Recent Resources for Feminists
India: New Regulations risk sending lucrative surrogacy abuses & exploitations underground Print E-mail
 Saturday January 12 2019

Surrogates victims of abuse, exploitation

Commercial surrogates mostly come from economically vulnerable households. Booked for nine months, they are paid according to their ‘performance’. The contract is usually signed in the second trimester of pregnancy. Surrogates don’t even know what the contract contains as many of them are unable to read it.
 
By Prem Chowdhry, Author and ex-academic, Delhi University

Shady: A 2013 study found that 88 per cent of surrogate mothers interviewed in Delhi did not know the terms of their contract.

LAST month, the Lok Sabha passed the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016, which aims to ban commercial surrogacy so as to protect women from exploitation. It does, however, allow altruistic surrogacy for infertile Indian couples, but only by a close relative, although this term is not defined.

Altruistic surrogacy is both gestational and traditional. In the former, pregnancy results from the transfer of an embryo created by in vitro fertilisation (IVF) in a manner that the resulting child is genetically unrelated to the surrogate. In the latter, the surrogate is impregnated naturally or artificially, but the child is genetically related to her. Single persons, homosexuals and live-in couples cannot avail of surrogacy. Couples who already have children are not to be allowed to avail of it. Foreigners and NRIs also cannot commission surrogacy.

According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, India’s commercial surrogacy industry in 2017 was estimated to be worth $2.3 billion annually. It dates back to 1994 and acquired ‘legal’ status in 2002. It has been banned in countries such as Australia, Canada, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Greece, France, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, New Zealand, China, Singapore and Vietnam. Countries that permit surrogacy are Malaysia, Thailand, South Africa, Guatemala, Russia ,Ukraine, and some states in the US, but even there it is restricted and is dealt with very strict guidelines.
Commercial surrogates mostly come from economically vulnerable households. Booked for nine months, their payment is staggered or stretched over and made according to their ‘performance’. The contract is usually signed in the second trimester of the pregnancy. The surrogate does not even know when she signs the contract or what it contains as many are unable to even read it.

A 2013 study conducted by the non-profit Centre for Social Research found that 88 per cent of surrogate mothers interviewed in Delhi and 76 per cent in Mumbai did not know the terms of their contract. In fact, 92 per cent of those in Delhi did not even have a copy of it. Today, surrogacy contracts typically exclude the surrogate herself and are usually between the clinic and the commissioning parents. Surrogacy degrades a pregnancy to a service and a baby to a product.

The surrogates, or rather their husbands, are contacted by the agents who work for clinics. And the lion’s share is taken by middlemen who connect women with the clinics. These middlemen ­ not formally affiliated with clinics, which usually pay them clandestinely ­ are largely invisible on paper. One woman complained that despite promises she was left with barely Rs 1,300, which was not even enough to pay for her eight-year-old son’s school fees.

It is the surrogate who has to take in her stride the extreme uncertainty and material cost of the repeated failures which involve a painful procedure. The contracting party has no obligation towards pregnancy loss, maternal mortality, other health risks, post-natal care and recovery of the surrogate mother. She has to tolerate invasive clinical procedures pertaining to the transfer of a large number of in vitro embryos or foetal reduction if it is undesired sex or an unwanted multiple pregnancy. The risk of miscarriage is two to three times higher than in normal pregnancies as repeated implants are frequent. Heavy medication, multiple embryo transfers, multiple gestation and foetal reduction can have serious consequences. Surrogates also risk exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. Pre-pregnancy procedures are not counted in the nine-month ‘employment period’.

A surrogate, it is claimed, earns in one year the equivalent of 3 to 15 years of income. This ‘high’ income is calculated from the ‘low’ income of her household/husband. The price advantage is attributed to the lower cost or standard of living, leaving the surrogate with huge surplus. It is the poverty of the party concerned that makes the payment look ‘high’. Women who carry children for Indian couples make between Rs 80,000 and Rs 2 lakh, whereas those who work for foreign couples can earn up to Rs 5 lakh. This price is far below what the foreign visitors would pay in their own countries.

Indian feminists/activists have been alarmed by the onslaught of commercial surrogacy. Their objections emanate primarily from their concern over the fact that women have no choice in this matter. Their reproductive capacity is totally in the hands of men, controlled, in fact abused, by them for their own benefit. It is a kind of baby-selling for money. Treated as a ‘'breeder’, her reproductive capacity is sold and re-sold as a commodity. Women are pressured into surrogacy as a way to alleviate economic pressures at home.

