Dear World, I am Lebanon

By Natalie Haboush Khoury

Dear World: 

I am Lebanon. I am writing to portray the truth. This is not a cry for help…..I have tried that too many times and it seems that with each request, I am devastated and let down even more. I don’t consider myself to have any true haters, only envious followers. I was once told that with success and popularity comes great heartbreak and betrayal. Whoever told me that was a wise, wise person. I was never considered a third world, uncivilized country. My children are and have always been the most successful, the most educated and the most intellectual of humankind. They succeed in whatever discipline they pursue. They make a name for themselves wherever they go. Though I had created the perfect environment for them, the satisfaction was short lived. 

Being the selfless country that I am, I taught my children to  welcome all individuals who didn’t have a home; refugees who were forced out of their country. I taught my children to be social and friendly. Those same individuals that we welcomed with open arms, ripped us to shreds. Add to that the leaders of the world who befriended me early on, only to discover that my friendship was to serve their own self interests. Yes, this is the harsh reality of life, but being the naive Lebanon that I am, I was oblivious to this fact and truly believed that the purpose of friendships were to empower one another and share times of success and grief together. Very quickly did I realize that my own children would abandon me and my children’s children would betray me…a spiraling effect, leading me to where I am today. 

Broken. Alone. Devastated. Starving. Lifeless. 

Most have left me. All have betrayed me. 

I am unable to provide food, shelter, love, culture, life. They have turned me into a hopeless failure. They have clipped my wings. I tried for so long to rebuild and rebuild and rebuild….brush my shoulders off and stand back up, only to be knocked down even harder each time. They have now left me completely paralyzed. 

Do you want to know the worst part? It is my own children that did this to me. Despite my attempts to teach them to remain true to themselves. Despite my attempts to raise them as leaders, leaders who believe in themselves and do unto others as they would have done unto them. Despite my attempts to carve the true values of Lebanon within their hearts. Despite these attempts and many more, they gave in. They gave in to greed. They gave in to evil. They gave in to disgrace. They gave in to dishonor. 

My children allowed the selflessness that Lebanese were known for to be replaced with the world’s selfishness. My children allowed Lebanese intellectualism to be replaced with egoism. My children allowed Lebanese culture to be replaced with the haters’ barbarism. My children sold me. And, for what? What did they receive in return? They received poverty, a lack of infrastructure, an economic collapse, a loss of morale, the devastation of friendships, the lack of a future for their children, the loss of Lebanese life. So true it is that one does not realize what he has until it’s gone. I now hear my children screaming. I hear the voices of regret. I see them trying to make their way back to me. And, of course, being the Lebanon that I am, I will take them back with open arms. I will embrace them with love and compassion. But, boy do we have a long road ahead of us. 

This time is different from all the other times. This time I cannot do it alone. This time I need ALL of my children, regardless of religion, race and economic status. I need them all to come together; to remember who we as Lebanese are: to remember what made Lebanon in the first place. I need them to remember why the world envied (and continues to envy) this country and its people. But, in doing so, I need them to forgive, but not forget. Because we as Lebanese forgive, but we also tend to forget too easily. We as Lebanese fight. We as Lebanese accept. We as Lebanese endure. We have a lot of enduring to do. We will need to survive starvation. We will need to grieve the loss of our loved ones. We will need to face our fears of being alone, of being poor, of being powerless. We can survive and we can overcome. We will survive and we will overcome and once this is all a part of our history, we truly will show the world that, yes, we are the greatest. But, in true Lebanese form, we will welcome all with open arms. The difference this time around however, will be that we will welcome our guests as guests and provide them with the best Lebanese experience, but that is exactly what they will be—guests. We are no longer accepting anyone into our family. Our family is just the right size and if we come together, we are all we need. 

All my love, 

Beirut

Seeking Funding for Women & the Arab Region

by Lina AbiRafeh; originally published in AP News.

In preparation for the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Arab Institute for Women (AiW) in 2023, the Institute welcomes partners, supporters, and sponsors who desire to scale a strong regional voice for Arab women. The Institute is a legend, a pioneer, and the force for our feminist future.

The AiW at the Lebanese American University is the first of its kind in the region – and a center of power for Arab women. Founded in 1973, the AiW operates at the intersection of academia and activism to amplify women’s voices in the region and around the world. The Institute is a bridge connecting women in the region to global platforms – because representation matters.

