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In 1996 women made up 50 percent of the civil service. Under the Taliban regime in the late 1990's, women were banned from all aspects of political and social life. Today, as the country is on the path of reconstruction, several key positions within the Afghan Ministries are held by prominent Afghan women like Habiba Sorabi, Minister for Women's Affairs: Dr. Suhaila Siddiqi, Minister for Health: Mahbuba Huqooqmal, Minister of State for Women's Affairs: and Dr. Sima Samar, Human Rights Commissioner. Although participation in the government is significant in a country that has been devastated by war, reconstruction is also a responsibility to be undertaken by both men and women, and women are taking part.

burka burkha burqa -- hijab chador or circus tent?
East vs. West

 
In one of her songs, country singer Shania Twain croons about all the things women do these days -- they are judges, politicians, doctors and soldiers, to name a few.

Not mentioned in the song, but occurring more frequently as the global war on terrorism continues, is something else: female fliers in combat missions over Afghanistan.

How the Saudis Treat Women

The Asia Times reports on an entourage of Saudi princes vacationing in Spain:

When they were received by the chair of the Saudi parliament, Salih bin Abdullah bin Humaid, the women [European Parliament] deputies were "denied the honor of a handshake or eye-to-eye contact", said [Italian member Emma] Bonino, while explanations that Islam considers women to be different from men were addressed to the male deputy guest.

Several Spanish media outlets reported that a British agency has provided a large group of women to accompany the Saudi men during their vacations in Spain, on two conditions: the women must be young and blonde, and must be replaced every 15 days.

Although prostitution is legal in Spain, procuring is punishable by law. Nevertheless, no authority or organization has moved against the British agency, even though the contract was made public.

-- As published in OpinionJournal, 5 Sept 02

A Teen Blogress: Now That's Progress

The New York Times magazine reports from Iran on the difficulties of maintaining a culturally backward society amid technological progress:

The computer has become particularly important in the lives of urban girls, often confined at home by traditionalist parents who, by the same token, have absolutely no clue what their daughters are doing online.

A lot of what they're doing, it turns out, is blogging. For the uninitiated, a blog is a Web log, a kind of online diary or journal. Many blogs, Iranian or otherwise, are boring accounts of people's daily lives, or gibberish-like streams of consciousness. But in Iran, bolstered by the anonymity their computer screens provide, female bloggers are catching attention for their daring and articulate mix of politics, dirty jokes and acid comment. 

Here a female blogger simply lets rip: "I hate those people who pray and with their prayers make our life a disaster. I hate all those dumb people who go to those marches and shout 'Down with America.' I hate those people I am supposed to bribe for no reason." And then: "I hate cigarettes, I hate men and I hate my emotions as a woman. I hate that feeling of lust and I hate my big nose." In a country where a court can sentence a woman to be stoned to death, and 13-year-old brides are nothing extraordinary, such words amount to the most outrageous sedition and heresy.

Here's an example of what motivates the young blogresses:

Soon a police doctor will administer a compulsory virginity test, the result of which may have a profound effect on the rest of Fatimah's life. . . . In Tehran, some surgeons specialize in restoring a girl's virginity, technically speaking at least. This illegal operation costs $50. Abortion, of course, is also strictly illegal, except under certain conditions, like a threat to the woman's life. So the current price of a back-alley abortion can run as high as $500. If the father has fled, . . . young women have been known to sleep with another man and convince him that the pregnancy is his responsibility.

Meanwhile, the Guardian quotes a "senior Western diplomat" in Tehran: "No one is saying it out loud, but the secret hope of many Iranians is that if the US army takes neighbouring Iraq, it will come and straighten out this place as well."

Seditious Fashion Statements

The Jerusalem Post reports an Israeli Arab fashion designer is "being attacked"--though thus far only verbally--by the Islamic Movement in Israel and by the terror group Hamas because of a dress she designed. "Not only do they consider the dress immodest, but it carries on it three of the 99 asma, or attributes, of Allah," the Post reports.

-- Excerpted and edited from "OpinionJournal - Best of the Web Today", by JAMES TARANTO) September 04, 2002

Funny back in 1946...
Jitter Buzz: Lindy Hopping in Washington DC

Burka, Burqa, Burkha, Hijab or Chador...
 
...they're still like wearing circus tents.

Burka, Burqa, Burkha, Hijab or Chador...
 
...they're still like wearing circus tents.
 
As Afghanistan is being freed from Taliban rule, only some women have taken off their burqas (the covering they must wear that covers them head to toe with only a small mesh screen to peer out of). Some say they are still unsure of the response they will get. Under Taliban rule, women were routinely beaten or even stoned to death for breaking the severe restrictions imposed on females. Others say they fear the men of the Northern Alliance, who have been reported to have raped and beaten women during their campaigns.

Before the wars that have torn their country apart, Afghanistan was one of the most progressive Muslim nations. Women were doctors, lawyers, teachers. Under the Taliban they were forbidden even to learn to read. Depression at their hopeless situation caused some women to take their own lives. How long will it take them to recover and regain the place in society they formerly achieved? Is the place of women in the Western world really the epitome of freedom they should aim for?

