the U.S. government's plans to have Indian and
Pakistani soldiers sent to Iraq to clean up after them.
I suggest that at a joint closing ceremony of the World Social Forum and
Mumbai Resistance, we choose, by some means, two of the major corporations
that are profiting from the destruction of Iraq. We could then list every
project they are involved in. We could locate their offices in every city
and every country across the world. We could go after them. We could shut
them down. It's a question of bringing our collective wisdom and experience
of past struggles to bear on a single target. It's a question of the desire
The Project For The New American Century seeks to perpetuate inequity and
establish American hegemony at any price, even if it's apocalyptic. The
World Social Forum demands justice and survival.
For these reasons, we must consider ourselves at war.
The Washington Post January 16, 2004
For Afghan Women, Supreme Injustices
by JESSICA NEUWIRTH, President of Equality Now based in New York
In his Jan. 6 op-ed column, "Afghanistan's Milestone," Zalmay
Khalilzad noted the role of women in the constitutional process in
Afghanistan. The new constitution articulates the equal rights of men
and women before the law, but reality and vision diverge.
The courts in Afghanistan will be instrumental in determining whether
the constitutional provision on equality is enforced. Yet the chief
justice of the supreme court, Sheik Hadi Shinwari, appointed by
President Hamid Karzai, has restored many of the Taliban measures of
gender oppression. Afghan women are in jail for the "crime" of running
away from home to escape sexual abuse or forced marriage, according to
a lawyers association for Afghan women. Legal measures passed or
upheld by President Karzai's administration ban married women from
high school classes, restrict women's travel without the company of a
male guardian and prohibit women from singing in public.
The constitutional provision on equality requires the elimination of
these and many other legal provisions, provisions that the country's
chief justice has been instrumental in creating, upholding and
defending. Unless a new chief justice is appointed, the new
constitution will be no more than a symbolic victory for women.
The Sydney Morning Herald -- Monday January 5 2004
(reprint from Los Angeles Times) Shapiray's burqa says it all for Afghan women and notions of freedom
Post-Taliban, Islamic fundmentalists are reasserting their power, especially
over females, writes Meena Nanji.
At the convention of the "loya jirga", or grand assembly, to debate
Afghanistan's new constitution, an extraordinary thing happened. Malalai
Joya, a 25-year-old female social worker from the rural province of Farah,
stood up and said what no one else had dared say: that many of the jirga's
committee chairmen were criminals. Instead of being given influential
positions, they should be tried for their crimes. The actions Joya referred
to were committed by Islamic fundamentalists - mujahideen, or holy warriors
- from 1992 to 1996 and included widespread rocket shellings, torture, rape
and mass killings of civilians.
Joya's impassioned plea was particularly daring in Afghanistan. Although the
United States and the United Nations hailed the defeat of the Taliban as a
"liberation" for the Afghan people, the reality is otherwise - especially
for women. Most people are afraid to speak against those in power for fear
of retribution. Joya is under UN protection after receiving death threats.
US support of fundamentalists in powerful positions has left Afghanistan's
dreams of freedom dashed, and women far from liberated.
Last; year I visited Kabul to finish shooting a documentary about Afghan
women. One of the women I followed, Shapiray, had returned to Kabul from a
Pakistani refugee camp, where she stayed after fleeing the Taliban in 1998.
Shapiray's circumstances exemplify the many difficulties women still face.
She teaches in a small girls' school near her home, about 60 kilometres from
Kabul. Walking to and from the school, she wears the traditional burqa, the
head-to-toe garment. She doesn't wear it out of religious duty, but as a
protective measure; she is fearful of public humiliation and physical attack
at the hands of armed Northern Alliance mujahideen who rule her area.
The mujahideen do not approve of women leading any part of their lives in
public, and harshly intimidate those who think differently. Except for going
to work, Shapiray does not leave her home. Shopping for groceries is done by
her husband. Increased opportunities for education, health care and
employment for women are largely restricted to Kabul, where women have some
measure of independence and security due to the presence of international
In the rest of the country, however, where US-tolerated regional warlords
hold power, opportunities are severely limited. The UN and international
human rights groups recently released reports detailing widespread beatings,
kidnappings and rape by these warlords and their militias. Several girls'
schools have been set on fire.