“No country in the world has achieved full gender equality, but the Arab region ranks lowest in the world. Empowering women is not just a human rights principle. It is a precondition to sustainable development and the strongest vehicle for peace, prosperity, and progress,” said Lina AbiRafeh, Executive Director of the AiW in New York.

Lack of funding due to the coronavirus pandemic has compromised the survival of women’s rights organizations. If women are once again left out of leadership and activism, the patriarchal consolidation of power will have devastating effects on women’s rights, equality, and autonomy. This requires a robust feminist response, ensuring that women’s organizations and feminist activists have the tools and resources they need to advocate and act on behalf of women and girls.

“The AiW is a fueling station and a hub for support, resources, and inspiration for women changemakers with a history of support for women’s rights activists.  Throughout decades of insecurity and now during the COVID-19 pandemic, AiW continues to provide opportunities to enhance their leadership and give them the skills they need to strengthen their force on the frontlines,” said AbiRafeh. “The pandemic has resulted in massive job losses for women and has pushed them even further into the informal economy and toward riskier sources of income – such as trafficking and transactional sex – for survival.”

THE OPPORTUNITY
Women in Arab countries are an underutilized economic force, with only 24% working outside the home – the lowest female employment rate in the world. When employed, women are more often relegated to traditionally feminized work, in addition to their disproportionate share of unpaid care.

Academic institutes like the AiW have a huge role to play in galvanizing and supporting women’s movements. Across the Arab region, women, particularly young women, are leading calls for change. The AiW brings 47 years of data, community engagement, and lived experience at the frontlines of Arab feminist movements.

These movements have the potential to be a turning point, a time-marker, resulting in a major shift toward social change.

“An Arab region built on a foundation of human rights and social justice is within our reach – and long overdue,” said AbiRafeh.

NAMED GIFT LEGACY ENDOWMENT
The AiW seeks a visionary champion interested in offering an endowment and leaving a lasting legacy for Arab women for generations to come.

“We seek prime movers who believe in the impact of their gifts and who are committed to building a philanthropic legacy for themselves, their families, and for ALL women and girls in the region,” said AbiRafeh.

An endowment gift of $7 million will entitle the donor to naming rights for the Institute – a legacy in your own name, or to honor a loved one who believed in this cause. This endowment will, over time, generate sufficient interest to enable the Arab Institute for Women to establish a stronger regional presence in order to continue its critical work for Arab women’s rights through scholarship, training, and advocacy.

Most Arab countries have signed and ratified universal conventions supporting human rights (with reservations), but these have not brought meaningful change for women, and gender inequality remains the greatest impediment to regional progress. This must change.

SHAPING THE FUTURE
“The underlying message is this: unless we’re addressing inequalities everywhere, we will achieve equality nowhere,” said AbiRafeh.

Arab women are significantly behind in terms of women’s participation and representation in politics. Even when women are present in politics, they are still kept from exerting power to influence change. This lack of political participation is largely due to cultural barriers, little access to economic and financial resources, and the absence of female role models in political and public life.

Rights, freedoms, and opportunities cannot be named and claimed as long as women are unsafe in public and private space. Globally, one in three women worldwide has experienced some form of gender-based violence in their lifetime. The Arab region is no different. Intimate partner violence is the most common and the least reported. Sexual violence and harmful practices – like honor killing, female genital mutilation, and child marriage – also continue to be prevalent and show no signs of abating. As the region continues to face insecurities, these forms of violence will only increase. The AiW seeks to create a future where all women are free from violence and have access to meaningful opportunities.

For many Arab countries, instability and insecurity are the norm. The region’s multiple protracted humanitarian crises – Yemen, Syria, Palestine, Iraq – have destroyed systems of social protection, reduced access to safe services and support, displaced communities, and increased vulnerabilities.

In these settings, women’s rights are the first to be stripped and the hardest to revive. Conflicts and insecurities magnify pre-existing vulnerabilities, and women are the first to suffer, the last to recover, and the hardest hit by these insecurities. From the revolution in Beirut to more violent conflicts in Gaza, Sanaa, and Baghdad, women continue to demand rights, equality, and justice.