After completing their families, they are required to reproduce for commercial purposes. The money so earned is pocketed by the husband, who squanders it. One woman said she agreed as she desperately needed Rs 3 lakh to repay the loans her husband had taken. There are instances where even while she has not borne children of her own or her family is not complete, she is coerced into producing for others. This takes a heavy toll on her health and life. Many cases can be cited of the gross exploitation in this trade. There are are also instances of abuse such as foreign parents neglecting to pay the surrogate or abandoning the newborn after learning of birth defects etc. For example, an Australian couple abandoned one of their twin babies born to a surrogate in Delhi because they already had a child of the same sex.

The practice of commercial surrogacy is fraught with many pressing dilemmas that go much beyond the binary of commercial versus altruistic surrogacy. The question is whether this initiative by the government will be able to solve the problem. Despite heavy penalisation and imprisonment, the danger of this ‘lucrative’ practice going underground is very real. What about the surrogates? A ban does not address the situation that causes women to enter surrogacy arrangements. Should we not pay attention to that?

India: Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill approved by the Lok Sabha, but exploitation loopholes persist Print E-mail
 December 20, 2018

LS passes Bill banning commercial surrogacy

 Set of baby and parent icons on textured backgrounds   

The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed a Bill banning commercial surrogacy with penal provisions of jail term of up to 10 years and fine of up to 10 lakh.

The Bill, which will become law once the Rajya Sabha approves it, allows only close Indian relatives to be surrogate mothers and purely for "altruistic" reasons. It states an Indian infertile couple, married for five years or more, can go in for 'altruistic surrogacy' where the surrogate mother will not be paid any compensation except medical expenses and insurance.

'Historic legislation'
Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda termed the proposed legislation historic and thanked the members for a "high-quality" debate, despite noisy protests from the Congress, the TDP and the AIADMK. While the Congress raised the issue of a JPC probe into the Rafale deal, AIADMK members were protesting against the delay in constituting a Cauvery Water Board.

Opening the debate, Mr. Nadda said India had become a hub of commercial surrogacy and surrogate mothers were being exploited. The Minister claimed that the Bill had the support of every section of society, besides political parties, the Supreme Court and the Law Commission.

Dr. Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar of the Trinamool Congress, while supporting the Bill, suggested ways to improve it. "The hon. Supreme Court has recently decriminalised Section 377 and the LGBT community has been accepted to be a part of the mainstream. So, we have same- sex couples now. But, in this Bill, there is no mention of them," she said.

The Trinamool MP also called for stopping "fashion surrogacy", alleging that some celebrities were opting for it as they did not want their figures destroyed. Supriya Sule of the NCP urged the government to expand its scope as "the Bill is a good Bill but not modern enough."

BJD's Bhartruhari Mahtab pointed out that it does not define who is a close relative.

Replying to the debate, Mr. Nadda said the definition of a close relative will be clearly given in the rules of the Bill. He, however, made it clear that only a defined mother and family can avail of surrogacy and it won't be permitted for live-in partners or single parents.
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 Friday December 21, 2018

Editorial:

Womb on hire

Bill defines what surrogacy must really be all about


IN an attempt to regulate surrogacy, the Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed a Bill to bring in intelligible laws to insulate it against exploitation. The service has been micro-contained to benefit only, and only, infertile Indian and NRI couples who have been married for five years and have failed to conceive even after medical intervention. The larger circle of foreigners, Persons of Indian Origin, Overseas Citizens of India, single, divorced persons, widows and members of the LGBT community has been firmly kept away. Introduced by the Health Minister, the Bill ticks all the boxes, clarifying who is eligible for the service, and who can be a 'one-time' surrogate: a married Indian woman, aged 25 to 35, with a child of her own, and only a 'close relative' (to be defined by National Surrogacy Board once it is law).

For long, a need was felt to monitor surrogacy, whirling uncomfortably out of hand, mainly due to obscure laws, the ease of a made-to-order baby and the boggling figures that established it as an industry worth $2 billion. There have been cases of abandonment of babies, but what made it worse was the largely altruistic sentiment giving in to a fad, propagated by the Aamir Khans and Karan Johars and other affluent couples who 'engineered' a no-fuss way of having a baby: buy one. The legislation has to it a soft side, vital in such-like matters as surrogacy and adoption, allowing the surrogate child the same rights as a biological child and ensuring that a baby is not abandoned. A couple with a mentally challenged child can go for surrogacy. The registration of surrogacy clinics will be binding too.