Women's rights are under attack even in the courts. This is largely due to
President Hamid Karzai's appointment of Fazal Hadi Shinwari as chief justice
of the Supreme Court. In violation of the constitution, Shinwari is over the
age limit and has training only in religious, not secular, law. He is an
ally of the pro-Wahhabi, Saudi-backed fundamentalist leader Ustad Abdul
Rasul Sayyaf, who is a committee chairman in the loya jirga.
Shinwari has packed the Supreme Court with sympathetic mullahs, called for
Taliban-style punishments and brought back the Taliban's dreaded Ministry
for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, renamed the Ministry of
Haj and Religious Affairs. It deploys squads to stop public displays of
"un-Islamic" behaviour among Afghan women.
The litany of laws passed this year to govern women's conduct reads like a
page out of the Taliban handbook. They include the banning of co-educational
classes; restrictions on a woman's ability to travel by limiting the time
she can be without a "mahram", a male relative or husband; and forbidding
women to sing in public. The biggest blow to women's rights was dealt in
November when a 1970s law prohibiting married women from attending high
school classes was upheld. This is a serious step backward for women and
girls because many underage girls - some as young as nine - are forced into
marriage and have no hope of improving their lives.
What is particularly ominous about Afghanistan's situation is that the
oppression of women is once again being given legal and religious
justification by the state. It is vital that we speak up against this. In
his 2002 State of the Union address, George Bush said that in Afghanistan
today "women are free" - but he was wrong.
Joya's courageous stand must be supported and her charges against the
fundamentalist leaders investigated. The US should stop its support of
fundamentalists and demand that women's rights be protected under
Afghanistan's new constitution.
The News on Sunday -- Pakistan 28 December 2003 -
Asma Jahangir: Striving for rights
First we need to set our own house in order. We have a society where
retrogressive, obscurantist, extremist and sectarian elements are still
powerful. Ours is a society where women still do not have fundamental rights
and can be killed on the pretext of honour. The question is, who will raise
a voice against these excesses?
By Abdul Sattar
Born to a politically active family in the 1950s Pakistan, Asma Jahangir,
grew up in a world familiar with conflict, struggle and fight for justice.
Her father was himself imprisoned on several occasions for his outspoken
views, which included denouncing the Pakistani government for genocide
during their military action in what is now Bangladesh. Her mother--educated
at a co-ed college at a time when few Muslim women even received higher
education--also fought the traditional system, pioneering her own clothes
business when the family's lands were confiscated in 1967 as a result of her
husband's opinions and detention.
Given this background, it is perhaps not surprising that Asma also embarked
on a career for justice and social change. For the past two decades, she has
been at the forefront of the movement for women's rights, human rights and
peace in Pakistan.
Asma was not an outstanding student. She was remembered for her strong
political convictions, her sense of justice, and her courage. In 1969, she
led a student protest against Pakistan's military dictator Ayub Khan,
risking gunfire to climb the gate of the Governor's House to hoist a
symbolic black flag. The following year, she risked further harassment
petitioning for her fathers' release, challenging the country's martial law
in the courts. In an unprecedented judgment, Pakistan's courts declared
military rule unconstitutional--a landmark case in the Sub-Continent.
It was the first of many successes that Asma was to experience in the law
courts. Having gained a degree through private study, she later qualified as
a lawyer in 1978. Together with Hina, her sister, who had qualified in law
four years earlier, the two sisters established the first all-women's law
firm in Pakistan in 1981. They were also founders of the Women's Action
Forum, a pressure group campaigning against Pakistan's discriminatory
legislation, most notably against the Evidence Law and Hudood Ordinances.
Asma became advocate of High Court in 1982 and continued to campaign on
behalf of the most vulnerable members of society, successfully fighting
cases for victims of domestic, fundamentalist and feudalistic violence, and
the victims of so-called 'honour killings'.
In 1986 Asma along with her sister Hina set up AGHS Legal Aid, the first
free legal aid centre in Pakistan. In the same year, they were amongst the
founding members of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Asma serving
first as Secretary-General and later as Chair. Asma became the Advocate of
the Pakistan Supreme Court in 1992.
In 1998, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed her as the UN
Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on extra-judicial,
summary or arbitrary executions. Since her appointment, Jahangir has visited
Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Mexico, East Timor,
Nepal, Turkey and Honduras responding to the keenness of Governments to
improve the situation, while also documenting human rights abuses.