“Women are the face – and the force – of revolutions across the Arab world. They deserve our support,” said AbiRafeh. “The Arab region’s diverse collection of 22 countries have one thing in common: women continue to experience a backlash against their own long-overdue rights and fundamental freedoms.”

These challenges are overlapping, meaning progress – or regress – in any of these areas has an impact on all aspects of women’s lives. Insecurities don’t stay neatly confined within their borders.

“Fostering gender equality in the Arab region is a non-negotiable imperative. And this is a historic moment to provide full support for Arab women to organize, train, inspire and ignite to bring equality, rights, and justice to the region. Centering women will enable the region to better withstand future shocks. In short, when women lead, we all benefit,” said AbiRafeh.

Making Spaces with the Sisterhood Salon – Feminist Poetry in Lockdown

When reading on your phone, flip the screen to horizontal to appreciate the poem in its original format.

The Sisterhood Salon hosted a writing workshop in collaboration with Feminist Spaces (UK) and Yalla Feminists (US & Lebanon). This was specifically for feminists in lockdown. We welcomed women and non-binary individuals to a guided poetry session exploring pandemic.

Led by Lisa Luxx, the attendees practiced poetic rhythm, imagery and form. Then came together and created a group poem capturing the experiences of the women we are and the women we know.

Sisters logged in from different corners of the world where they had been quarantining, and spent three hours experimenting together, writing together and reading together. This was the outcome: an epic poem that passes the lens between cities and countries; between lockdown’s monotony and cluelessness; from grief to longing; from loneliness to fatophobia in the family home; and between back and forth between capitalism and the sentimental.

Karachi, Pakistan

Can you imagine the frenzy

if 7.8 billion people blend

in right now – boom – virus has been sent –

purgatory? None of those unmasked are friendly

see it on their faces – they all just want to make a penny

for them – that’s what’s fundamental

Bristol, England

hope turns to vapour     I grasp with both hands

clawing at the happy I used to cling to and coming up blank blank blank

cloak grips, eyes sealed, sunken and stumbling 

the mirror asks “who are we now we live in hibernation?”

I wake to the moon and paint dreams in the midnight sky

by day I am still a cog in the machine 

Lattakia, Syria

today is already tomorrow

I think about it every night laying near my phone alone every time

like a mistletoe I kiss myself before bed hearing his voice

he baptizes me with I love yous I smoke my body eases

I fall to wake up to my father’s face the open door

it is empty except for its ending.

London, England

grief its own kind of decadence

committed to ritual .each day I write your epitaph

in table salt               ..serenade you from a shallow bath

slip back into an old beginning ……burning at both ends

become fertile and feral just to finish what we started

senseless and sentimental

London, England

I stand on orange circles   children waiting for rides 

a forage for the balcony    my rectangular relief 

we sit & smoke & pretend to know

our golden age has gone

we’ll build sandcastles in our eyes

& kiss prayers into locked fingers

Huddersfield, England

uninvited guest who lingers.

.

Part of night, present by day.

I accommodate, like semi-functional furniture.

It could fit out through the window,

but would have to change it’s form.

Bristol, England

Knock at my front door. Hum of pre-programmed children, mine.

Guard dog, me. Howl at night, bathe in wine, howl. Make tea, make

toast, every day the black-berry-clot knock at my glass door. Package

arrives. Amazon slave smiles tight. Tea. Kettle. Toast. Sharp-knife wrist 

howl. Call from children, mine, fur-body asks to come in. Keys lock. 37 

locks. Sleep. An hour. Puddles of muscle wait at the end of my path. Not mine. 

Lahore, Pakistan

Rundown measuring tape gets to rope me in to

a family-sized boxing ring, reserved seats six feet away

cheering zero calories a day can persuade

me, not the old dresses decayed in a childhood bedroom

to reincarnate as younger me, a soul unfed

as a referee checks for the aftertaste of my body’s buffet

Beirut, Lebanon

pavements emptied from buzzing,

schedules freed themselves of running away from home –

old hymns singing along the footsteps of my family leaving

requiems to the parting of their spirits, ablating themselves from nation –

dusty guitar, rusty voice – empty pages and unfelt notes

how can I play over the silence of their absence?

