Lion Brand’s Design team had prepared gift bags of basic yarns in subdued colors, thinking that these would be in keeping with their guests’ cultural tastes but were surprised to find that the Afghan women were excited by the novelty ribbon and fur yarns in bright colors and especially the whimsical garments and stuffed animals for children that they saw on display.
TO NEIGHBOURS, Sheima looks like a kindergarten teacher. The diminutive 26-year-old Afghan sets off from her mud-brick house in west Kabul each morning in a headscarf, long shirt and baggy pants. She even tucks textbooks under her arm to keep up the illusion.
But Sheimaâ€™s job is far from elementary. She is part of a new counter-narcotics force fighting on the front line of Afghanistanâ€™s war on drugs. Once she has made her way through the dusty chaos of Kabulâ€™s streets, she swaps her traditional garb for khaki fatigues, combat boots, dark sunglasses and an AK-47 Kalashnikov.
â€œI have to live a double life,â€ said Sheima, who â€” unusually for an Afghan woman â€” wears her hair short and chews gum.
â€œOnly my immediate family know what I do. I havenâ€™t even told my other relatives because the heroin traders have spies everywhere. If they found out, theyâ€™d probably kill me.â€
Tarsian & Blinkley, with the young designer as the creative and managing director, directly impacts the lives of 300 women in Kabul.
â€œAfghan women have gone completely unnoticed in the past,â€ observed Takesh who explained that despite the country undergoing a devastating phase it retains a rich cultural legacy.
The firm pays the women they employ wages that are well above the countryâ€™s standards and expose them to market-sensitive practices of quality control while its partners provide the women with skill training such as tailoring and literacy.
In exchange for the opportunity to make a sustainable living, feed themselves and their families, Tarsian & Blinkley gets loyal employees who stitch, embroider, bead, and knit clothing and accessories using age-old handicrafts techniques unique to central Asia.
â€œWhen I met some of these women for the first time, they used to cover their faces, but now they use mobile phones,â€ Takesh said
First Lady Laura Bush is just back from her good-will tour of the Middle East. Along with touting education in her speeches in Jordan, Israel and Egypt, she emphasized the importance of women’s roles in any democracy. In Afghanistan, women comprised 40% of the voters in the most recent elections. Just last week, women in Kuwait were granted the right to vote. Yet while many women in the Middle East are starting their own businesses, millions of others are seriously disadvantaged in education, healthcare and the justice system. Life is an often violent hardship. Guest host Diana Nyad speaks with social anthropologists, women’s advocates, activists, and a State Department coordinator who accompanied Mrs. Bush on her recent trip about democratization of the Middle East and the daily struggle for women there.
LAHORE, Pakistan, May 14 — More than two dozen people were detained Saturday after taking part in a foot race that included women, defying a ban imposed after Islamic hard-liners had attacked participants in a similar event.
Authorities banned women from competing in foot races after hard-liners, who regard women’s participation in sports as against Islam, attacked runners at a similar event in Punjab province last month.
A Reuters photographer said police also beat and arrested protesters from Islamist parties who had planned to attack participants in the race.
Among those arrested was group of female rights activists who attempted to lead a rally demanding for women the right to run in marathons alongside men.
Pakistanâ€™s internationally known human rights activist Asma Jehangir was also arrested, witnesses said.
â€œThe police surrounded Asmaâ€™s office and detained her as she came out of the office along with other participants,â€ witness Abdullah Iqbal said.
Pakistani authorities had banned women from taking part in marathons last month after violent protests by hard-line Islamic parties. A marathon in Gujranwala, 85 miles south of Islamabad, in early April was attacked by a mob of Islamic extremists wielding batons and guns. Cross-fire between the police and the Islamists left 80 people injured.
The organizers of the run on Saturday said they wanted to highlight violence against women and protest against the increasing influence of Islamic extremist political parties.
Afghan broadcasting authorities have just reserved a TV frequency for the Voice of Afghan Women association to open what is expected to be the first womenâ€™s community television channel in Kabul.
The registration fee has been paid thanks to a project of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communications (IPDC), which will also provide a transmitter with antenna and essential TV production equipment to the womenâ€™s association.
It is not a job for the faint hearted. Afghan governors are stereotypically gruff, bearded men with a penchant for fighting, sweet tea and smoke-filled-room politics. Ms Sarobi, a mild-mannered mother, comes to work with a suitcase and her secretary.
Formerly the minister for women’s affairs, she said she had turned down an ambassadorial job to demand the governor’s post from President Hamid Karzai.
In Bamiyan, Ms Sarobi’s popularity stems from a solid political pedigree (her uncle is a former vice-president) and partly from the liberalism of her fellow Hazara, one of Afghanistan’s more tolerant tribes.
After the Taliban seized power in 1996, she fled to Pakistan so her daughter could continue school. She also detested the obligatory burka, but found the ankle-length cloak a useful disguise when, years later, she slipped back across the border to establish a clandestine network of girls’ schools.
The bad news…
Last week a woman in Badakhshan was stoned to death for adultery, the second such killing since the Taliban’s overthrow in 2001.
John made us aware of this alarming trend:
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.