The extreme downside to surrogacy was the commercial angle that overrode the moral considerations. Monetary allurement has now been pulled out of the equation. Heading the GoM drafting the Bill in 2016, Sushma Swaraj had said: 'Surrogacy can't be a fashion or a hobby for actors who don't want their wives to undergo labour or who already have children. It must have a purpose.' The presumptuous belief that money can buy love may be in currency still, but surely, it can't now buy a baby.
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 Monday December 24, 2018

What is altruistic surrogacy?

By Anindita Majumdar

India has to be wary of the kind of exploitation it is fostering

What is an altruistic surrogacy arrangement? According to the new Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, approved by the Lok Sabha last week, it includes contracting a 'close relative' as a surrogate by a heterosexual married couple who have been childless for five years of their marriage. This line, in gist, separates altruism from the commercial tinge that surrogacy carries with it.

How is an act of selflessness translated into thinking about a pregnancy that is aimed towards relinquishing the child to a close relative? In the U.K., laws on surrogacy allow only altruistic arrangements where the surrogate can be paid only 'reasonable expenses'. The fluidity in defining reasonable expenses means that this should ideally include payment for medical treatment, and in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) but may include other 'expenses'. In most of Australia, altruistic surrogacy entails restricted ­ in different parts of the world, varying levels of legal restrictions, or complete bans are practised ­ pre-approved payments to the surrogate, including for diet during the pregnancy, and/or for the medical treatment. However, altruism also entails the provision that the surrogate is the legal mother of the child, which can be transferred to the parents through a legal process, including adoption. In many countries in Europe, the act of gestation defines motherhood, even though the egg used for the pregnancy through IVF may belong to the couple entering the arrangement.

Role of the surrogate

As per the new Surrogacy Bill, the surrogate in India continues to fulfil her role as a gestate. In keeping with the insistence on gestational surrogacy, which makes the use of IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies mandatory, the current Bill is faithful to the Indian Council of Medical Research's Draft Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2010. The latter has governed the practice of surrogacy till the Surrogacy Bill of 2016 banning commercial surrogacy comes into effect. Motherhood did not belong to the surrogate; she was trained to think of herself as a gestate, as research by Amrita Pande suggests, and the relinquishment of the child was an absolutely essential clause within the draft bills on commercial surrogacy, and in practice in the surrogacy contract.

The commercial surrogacy arrangement in India was an exchange of money for services: and yet, clinics and surrogacy agents went to great lengths to transform the commercial element of the surrogacy arrangement, primarily identified as the surrogate's fees, into gift-giving, and sacrifice. That motherhood could be for sale is a matter of distress and shock.

In that sense, altruistic surrogacy is not very different from its opposite commercial variant. Unlike the U.K., altruism in India is being defined through the tie of kinship, not through the exchange of payment for 'services rendered'. Here, kinship and family hide the commercial element entailed in seeking a surrogate from among close relatives. Thus, much of the criticism against the Surrogacy Bill in Parliament points toward the lack of definition that the category of the 'close relative' carries.

A parallel

Let's look at the Transplantation of Human Organs Act (THOA), 1994, as a parallel to the conversation on altruism and its linkages with commercial surrogacy. The Act prescribes that organ donors are allowed to donate their organs before death only to 'near relatives'. Donating organs to 'strangers' or not near relatives before death is not allowed, and may be approved of only through the authorisation committee. The category of the 'near relative' appears again in a similar vein to the 'close relative'. But unlike the Surrogacy Bill, the THOA identifies 'near relatives' as 'spouse, son, daughter, father, mother, brother or sister'. It's a closed group of relatives ­ within the structure of the nuclear family unit ­ members who may not be eligible to be surrogates, unfortunately.

In my research, IVF specialists found the mother and sister of the infertile woman to be perfect as gestational carriers. In 2004, in Gujarat, Nayana Patel, who later became famous for her surrogacy clinic in Anand, facilitated the surrogate pregnancy of a 43-year-old woman seeking to help her childless daughter and son-in-law to have a child of their own. Yet, the women belonging to the father-to-be's family, such as his sister and mother as surrogates, carried associations with incest (even though gestational surrogacy is facilitated through technological interventions).

Word of caution
By banning commercial surrogacy in favour of its altruistic avatar, the identification of 'close relatives' will take on a murky turn. Just like in the case of organ donation, wherein 'strangers' were dressed up as 'near relatives', in altruistic surrogacy too, similar negotiations may be entered into. In an overtly patriarchal society, women are always at the receiving end of ostracism and exploitation. In facilitating altruistic surrogacy among close kin, we have to be wary of the kind of exploitation we are fostering.