By Hania Habib, Tanisha Barrett, Maysan Nasser, Ollie O’Neill, Layla Maghribi, Luv, Anita Karla Kelly, Rabia and Sandra Takchy

Sanctions on Syria Strike Women the Hardest

By Lina AbiRafeh; Originally published in Arab America

Syria continues to see no end to its protracted crisis, ongoing since 2011, in addition to an economic crisis and a coronavirus lockdown. Under such conditions, women in Syria have borne the brunt of violence and insecurity. And Syrian refugee women in neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey face even greater risks. The threat of sanctions will create the perfect storm, compromising women’s safety, and undermining efforts to achieve women’s rights.

The US legislation is known as the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, or Caesar Act, which aims to sanction the Syrian regime, and in particular its president Bashar al-Assad, for war crimes against the Syrian population. Syria has been sanctioned by the US since 1979. The Caesar Act uses the same coercive methods to compel the government to cease attacks on Syrians, to support a transitional government, and to build a foundation for human rights and the rule of law.

And yet, examples from Iran, Iraq, North Korea, elsewhere, have shown that sanctions often have a negative impact on human rights. Economic sanctions, as a coercive political tool, actively magnify the vulnerabilities of marginalized groups. And, not unlike COVID-19, this means that women will be the hardest hit.

These new sanctions will drive Syrian civilians deeper into poverty, further obstructing economic recovery, and thwarting any hope of peace and stability in the country. While Syria has a long way to go to achieve women’s rights, the Syrian Foreign Ministry has labeled these sanctions “economic terrorism” and a violation of human rights. Women’s already weak socioeconomic and political standing will be further compromised by this blunt political tool.

In Iran, for instance, as a result of sanctions, working women were pushed out of economic life and further relegated to the domestic sphere, jeopardizing gains such as the legal age of marriage and childbearing. Conservatives took advantage of this situation to impose restrictive family laws that deny women’s rights to economic and public life.

In Iraq, sanctions directly contributed to the withdrawal of girls from education in order to be married, as an effort to reduce the economic burden on the family by “offloading” girls. Women’s rights activists argued that these extreme measures present fertile ground for conservative leaders to further limit girls’ education and women’s access to employment, under the guise of increasing male employment.

Syria will be no different.

The Syrian refugee population will also be exacerbated. The United Nations estimates that there are 6.5 million displaced people within Syria itself and 3 million in neighboring countries. Syrian refugee and migrant women already face great risks and are more likely to be subjected to exploitation and abuse by host populations. Sanctions will drive even more people out of the country, further fueling risky migrations toward Europe.

Most severely, sanctions will increase violence against women. These effects are harder to measure but have been documented in a range of countries. In North Korea, economic pressures imposed by sanctions exacerbated intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and the trafficking and prostitution of women and girls.

Intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence faced by women in the region – and globally. This remains well hidden, and not sufficiently documented. Systems fail women at every turn – in terms of security, access to justice, and a range of other support. These scant services will all but disappear as sanctions are imposed.

There is no doubt that women’s rights are the cornerstone of peace, prosperity, progress. There is global evidence for this. As the inevitable sanctions on Syria are imposed, we, as members of a global community, must recognize that sanctions are gendered, that the sanctions will have collateral effects on local populations, and we must prepare for the inevitable risks faced by women by bolstering the supports, systems, and services that protect women.

We simply cannot afford to fail women in Syria anymore.

A poetry workshop for feminists in/after lockdown.

The Sisterhood Salon is hosting a writing workshop in collaboration with Feminist Spaces (UK) and Yalla Feminists (US & Lebanon). Welcoming women and non-binary individuals to join us in a guided poetry workshop exploring coping strategies throughout pandemic.

Led by Lisa Luxx, you will practise poetic rhythm, imagery and form. Finally, we will create a group poem* capturing the experiences of the women we are and the women we know.

Tuesday 30th June, 6.30pm (EEST, local time of Beirut)
This workshop is FREE. But only 10 places are available.

To sign up e-mail luxxlisa@gmail.com with the subject ‘MAKING SPACES.’ On confirmation you will receive a Zoom link for the workshop.

Link to the Facebook event

Background
The Sisterhood Salon is a feminist literary gathering centring the voices of women and non-binary folk in Beirut. It’s a community built on the values of siblinghood. Rooted in storytelling, poetry and discussion.