The news has already shown how the Afghani people have begun watching TV sets again. But some would say that the images shown on Western television only subjugate women in a different way -- instead of the comparative safety of the burqa, women's bodies and faces are exposed for comparison shopping.

A Message From Sisters in Afghanistan
 
As the new government in Afghanistan has taken shape, many women are still wearing the burkha, a symbol of female oppression that has outraged Western women and feminist sympathisers. According to the woman interviewed for this article, the burkha is the least of their worries...
 
The following are excerpts from an article in SMYGO, originally published in the Jakarta Post. 

Earlier this month the National Commission on Violence Against Women held a public dialog on the impacts of fundamentalism, among others addressed by a representative of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), Tahmeena Faryal. The following are excerpts of an interview with The Jakarta Post's Ati Nurbaiti.

Q: What is the situation like for RAWA members in Afghanistan?
A: RAWA is based in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. We
also have members who have never left Afghanistan. Of course, it is not safe for those who are based there. We were first an underground organization (since 1997) but we also have a hospital and schools and literacy classes, and income generating activities, as a way to reach out particularly to the women. 
     As a women's organization what's important is to raise consciousness of their potentials, that they are not subhuman. Women have told us that since the fundamentalists (both the Northern Alliance or the Taliban following Soviet occupation) took power they eventually felt they were nothing. 
     It's really a great task to change this attitude. People may not notice that this is revolutionary.

Q: And why is that revolutionary?
A: Women were unaware of their abilities. Once they realized that they said they feel reborn. Some men are also supportive. That takes time, and RAWA has succeeded in changing some men's mentality too (towards women). There are RAWA members who still have to struggle within their own families, against their brothers and fathers ... 
     RAWA focused earlier only on women's rights but when the Soviets came we saw we had to change our strategy. As long as we were occupied, fighting only for women's rights would be meaningless so we took part in the resistance. ... 
     The (rulers) for decades caused much damage, and great psychological damage to women. To reach further goals, simply to have a humane society, we have to get rid of the fundamentalists (in Afghanistan). 
     Many of our women also hope to see the adoption of the sharia, among others because it would be consistent with the belief that Islam is a way of life. 
     Our message is that people should not advocate for a government mainly influenced by fundamentalists. When any religion is abused by government they make it such a violent tool especially against women (reports of women's experience in Afghanistan came to light among others from RAWA's website,
). What happened in Afghanistan all took place in the name of Islam. When religion is politicized it is interpreted according to the rulers' own interest and women in particular are the ones who suffer. 
     There is a very big gap between the Islam which is politicized and misinterpreted by the fundamentalists (in Afghanistan) and the Islam that people believe in their hearts. There is still strong fundamentalist leaning in the (ruling) Northern Alliance.

Q: How has the America-led war on terrorism helped Afghans?
A: It has not helped significantly. They got rid of the Taliban but brought back the Northern Alliance which ruled from 1992 to 1996. The Alliance caused unprecedented cruelty including raping, abducting women and forced marriages; destruction of 70 percent of (the capital) Kabul and mental damage. There was not much left for the Taliban to destroy apart from the Buddhist monuments. 
     Women and others cannot forget that the Northern Alliance is essentially the same as the Taliban (regarding atrocities). Most women still wear the burkha for security. Without the presence of the United Nation forces the same brutality would most probably occur. Once the UN leaves it will be back to warlordism.

Q: In a period of a country's transition could you deal with women issues after things like democracy is achieved?
A: Dealing with women issues cannot be separated with other vital issues. Resistance (against Soviet rule) was indeed our priority. But what is also important is freedom of expression and human rights. These issues concern everyone including women -- also the need for a secular government for both men and women.
 
Q: What are the changes in your generation compared to your mother's?
A: Our family were refugees (fleeing to Pakistan) since the 1980s. For my mother and women of her generation (the changes) must be even more difficult because they experienced a time when women were very active; women made up 40 percent of doctors, 60 percent of teachers and 50 percent of students. For me it has always been (memories of) war, migrating, constant fear. 

Q: Are you at least happy with the lifting of the burkha?
A: The burkha was never the biggest problem for our women, they had so many problems they forgot the burkha was a problem.
 
The rest of the article has been posted at:

Women as Eye Candy: Kandahar vs Candy Bars
 
The influence of media on Western women is pervasive and starts young. Western pre-teens starve themselves to be model-thin -- young girls under burqas may sometimes be wearing bangles, nail polish and lipstick. It will be interesting to see what will happen as women in Afghanistan takes control over their lives.
 
"To the outside eye, the burkhas cover indistinguishable human figures who drift across the landscape; inside they conceal women with varnished nails, bangles and lipstick, books, musical instruments, tape recorders; or ... even a man..."

Feminism Post 9/11
supermodel Jodie Kidd
Self-Promotion or Self-Abuse?

 
The media scales are still tipped toward War on Fat propaganda: See if you're fat or not, compare yourself to celebrities...

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