Despite exempting gay couples, single men and women, and live-in couples from seeking surrogacy, not clearly defining the regulative mechanisms within altruistic surrogacy, and the very regressive approval for couples with differently-abled children to opt for surrogacy, the Bill does seek certain important changes. The push towards adoption is very welcome, as is the waiting period of five years. The popularity of IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies stems from a problematic conceptualisation of infertility itself, pushing couples to opt for invasive intervention within a year of unprotected coitus. Of importance now is to go back to understanding why and how the desire for children is socially mediated to help couples seeking surrogates, and vice versa.

Anindita Majumdar
is Assistant Professor, Department of Liberal Arts, Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad. She is the author of the book, 'Surrogacy: Oxford India Short Introductions'
UK: Call for Domestic Abuse Bill to protect specialist services as >100 women slain annaully by men Print E-mail

 Tuesday December 18, 2018

Faces of more than 100 British women killed by men they knew last year

The latest Femicide Census suggested 58 of 139 deaths featured 'overkilling' - where more violence is used than is necessary to kill the victim

By Margaret Davis

: Women's Aid identified the victims in its latest Femicide Census (Image: PA)

These are the faces of some of the 139 women killed by men in Britain in 2017.

The latest Femicide Census, drawn up by charity Women's Aid and campaigner Karen Ingala Smith, suggested 58 of the deaths featured "overkilling" - where an excessive, unnecessary level of violence is used to kill the victim.

The report's authors looked at 139 deaths of women and girls aged 14 and over at the hands of men in 2017, including 21 victims of the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.

They claim that "in our society, men's violence against women and girls is not only routine, but tolerated and normalised", and are calling for funding promises from the Government to stop specialist support services closing down.

There were 113 such deaths in 2016, 119 in 2015, and 139 in 2014.

Of the victims last year, 64 women (46%) were killed by their current or former partner - when the terrorist attacks were excluded, the proportion rose to 54.2%.

: (FIRST ROW, left to right) Alison Howe, Alyson Watt, Amy Barnes, Andreea Cristea, Aysha Frade, Angelika Klis, Anita Downey; (SECOND ROW, left to right) Anne Searle, Celine Dookhran, Chloe Rutherford, Christine Archibald, Concepta Leonard, Courtney Boyle, Demi Pearson; (THIRD ROW, left to right) Eilidh MacLeod, Elaine McIver, Ellen Higginbottom, Florina Pastina, Gemma Leeming, Georgina Callander, Gillian (Nyasha) Zvomuya (Kahari); (FOURTH ROW, left to right) Hannah Dorans, Jane Hings, Jane Tweddle, Janice Griffiths, Jessica King, Jillian Howell, Joanne Rand; (FIFTH ROW, left to right) Jodie Willsher, Julie Parkin, Justene Reece, Kanwal/Bernice Williams, Katrina Evemy, Kelly Brewster, Kerri McAuley; (SIXTH ROW, left to right) Kiran Daudia, Kirsty Boden, Kirsty (aka Kirby) Noden, Lea Adri-Soejoko, Leanne Collopy, Leanne McKie, Leonne Weeks; (SEVENTH ROW, left to right) Lisa Chadderton, Lisa Lees, Marie Brown, Marjorie Cawdery, Megan Bills, Megan Hurley, Michelle Kiss; (EIGHTH ROW, left to right) Moira Gilbertson, Molly McLaren, Nell Jones, Nicola Campbell, Olivia Campbell-Hardy, Patricia McIntosh, Quyen Ngoc Nguyen; (NINTH ROW, left to right) Sabrina Mullings, Sara Zelenak, Sheila Morgan, Sinead Wooding, Sorrell Leczkowski, Teresa Wishart, Tracey Wilkinson; (TENTH ROW, left to right) Vicki Hull, Wendy Fawell. (Image: PA)

Thirty (21.6%) were killed by a stranger, including 21 women killed in terror attacks; 24 died at the hands of a man outside their family but known to them, such as a friend, colleague or neighbour; 10 women (7.2%) were killed by their sons, and seven women (4.9%) were killed by another male family member.

Most victims were aged between 26 and 55 - 82 women, 59% of the total - and the majority were killed either at their home or the perpetrator's.

Of those who were killed by their ex-partner, 12 (55%) died within the first month of separation, and 19 (87%) within the first year.

: Jodie Willsher was stabbed to death in front of Christmas shoppers at an Aldi supermarket in 2017 (Image: Facebook)
 
: Neville John Hord, 44, was convicted of Jodie's murder (Image: SWNS.com)

Nearly three-quarters of the 126 killers (90) were aged between 26 and 55, and most of the killings involved a sharp instrument (66).