Feminist Spaces are a network from the UK, based out of the University of Huddersfield – the network includes women operating feminist activity across various regions of the world. Working from grassroots community organisations through to academia. They instigated ‘Making Spaces’ as a way to understand and archive feminist survival and coping strategies during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yalla Feminists! is a collaborative platform offering a space for expression of diverse feminist voices. It was launched to connect in our fights for gender equity, freedom from violence against women, and overall a more empowered, peaceful world. Any means necessary to make our cause heard are welcomed: Arabic, English, French, whether concise or extensive, as well as poetry, drawings and many more.

Lisa Luxx is a prize-winning poet and essayist. Featured on VICE TV, TEDx, BBC Radio and widely published in books and newspapers internationally. She has facilitated workshops for 4+ years, and is the founder of The Sisterhood Salon.

*The group poem will be published (anonymously or otherwise) on Yalla Feminists and Feminist Spaces websites. It will also possibly be analysed by feminist academics and practitioners looking to learn about feminist resources, needs and strategies during pandemics.

السماء احلى من الارض! وانا عاوزه السماء مش الارض

The sky is sweeter than the earth! I want the sky, not the earth” – Sarah’s last Instagram post

Sarah Hegazi described this moment, in 2017 at a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo as “an act of support and solidarity… for everyone who is oppressed”

Trigger Warning: Discussion of suicide, sexual assault and torture.

Today we mourn Sarah Hegazi, an Egyptian communist and queer rights activist who passed away in exile in Canada over the weekend.

In 2017, Sarah was arrested and imprisoned by the fascist military Sisi regime alongside Ahmed Alaa, after flying a pride flag at a Mashrou’ Leila concert, in what became Egypt’s largest crackdown on its queer community since the Queen Boat case of 2001. Sarah was imprisoned for three months, kept in solitary confinement and suffered torture and sexual assault. If suffering at the hands of the state was not enough, police incited other detainees to grope and assault Sarah. Leaving prison with serious PTSD, Sarah told NPR in 2018 that “prison killed me. It destroyed me.”

Sarah’s activism was not limited to this incident and it is vital that we do not separate her from the cause she was so dedicated to. Yes, she was a queer activist. But she was also a communist who was committed to dismantling the capitalist, patriarchal, ableist, homophobic, and theocratic state. Sarah emphasised the importance of treating class struggle as an inextricable part of queer liberation.

In a final handwritten message, Sarah wrote “I tried to survive and I failed”.  

Just as she said in a blog post in 2017, suicide is not courage, it is not cowardice, it is murder at the hands of an entire state and community.

Sarah was killed.

She was killed by the tyranny of the state. She was killed by the media. She was killed by a cruel and relentless online campaign of demonization and bullying for her sexuality. She was killed by the pain of exile, by trauma, by depression, by PTSD and by the lack of a dedicated and meaningful support system.

She was killed for her goodness, for her love of humanity, for her courage to confront a fascist, militaristic regime hell bent on erasing anything that threatens the neoliberal patriarchal social order. She was killed for her dedication to revolutionary and class struggle, and for her dream of a just world.

Hate continues to follow her even in her death, with posts honouring her memory defaced by homophobic and hateful comments. What is lost on those that torment her even in her death is that the liberation Sarah sought was for them. For the Egyptian working class who are victim to a bourgeoisie devoted to the maintenance of an obedient, submissive middle class and the oppression of the proletariat through psychological, physical and economic violence.

The revolution continues in Sarah’s life and in her death. In her last words Sarah addresses the world, saying, “you were cruel to a great extent, but I forgive.”

Sarah is not a victim. She is a hero who was capable of forgiveness even in her deep pain. But we will not forgive, for we must fight in her name and demand justice and accountability for Sarah and for all the victims of murderous patriarchy, homophobia, and fascist regimes.

Rest in power, Sarah.

ثورتك مستمرة

Sophia Nasser

Survey on Young A Women’s Rights Activism and Feminism (Ar/Eng/Fr)

English version

Invitation to complete a quick survey (estimated time < 5 minutes)

If you are from any of the Arab countries, identify as female, and are under 30, we are interested in your opinion!

The Yalla Feminists! team is working on a book about young women’s rights activism and feminism in the Arab region and would like to take the pulse of the ongoing situation. The questionnaire is anonymous!