In a recent interview with Political Economy, she talked about various
aspects of human rights violations across the world, and particularly in
Pakistan. Excerpts follow:
PE: Despite the fact that many NGOs have been actively working, especially
for the last 15 years, there have been more flagrant violations of human
rights in the country than ever. Why?
AJ: Look, NGOs cannot replace the government and state and if anybody thinks
like that it would be silly on his part. I think that all institutions of
the state have to be consolidated in the way that they could deliver what
they are supposed to. At the moment, we do not have institutions, which are
independent and efficient.
The NGOs can create awareness and environment whereby the government is
forced to respect human rights and ensure that they are not violated by
anyone in the country. I think that there has been a lot of awareness among
the masses owing to the efforts made by the NGOs.
PE: NGOs are de-politicising our society. Please comment.
AJ: To some extent, it is true but it differs from one NGO to another. It
also depends upon the type of work that an NGO is doing. I think that some
NGOs do not link social issues with those of political ones. You cannot
empower women economically by giving them sewing machine only. We should
also take into consideration that ours is a de-politicised society and many
NGOs were also created by dictators who did not want them to politicise the
society. Now you have the people of state in NGOs.
PE: There is an impression about NGOs, including the HRCP, that they are
very mild towards the US and the West. They criticise dictator Zia but do
not say a word against the democratic West and the US who favoured him. What
is your view?
AJ: It is incorrect to say that. In the war against Iraq all peace-loving
people came together and opposed the US attack on the country. The HRCP was
also part of those organisations opposing the war. We have had people like
Dr Mubashir Hasan and I A Rehman, who strongly opposed the US policies
towards dictators. The HRCP carried out a procession against the Zia regime
on 12 February 1983 and it also slammed the US policies aimed at supporting
Zia. It was the first procession against the martial law regime of Zia.
Then the HRCP also criticised the measures taken by the US government in the
name of War on Terrorism. The US supported many dictators across the world
but we cannot focus on each and every country. We think that first we need
to set our own house in order. We have a society where retrogressive,
obscurantist, extremist and sectarian elements are still powerful. Ours is a
society where women still do not have fundamental rights and can be killed
on the pretext of honour. The question is, who will raise a voice against
these excesses. I think that we should see our country first and try to
resolve its problems.
PE: You have studied the human rights record of many states. Keeping that in
view, which state do you think is the greatest violator of human rights?
AJ: It is difficult to say. Basically my work was confined to extra-judicial
killings, which were more common in conflict areas like Columbia and
Chechnya. Rising crimes may also contribute to human rights violations as it
is happening in Jamaica and Columbia. Lack of democracy may also cause human
rights violations, as is the case of Pakistan and Myanmar (Burma); and I
think that lack of good governance in many parts of South Asia is also
responsible for rising human rights violations.
PE: Who funds HRCP?
AJ: We receive funding from Norway, Unicef and ILO.
PE: Do the donors influence the policies of the organisation?
AJ: The HRCP is built on democratic principles. Our agenda is set by our
members. I am happy that some of our members decided not to receive any aid
from the US.
PE: How do you view the raids in Pakistan by FBI and its arresting Pakistanis?
AJ: It is completely illegal. I think that everything should be done in
accordance with the law.
PE: What would you say about the recently concluded extradition treaty
between the US and Pakistan?
AJ: I have not seen it yet. So I cannot comment on it.
PE: Do you consider an extremist government a threat to human rights?
AJ: Yes, I think because by being extremist you discriminate against those
who are not like you.
PE: How can the record of human rights of the country be improved?
AJ: We as a nation should decide whether we want a military government or
democracy. If we want a military government, there will be more human rights
PE: How do you view LFO?
AJ: It is contradictory to democratic principles and what will the assembly
do if the LFO is accepted. Naturally the members are not there on picnic.
PE: What difficulties did you have to face while working with the Jeay Sindh
Tarraqi Pasand Party for the farmers jailed by the feudals in interior Sindh?
