Tag Archives: Afghanistan women

A New Afghanistan

The younger generation of Afghan politicians–people like Fawzi Koofi, Waheed Omer, Amrullah Salleh etc– give me tremendous hope for the country.

Here is a excerpt from Fawzia Koofi’s recent profile in Ms. Magazine:

Representing the distant Badakhshan province, this single mother of two young girls is a tenacious voice in the national discourse. Whether debating electoral fraud on television or revealing abuses in the prison system in Parliament, her passion and unbending civility stands out as a rare combination in the country’s infant democracy. She won the second highest number of votes from her province in the recent parliamentary elections, only 250 behind the leading candidate (a former commander), and a resounding 7,000 votes ahead of her closest male competitor. In a country where women largely make it to the Parliament because of a gender quota, the election results speak to Ms. Koofi’s popularity. At the local level she has championed the building of a highway from Kabul to Faizabad. At the national level, through her agenda and personal example, she has worked tirelessly to achieve substantial women participation in national politics.

To read the rest of the articleMs. Magazine:  Fawzia Koofi: Making a New Afghanistan For Her Daughters

Waheed Omer, the current spokesperson to President Karzai, is an impressively well-rounded character. Well educated, with a masters from York University, Omer is a poet, a writer, and a masterful orator. A former civil society activist– founder of Young Leaders Forum– Omer has spent the past 6 years in different capacities in the government. He founded the Government Media and Information Center. He was a major factor in Karzai reelection: as his campaign spokesperson, he managed the local media very well. Equally fluent in Dari and Pashto, his television debates were critical in defending Karzai’s image despite being a position of great weakness. His proficiency in both languages showed Karzai as a national figure while Abdullah’s representatives stuck to one language, Dari.

But what is most impressive about Omer is his mix of energy, eloquence, and civility that he brings to his politics.

We need more Fawzia Koofis and Waheed Omers to step up for the sake of a new Afghanistan.

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Women Self-Immolation

A screenshot from Lynsey Addario's video

In yesterday’s New York Times, Alissa Rubin and Lynsey Addario published a moving piece on the plight of women in Afghanistan, especially in western province of Herat.  In recent years, the number of women self-immolation are growing rapidly in that part of the country.  Ms. Rubin wrote:

The hospital here is the only medical center in Afghanistan that specifically treats victims of burning, a common form of suicide in this region, partly because the tools to do it are so readily available. Through early October, 75 women arrived with burns — most self-inflicted, others only made to look that way. That is up nearly 30 percent from last year.

But the numbers say less than the stories of the patients.

It is shameful here to admit to troubles at home, and mental illness often goes undiagnosed or untreated. Ms. Zada, the hospital staff said, probably suffered from depression. The choices for Afghan women are extraordinarily restricted: Their family is their fate. There is little chance for education, little choice about whom a woman marries, no choice at all about her role in her own house. Her primary job is to serve her husband’s family. Outside that world, she is an outcast.”

There are two issues that Ms. Rubin does not raise. One, that self-immolation is sadly becoming so wide-spread that it is taking root in a folk-culture. I was in Herat this past summer, and I got the chance to interview a couple burned victims. The fact that they did not consider any other options– both in terms seeking help or of taking their lives in a less painful way– shows how self-immolation is taking its place in the public psyche as the only option available for these women. You might say: what are the options available for the? The fact that there really aren’t any options confirms self-immolation as the only option. If not countered through public-awareness campaigns, this will become a hauntingly dangerous issue.

Another issue that is at the heart of the problem, yet Ms. Rubin does not go in full detail to flesh out, is the economic side. One of the Doctors in Ms. Addario’s video repeatedly says that these issues stem from economic problems, but his language skills limits him to really explain this in detail. The sense that I got over the summer in Herat was that  the main economic issue is the large dowries. The value of these dowries are growing exponentially, putting the future groom under tremendous strain. The groom ends up spending years in Iran or Pakistan laboring to meet the dowry demands placed by his in-laws. By the time he marries his bride, he already has a deeply rooted grudge against her. On top of that, having paid so much money for her, he feels like he has bought her and he has the right to treat her in any way he wants.