Once you are done, if you feel like giving your opinion in a more in-depth fashion, please add your email at the end for us to contact you for a follow-up interview. (Following your wish, data will be anonymised during the lengthier one too)

https://forms.gle/UmXiqku4Cw6zvudb6

Thank you for your participation!

The Yalla Feminists! team 

عَرَبِيّ

دعوة لإكمال استبيان سريع (الوقت المقدر اقل من ٥ دقائق <5 دقائق)

إذا كنتِ من بلد عربي ، يقل عمرك عن 30 سنة ، و تعرفين عن نفسكِ على أنكِ امرأة ، فيهمنا رأيك!

فريق  عمل Yalla Feminists    يعمل على انشاء كتاب حول عن ناشطية حقوق الشابات والنسوية في المنطقة العربية ونرغب بمعرفة  الواقع في بلدك من خلال الاستماع إليكِ!  ان الاستبيان مقتضب ولن يتم الافصاح عن هوية المشاركات فيه. سريع ومجهول

إذا كنتِ ترغبين في إبداء رأيكِ بطريقة أكثر شمولاً، فالرجاء إضافة بريدكِ الإلكتروني في نهاية الاستبيان حيث لنتصل نتصل بكِ لإجراء مقابلة متابعة. (يمكننا أن نجعل البيانات المجموعة من تلك المحادثة مجهولة المصدر عند النشر، اذا كنت ترغبين بذلك!)

https://forms.gle/GqbCEkE8VP6EmrLt5

نشكركن على مشاركتكن !

  Yalla Feminists فريق عمل 

Version française

Invitation à participer à un questionnaire (estimation <5 minutes)

Si tu viens d’un pays Arabe, tu t’identifies comme femme, et tu as moins de 30 ans, nous voulons ton avis !

L’équipe de Yalla Feminists ! travaille sur le projet d’un livre au sujet de l’activisme pour les droits des femmes / le féminisme chez les jeunes dans les pays Arabe et aimerait prendre le pouls quant à la situation actuelle. Le questionnaire est anonyme !

Une fois que tu as terminé, si tu as envie de donner ton avis de manière plus approfondie, inscris ton email à la fin du questionnaire, il se peut que nous te contactions pour des questions de suivi. (Selon ta préférence, les données récoltées pendant le second entretien seront anonymisées)

https://forms.gle/e542w6YxJBDRg4159

Merci pour ta participation !

L’équipe de Yalla Feminists !

In These Times of Political Momentum in Afghanistan, Where are the Women?

by Seema Ghani and Jeanne Bryer

Power Sharing Agreement – Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah – 17th May 2020

Where were the women when the long-awaited historic agreement between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah took place? After weeks of wrangling and disputes over who had won the Afghan elections, the two challengers for the Presidency agreed to a power sharing deal. Yet at this momentous occasion, no women were present. 

Afghan women took part in decision making thousands of years ago but on this day, they were notably absent. Despite the assertion of Hamdullah Mohib, respected National Security Advisor to President Ashraf Ghani stating that women’s rights will be ‘at the front’ of Taliban talks, no women were at the ceremony. Even Rula Ghani, the president’s Lebanese born, and open-minded wife was not present.

Where were the successors to the small yet significant number of pioneer women who played important roles in the Afghanistan of yesteryear? Historical sources show that Afghan women who were close to powerful rulers, contributed to major government decisions during war and peace, shaping the politics of their future. Yet today women have been airbrushed out of the scene. Why?  

Since the ousting of the Taliban there have been concerted efforts to include women in gatherings in public life and there have been settings where women’s presence has been symbolically increased, including in Parliament where there are structures to ensure quotas of women in political life.

Cabinets of both Presidents Karzai and Ghani appointed female ministers and deputy ministers. In recent years President Ghani appointed many female deputy ministers despite heavy criticism that the appointees lacked experience.  However, he stood his ground in keeping them in their posts, including those critical to the security of the country. 

What changed? Why were these appointees marginalized during the signing ceremony of such a historic event? Women parliamentarians have valid views on the political situation, and they should have been represented. Does the ARG (presidential palace) no longer believe in the necessity of their presence when such a significant event will have profound effects on the lives of the female 50% of Afghanistan’s population?