AJ: Let me clarify that I was working with my own people. We faced the
resistance of feudals because they always have political connections. The
democratic government would favour us sometimes but it would also try to
satisfy the feudals. This is not the case of farmers in the interior Sindh,
the bhatta (kiln) workers in Punjab are also leading a life of slavery. When
we liberated the farmers in interior Sindh, they were very happy. Despite
the fact that we could not rehabilitate them, they were satisfied over their
PE: What did you do for their rehabilitation?
AJ: We could not rehabilitate them because we have a breathing space.
PE: What do you say about the struggle of Okara's farmers for ownership rights?
AJ: The land does not belong to military or Defence Ministry. Basically, it
is owned by the Punjab Government. When I went to Okara, the administration
did tried to stop me but they could not succeed.
PE: How do you view the Industrial Relations Ordinance?
AJ: We had three meetings with the workers and they have many reservations
about many articles of the IRO, especially the one related to hiring and
PE: Do you see any improvement in the condition of the minorities?
AJ: I do not think it has changed.
The Daily Times - Pakistan -- Saturday December 6 2003
Violence against women unabated
* 211 murdered, 177 raped, 63 burned in 4 months
LAHORE: The existence of the Punjab Prevention of Domestic Violence bill of
2003 and the Hudood Ordinance bill point at positive attempts to curb
violence against women.
But, an analysis of four months of data on violent crime by the Citizens'
Commission for Human Development (CCHD) indicates close relatives, family,
friends or neighbours commit most crimes against women.
The increase in the number of incidents of honour killing, gender-based
violence and socio-cultural related abuse reveal that violent practices
against women are difficult to stop, despite government action on a few cases.
Violence, including murder, rape, physical violence, suicide, burning, and
kidnapping, remains rampant at the grass root level in Pakistani society,
according to a press release from CCHD on Friday. At least 211 women were
murdered, 183 kidnapped, 177 raped, 128 were physically abused, 116
committed suicide and 63 were burnt or had acid thrown on them by their
relatives between July and October 2003.
According to CCHD, 62 women were murdered during July, 62 in August, 61 in
September, and 26 women in October. Their data indicated that 37 women were
murdered by their husbands, 23 by brothers, 16 by in-laws, 10 by fathers, 7
by uncles, 5 by sons, and 113 women by other relatives.
Out of the 183 kidnapped, 49 women were taken in July, 43 in August, 45 in
September, and 46 in October. Most of the kidnappers were either close
relatives, friends or from victim's neighbourhood.
Out of 177 rapes, 59 occurred in July, 48 in August, 54 in September, and 23
Of the 66 women burned, 20 women were burned in July, 18 in August, 10 in
September, and 15 in October. The victims were usually burned by close
relatives, often in-laws, after family disputes.
Out of 128 women physically abused, 51 assaults occurred in July, 43 in
August, 19 in September, and 15 in October. According to the release,
suicides increased. Out of the 116 women who committed suicide during the
four-month period, 35 did so in July, 30 in August, 33 in September, and 18
females in October.
Wives Unable to Attend School in
> Institute for War & Peace Reporting
Wives Face School Ban; Enforcement of old law banning married women
> from the classroom sets back female education cause.
> By IWPR contributors in Kabul
> (ARR No. 80, 05-Nov-03)
> Thousands of young Afghan women have been expelled from school simply
> because they are married.
> It's a big blow for female students, who had been denied the right to
> be educated under the hard-line Taleban regime, and hoped for more
> opportunities under the transitional administration.
> A mid-70s law stating that married women cannot attend high school
> classes was upheld in September by President Hamed Kar! zai's
> government - and the education ministry has ordered all regions to
> enforce this rule.
> Deputy education minister Sayed Ahmad Sarwari, told IWPR that he
> didn't know the exact number of women who've been expelled, but that
> it was "possibly more than two or three thousand".
> After the Taleban were overthrown, one of the first signs that the
> authorities were putting the past behind them was the reopening of
> girls schools and while the law on married women remained it was
> not implemented.
> Supporters of the legislation say it protects unmarried girls in
> school from hearing "tales of marriage" - in other words, explicit
> details about sex - from their wedded classmates.
> Orders from the central authorities usually take months to be put
> into force but some regions are complying already.
> Khurshid, one of those recently banished from classes in Kapisa, a
> province just north of Kabul, told IWPR, "We thought th! at after the
> fall of the Taleban, the government would give priority to education,
> but unfortunately they are taking us towards a great darkness - the
> administrators have expelled us from school.
