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Remembering International Women’s Day in Afghanistan, the hope and the reality

March 8th, 2014 · 3 Comments

Ten years ago, I spent a couple of months in Kabul stationed at the Canadian base. In those early days, I had what seems now like unthinkable freedom to roam around town.

One of my favourite stories I did there was about International Women’s Day, which included going to the local stadium where a lot of excited young girls were holding a small sports day. I wonder where they are now.

This is what it was like then

Bula, Frances

 09 Mar 2004: A12.

KABUL — Afghan women broke through another barrier on International Women’s Day by organizing on Monday a public demonstration of girls’ sports at the stadium used by the Taliban for executions.

On the field, Fariba Razay, 17, bounced with excited pleasure at the chance to put on her borrowed boxing gloves and throw a few punches — in front of spectators for the first time — with her best friend, Fatima Panahi.

Razay fell in love with boxing when she saw Muhammed Ali’s daughter in a fight on television in Pakistan, where her family spent the Taliban years — when laws prohibited women from working or going to school. [Fatima Panahi]’s inspiration was a neighbour of hers in Iran, her family’s refuge.

President Hamid Karzai and the minister of Women’s Affairs, Habibi Sarabi, emphasized the serious challenges Afghan women face.

Humaira Raohy, who works with the women’s affairs ministry in Mazar-i-Sharif, said the issue surrounding Karzai’s wife is symbolic. “Karzai says women should come and participate but we never see his wife. If his wife would go and register to vote on television, most of the women will go and register.”

 

 

Full Text

Vancouver Sun reporter Frances Bula is spending two months with Canada’s troops in Afghanistan.

KABUL — Afghan women broke through another barrier on International Women’s Day by organizing on Monday a public demonstration of girls’ sports at the stadium used by the Taliban for executions.

On the field, Fariba Razay, 17, bounced with excited pleasure at the chance to put on her borrowed boxing gloves and throw a few punches — in front of spectators for the first time — with her best friend, Fatima Panahi.

Razay fell in love with boxing when she saw Muhammed Ali’s daughter in a fight on television in Pakistan, where her family spent the Taliban years — when laws prohibited women from working or going to school. Panahi’s inspiration was a neighbour of hers in Iran, her family’s refuge.

The two, who have been practising for a month, were surrounded by dozens of other young girls playing soccer, volleyball and badminton, sprinting or cycling down the track, throwing each other to the ground with traditional karate moves, and doing cartwheels.

Some wore veils with their karate outfits. Others, like Fatima, had baseball caps on backwards. A few of the sprinters ran shoeless – – a sign of the severe lack of resources people here suffer.

Among the 200 spectators were several women in traditional blue burkas.

The theme of great hope and the harsh realities of poverty and patriarchal tradition was repeated everywhere at the celebrations of International Women’s Day day throughout Kabul.

The day began with a formal ceremony attended by more than 1,000 people — mainly Afghan women.

President Hamid Karzai and the minister of Women’s Affairs, Habibi Sarabi, emphasized the serious challenges Afghan women face.

Although both emphasized there has been progress, with a women’s bill of rights and women in government, they acknowledged for many women there has been little improvement.

Sarabi said there are still too many cases of families forcing their daughters into marriage for money, of parents who discriminate in how they treat their daughters, and of polygamy.

Karzai also talked about the challenges women face.

One of the cruelest practices he knows of is tribes giving away their girls to opponents with whom they are warring, to try to make peace.

It’s anti-Islamic, he said, and must be stopped.

He also talked about malnutrition among children and women, especially pregnant women, and he urged men to make sure their families are fed first, not their male guests.

Karzai provoked a minor heckling session among his audience when he asked how many women present had registered to vote in the anticipated June or July elections.

Although a majority of women raised their hands, several in the audience started shouting questions to him. In an informal back-and- forth that would be unheard of in a North American ceremony of the same calibre, women in the audience complained they couldn’t register because there were so few offices.

And several of them asked where Karzai’s wife was and why she wasn’t at the conference.

Karzai said his wife has registered to vote and that, when he got to the event, he called her to come but she had already gone out.

Only 30 per cent of the country’s 1.3 million registered voters so far are women.

Humaira Raohy, who works with the women’s affairs ministry in Mazar-i-Sharif, said the issue surrounding Karzai’s wife is symbolic. “Karzai says women should come and participate but we never see his wife. If his wife would go and register to vote on television, most of the women will go and register.”

Raohy said the situation in her province is still bad for women.

“The schools are open there, but girls are afraid to go because of the security. We spend a lot of money, but uselessly.”

Throughout the day, hundreds of women also gathered for picnics at a special park in Kabul that was built for them last year — the Women’s Garden.

Halima Sahibzoda came in especially from Bagrami, half an hour from Kabul, to celebrate the day.

The 22-year-old, who continued to work as a midwife while the Taliban held power, came with her two daughters, two sisters and two nephews. She said it was important for her to celebrate the day.

“Every woman should come and talk about the rights and also about the children and how they should live better,” she said.

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