Have the power holders forgotten their own standards and promises to the nation?  Almost two decades of hard work and commitment to democracy by both national and international policy makers have been brought into question by the absence of women.  Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on elections since the ousting of the Taliban, and these elections have cost many lives due to Taliban attacks.  Many other people lost fingers as punishment from the Taliban, punished for exercising their democratic rights. Hundreds of people have been injured when they tried to have their vote counted. Lives have been lost and many others scarred due to Taliban attacks during the elections. Have the two leaders and their advisors forgotten the suffering and sacrifices made so they can continue to hold power and indulge in power sharing ‘games’ and now believe they can ignore women? 

In a world preoccupied with Covid-19, maybe this is just another example of ‘buried news’.  Where was the oversight of the elections to prevent fraud?  There have been so many questions and challenges to the results that finally the two contenders came together in an effort to bring an end to the impasse. But the tragedy for women in particular is that they have been ignored even though this event happened in Kabul where it is still relatively safe for people to travel to attend meetings. It is difficult to believe that the exclusion of women from the Agreement ceremony was anything other than deliberate.  

Those of us caring about Afghanistan’s women must be heard.  Their hopes, held over the last 18 years, must not be unfounded.  The picture above, paints a thousand words, showing that when it comes to political participation of any vital significance, 50% of the population remains unrepresented. We must shout from the rooftops to redress this injustice.

They Came to Kill the Mothers

Jeanne Bryer

It was an ordinary day until an Afghan friend alerted me to a shooting in the Kabul maternity hospital, leaving mothers, babies and nurses dead and injured. The shooters had been dressed in Afghan police uniforms. I read the news with mounting horror whilst trying to comprehend what kind of person commits the heinous crime of deliberately targeting new mothers and their babies. To kill or not to kill babies was never a question; it was a coldly calculated act and the attackers ‘shot the women methodically’. This was no indiscriminate scattergun approach to killing and officials say that a total of 24 people were killed, 20 injured and most of them were patients.  The murderers were eventually shot dead by Afghan security forces.

The fiends who committed this crime perpetrated the ultimate in terrorist attacks. Nothing instills more fear than the threat to a people’s young, for they are the future. And how desperately poignant that one of the babies killed was called Omid; in English this means Hope. Now hope is just a word in Afghanistan since the so-called ‘peace process’ has not born fruit but instead is reaping a grim harvest.  

In another attack committed the same day, more people were killed in the eastern province of Nangahar at a funeral where people had gathered to mourn the death of a local police commander. The death toll may be as many as 34 with another 58 mourners injured.

Who were the perpetrators in these attacks from cradle to grave? Can they be found and brought to justice? It is doubtful, despite the aftermath of these crimes bringing condemnation from US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo who is urging the Taliban and the Afghan government to work together ‘to bring the perpetrators to justice,’ saying that the shooting of mothers and their babies was an ‘act of sheer evil’.

Afghanistan is confronted with conflicts that seem impossible to resolve, despite conferences, millions of dollars spent, powerful world leaders involving personnel who made pledges, and non-governmental organisations who distributed their cash and ideals.  Is the phrase ‘lessons learned’ a cliché now? How much has really been understood and acted upon?  There can be no peace without security, no security without the Rule of Law, military and police forces that can effectively ensure both, and a Justice system to support it all.  And as US policies change with the political weather the hopes of a stable and democratic Afghan government fade.  We have had the double puzzle of i) two men claiming their rights to Presidential power and ii) the US restoring to prominence and power the very enemy they had ousted. You could not make it up.

We are still unsure who committed these latest crimes with the Taliban denying them and many pointing to Daesh as the likely perpetrators because they often target Shia Muslims and both atrocities were upon this group. But President Ghani had resumed operations against the Taliban and other militant groups as the peace process faltered yet again. 

A Tale of Two Presidents

Amid these disintegrating hopes of peace, the Covid 19 virus continues to claim its victims, sweeping indiscriminately throughout the country. Yet, while it mercifully leaves children relatively unscathed, human attackers showed no such mercy in Kabul, where ‘women and children first’ just took on a tragic new meaning.  

It has been 18 long years since 9/11 when the US led an international coalition of forces that ousted the Taliban from power. During this period there has been an unstoppable toll of civilian deaths and of military personnel, precise numbers being hard to identify apart from them being in their tens of thousands.  

Who are the perpetrators now? Taliban, Daesh, greedy warlords, power crazy gun wielding misogynists?  Probably all of these and more. 