> "We are very disappointed. Why expel us from school at a time when we
> are at the end of our education? We were told that because we were
> married we should leave school. On the day we were expelled all of us
> were crying."
> Mohammad Anwar, the principal of Ushtergram High School in Kapisa,
> explained that he was merely doing the government's bidding, "We
> expelled these pupils according to the orders of the education
> Although married women are not permitted to attend classes, they are
> still allowed to sit their final exams.
> "We still give them the opportunity to gain their certificates,"
> Sarwari told IWPR.
> "We recently excluded more than one hundred women from a high school
> in Kabul, but we hel! ped those students take the exam which is a
> privilege for them."
> But this is of little compensation to women who had hoped that after
> the dark years of the Taleban they would be granted the right to go
> to school, irrespective of their marital status.
> Zakia Zaki, headmistress of Jebulo Seraj Girls' High School in the
> Parwan province, said, "Even though excluded women are few in
> Parwanan, these women were very intelligent..[and]..they say that
> they would prefer not to have the grade and the certificate without
> an education."
> Khalida, a former pupil in the northern Balkh province, said, " I
> didn't know that if I got married this would happen, otherwise I
> might have got married after my education.
> "I was married during the Taleban because schools were not open for
> women. Now I am told I can take an exam, but how can I? After all the
> years I have stayed at home, I have forgotten everything!"
> Fahima Hadi, pr! incipal of Marim High School in Kabul, said some of
> her pupils were "so afraid they will be expelled from school they are
> now refusing to get married".
> Women's affairs minister Habiba Surabi told IWPR she sympathised with
> married female students and suggested that the authorities would do
> more to address their needs.
> "In the past we had a different educational resource for married
> women, a society called Mermana Tolana [Women's Association] where
> they could study," she said.
> "We are currently developing government-approved professional high
> schools [for married women] in four provinces, but they have not yet
> been inaugurated because of financial problems.
> "However, these students should apply to us and we will try to do
> what we can."
> Elsewhere, international NGOs are also doing their best to better the
> plight of Afghanistan's lost generation of pupils, setting up
> literacy classes for girls who could not a! ttend schools. But these
> classes, too, have been banned by religious leaders.
> One literacy centre student, who wished to remain anonymous, said
> some of the female students "are confronting a lot of problems. Local
> religious scholars prevent us from education and threaten our
> fathers, saying they must not send their daughters to school. But we
> want to be educated.
> "Most of my [classmates] were not permitted to study even though our
> teachers were female. We don't see any religious problem here so we
> must defend our rights because Allah has given us the right to learn."
> Reflecting the views of these critics, Mawlawi Abdul Haq, one of the
> ulema in the regions, insisted that women should be denied
> education "because Allah says in the holy Quran that women should at
> stay home and not expose their beauty".
> At the literacy centres, the girls may be seen by male strangers
> visiting the classes, he said.
The Guardian: Monday October 6, 2003
West still failing to protect Afghan women
Afghan women still face shocking patterns of rape, domestic violence,
forced marriage and the routine denial of justice, with the
international community failing to protect them in the two years since
the Taliban regime ended, according to Amnesty International.
After talking to women in all parts of the country, Amnesty concludes
in a report today that violence is widespread in most regions. There
is "impunity on an enormous scale".
The collapse of the Taliban provided a new chance to break with
age-old traditions of male abuse against which women were virtually
defenceless. But the report says the government has "no clear
strategy" to change attitudes and punish abusers. "It has failed to
incorporate gender effectively into the national budget or the policy
calculations of line ministries," Amnesty says.
The US, Britain and other foreign governments have also done little to
promote better standards. "Key donors supporting the reform of the
police and judiciary have failed to ensure their intervention will
support the protection of women's rights. In certain instances,
international intervention is perpetuating and condoning gender
discrimination," it says. The post of "senior gender adviser" in the
UN mission in Afghanistan has been vacant for most of this year.
The report paints a picture of women being treated as chattel, which
long predates the Taliban. Often the only escape from abusive homes
for women in forced marriages is to go away with a man who is not a
relative. This in itself is considered a violation of the family's
honour, making a woman liable to imprisonment by judges for the
offence of "running away", although the country's penal code contains
no such crime.