As we try to disentangle the maze of Afghanistan, where the shifting sands of alliances float away like smoke signals or become undecipherable like a long-lost language, international players and Afghans will need to do more than learn each other’s languages.  It is no good knowing and being able to speak a language without understanding the hidden cultural essentials of meaning. Who is trying to gain political capital? Answer – everyone.  While innocents are killed the politicians, warlords and power brokers play a deadly game of cat and mouse.  

But the Afghan government has been crippled by its inability even to work with itself – while Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have both vied for power and who have both declared they are the rightful President.  It begs the question. How could they work with each other to defeat the common enemy if they cannot even work with each other for the common good of the Afghan people?  

But in a faint glimmer of something akin to hope, the latest, positive, shift comes with the announcement that Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah have signed a power sharing deal, so maybe this will herald genuine cooperation. Abdullah will now head peace talks with the Taliban. This is another change of position when just a few days earlier, the Ashraf Ghani government’s National Security Advisor, Hamdullah Mohib, tweeted “There seems little point in continuing to engage Taliban in ‘peace talks’.”  The US had blamed Daesh for the atrocities and cite the fact that Daesh often targets the Shia minority for their killings.  

Instead of infighting the challenge for the government should now be to concentrate on creating a protective ring around vulnerable buildings and areas like hospitals and schools to shield them from such malign attacks and extend security throughout the country.

Britain’s Jeanne Bryer is a freelancer, specializing in Afghanistan, for over a decade. She traveled to Kabul when the Taliban were in power, interviewing women and getting their stories. She worked for the British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group for four years producing security and humanitarian reports, working with the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief in Kabul. She produced the AfghanLinks e-newsletter for four years (now discontinued) and has been a member of the Front Line Club for independent journalists since its opening in 2003. She can be reached at: afghanlinks@aol.com.  Some other publications where Jeanne’s work has appeared in is the Middle East Magazine, W-eNews and inExile.

Wording is a matter of life and death: Women’s bodily autonomy at threat

Since the beginning of the pandemic, and for years, women’s rights organizations have never ceased to stress on the importance of sexual and reproductive rights. Women’s rights organization are circulating an open letter to UN Secretary General Guterres to ensure these rights are guaranteed in the UN Humanitarian Response Plan guidance on COVID-19, threatened by USAID’s stance.

Link to the petition: https://bit.ly/3bMXAxF

In his letter to UN Secretary General Guterres, USAID acting administrator John Barsa requests the repeal of the provision on “sexual and reproductive health services” calling the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan to “remain focused on addressing the most urgent, concrete needs that are arising out of the pandemic.” He negates the essential character of abortion and more widely “sexual and reproductive health services”.

Erasing this wording will have significant impact to the bodily autonomy of millions of women which has already been obstructed in the past three months. As SheDecides notes: “Measures put in place to slow the spread of the virus mean essential services, such as sexual health clinics, abortion providers, and domestic violence services are inaccessible, restricting access to essential services, contraceptives and information, limiting her right to decide about her body, life and future”.

This erasure not only translates the taboo around women’s sexual and reproductive rights, but once again shows how the right to bodily autonomy is always threatened and used for political purposes. Women’s bodies should not be tokens used for political negotiations as it has been the case for years.

What does it mean for populations in the Arab Region?

According to UNFPA, the region hosts some of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 62.5 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, including 15.5 million women of reproductive age of whom an estimated 1.5 million are pregnant. In total, the region counts an estimated 8 million pregnant women and 107 million women of reproductive age. Now is not the time to let them down!

Worldwide, as the signatories of the letter stress it, “UNFPA estimates that 47 million women in 114 low- and middle-income countries will be unable to use modern contraceptives if the average lockdown, or COVID-19-related disruption, continues for six months with major disruptions to services. These interruptions in access to services are anticipated to result in as many as seven million unintended pregnancies, further increasing the need for abortion services and quality maternity care. Furthermore, even the least severe models indicate a reduction in essential interventions could result in thousands of additional maternal and child deaths.”

Wording is a matter of life and death.

Key Messaging: Protecting Her Right to Decide During Covid-19

Useful resources: protecting her right to decide during covid-19: https://www.shedecides.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/USEFUL-RESOURCES-FINAL.pdf