The legal age for marriage is 18 for Afghan men, 16 for women. There
is, however, widespread evidence of large numbers of under-age brides.
"It appears relatively rare for girls to remain unmarried by the age
of 16," the report says.
Amnesty's researchers found that about 90% of the women in the
detention centre in the city of Herat were held for "honour" crimes,
Few cases of rape and other forms of violence are ever reported, but
Amnesty says the extent of the problem emerges in hospitals, where
scores of women come in with injuries sustained at home. Amnesty heard
of women and girls killed by family members for refusing a father's
choice of husband. A doctor in Herat reported that cases of suicide by
self-immolation were running at a rate of two every week.
Amnesty says the German government, which is in charge of Afghan
police reform, is not giving recruits adequate instruction on violence
against women. It also accuses the international peacekeeping force of
going on patrols with Afghan police and helping them arrest women for
An interesting site: WOMANKIND Worldwide - Raising the Status of Women across the World
FemAid statement November 14, 2001
We have decided to leave this on our site as the points we made at the time continue to be tragically relevant and what we prophecied did happen....
From the recent news on TV, one could imagine that the Taliban era is now
over and that, thanks to U.S. bombings and support doled out to the
"good guys", life in Afghanistan has spontaneously reverted to normal.
The media has been full of news of women apparently going back to work
and girls rushing back to school. Except that there is neither work nor
school to go back to. We have seen men shaving their beards and jumping
gleefully for joy, next to considerably less joyous women enshrouded in
veils or peeking timidly out of them.
Do not be deluded: the Northern Alliance of today are the mudjahedins of
yesteryear, the self-same rulers whose corruption and mismanagement
caused the Talibans to take over (with the then-blessing of the USA) .
Not a single Afghan woman in any position of power has been seen on TV
standing by these new (or rather not-so-new) warlords. As far as
womens rights are concerned, the new government has put out a statement
ending the ban on women working and studying. Afghan sisters, it said,
would have the right to work "in accordance with Islam teachings and
based on our honourable traditions". A frightening agenda, to say the
Women are totally at risk in the present situation whatever the outcome:
mercenaries of every kind in the service of war-lords, militias, the
peace-keeping force that the U.N. plans to send pose threats to the
safety of women and the upholding of their rights. Rape, forced
prostitution, trafficking (just like Kosovo, but many times worse) are
likely to take place in a country where women have been reduced to a
sub-human status, a situation which has been fully accepted by most men
by now, with or without the blessing of the Taliban.
No-one at the moment has put women in the centre of the political agenda,
neither the Northern Alliance nor king Muhammed Zahir Shah, not even the
UN (or Laura Bush, for that matter).The seeming changes of womens lives
is just a proof of the instability of their position.
This post-conflict period will probably develop into civil war and
tribal conflict where once more women, children and the elderly will be
the main victims. By then, Afghanistan will have moved out of the media
and the plight of women will have been totally forgotten.
This will not happen if we dont insist on women being represented
politically in the future Afghan government as well as in the UN. It is
essential to have a quota of ethnically mixed women in the
decision-making circles, from ministries to refugee camps, as
peace-makers and politicians.Especially important is the representation
of widows which account for 50% of the population.
This is why we will continue to support RAWA, the only independent
feminist organisation in Afghanistan. Their education and health
programmes are essential to educate the next generation of women which,
for the moment, is largely illiterate and light years away from any kind
of political consciousness. As are the men. These programmes need to be
expanded with the help of international organisations to train women as
future parlementarians and leaders for the reconstruction of a truly
democratic state which the West can insist on, and not just the ominous
honourable traditions promised by the Northern Alliance.
This is not a case of post-imperialist condescension and interference
but a case of taking our responsibilities as human beings, responding to
calls for help, as voiced by RAWA for the past quarter of a century. If
we had heeded the desperate voices of women crushed by Talibans, instead
of averting our consciences, we could have avoided many a
catastrophe.Ultimately, we all stand to benefit from helping to bring
about change in that not-so-distant land. The fate of Afghan women has
been symbolic of the rise of reactionary values everywhere in the world
that are ultimately threatening the rights of women and girls even in the
West. We cannot allow the ignominious burqa to become the emblem of this
Which is why, more than ever, we need your continued support.
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