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women's Aid, said: "Time and time again, we hear of cases where a woman has been killed by a man as an 'isolated incident', yet the latest Femicide Census report shows yet again that this is not the case.

"The majority of these cases are not isolated incidents, there are too many similarities in the circumstances where women are killed by men.


"In four in 10 cases, there was evidence that the perpetrator used excessive violence, more than was necessary, to kill the victim.


"Despite the extreme level of fatal male violence being used against women, it is clear that not enough is being done to protect women from men's violence and prevent more women's lives being taken."

: Mum-of-two Kiran Daudia, 46, was killed by her ex-husband (Image: SWNS.com)
 
:Ashwin Daudia, 51, killed Kiran after becoming angry that she was meeting other men (Image: SWNS.com)

The Government is expected to publish its Domestic Abuse Bill later this week, and Women's Aid is calling for guaranteed funding to stop specialist support services from closing down.

Ms Ghose added: "Our network of life-saving specialist services is not an optional extra but an essential piece of the jigsaw in our response to domestic abuse and femicide.

"They not only provide survivors with the support they need to escape abuse but they are also often the key to survivors having the confidence to report the abuse to the police in the first place.

"The Domestic Abuse Bill must protect specialist services from closure - only then can we ensure that every survivor can safely escape and rebuild her life, free from fear and abuse."

: Ellen Higginbottom, from Boothstown, near Salford, was reported missing by her family on June 16

: Mark Steven Buckley, 51, pleaded guilty to murdering 18-year-old Ellen (Image: GMP)

A Home Office spokesman said: "Domestic abuse is a devastating crime that shatters the lives of victims and we are determined to transform our response.

"This Government will be publishing a landmark draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which will include a statutory Government definition of domestic abuse, introduce new Domestic Abuse Protection Orders and establish a Domestic Abuse Commissioner.

"The Home Office has made it a statutory duty for Community Safety Partnerships to produce a Domestic Homicide Review to ensure lessons are to be learned from those who are murdered by family or those close to them.

"We have pledged £100 million to violence


Unlike the Vatican's ideology/misogyny, Buddhist tradition not against a woman Dalai Lama Print E-mail

 Friday December 14, 2018

There could be a female Dalai Lama in future, says Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama. File photo

Mumbai: Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama on Friday said Buddhist tradition is very liberal, having equal rights for both genders, and that there could be a "female Dalai Lama" in the future.

The Dalai Lama was addressing an audience at the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay.

The Dalai Lama, whose real name is Tenzin Gyatso, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, and is feted worldwide for his advocacy of independence for Tibet and other causes.

When asked if in the future, there could be a female Dalai Lama, he said Buddha had given equal rights to both genders and that both Tibetan and Indian masters of the highest ordination had been females as well.

"Around 15 years ago, the editor of a French magazine for ladies had come to interview me. She asked me if there could be a female Dalai Lama in future. I had said yes. The Buddhist tradition is very liberal," the Dalai Lama said.

The Dalai Lama said education from kindergarten should imbibe the importance of emotional hygiene because for physical health, the mind must be at peace.

"Physical hygiene is about keeping the body healthy, which is very important. A healthy mind is important as well. In India, the knowledge about mind and emotions is over 3,000 years old. Bharat is the only civilisation, which as early as 3,000 years back, developed concepts like Vipasana. These are techniques to bring peace of mind," he said.

The Dalai Lama said other countries accepted the concept of God but only prayed, while India had developed the technique for mental peace.

"Happiness is very much related with peace. There was too much violence and suffering in the 20th century. The 21st century should not repeat it and there should be peace. But without inner peace, you cannot develop genuine peace. Human intelligence must combine with warm-heartedness," the Dalai Lama said. PTI


Afghanistan: Coaches & Fed. officials inflict physical & sexual abuse on nation's female footballers Print E-mail

 Tuesday December 04, 2018

Afghan women's football dream turns into nightmare

By Jill McGivering BBC News, South Asia Editor

The women's team was celebrated internationally as a symbol of a new, more liberal Afghanistan (Image copyright AFP)

In post-Taliban Afghanistan, the women's football team was hailed globally as a symbol of the new freedoms enjoyed by the country's women.

But now one of Afghanistan's top sports officials has admitted that female footballers - who defied hard-liners and militants by daring to take to the field in the first place - have been sexually abused. And it's not only football - he admitted the problem extends to other sports too.

Most women athletes are too frightened to speak publicly about alleged abuse by coaches and sporting officials. But several have now disclosed privately to the BBC what they have experienced.

The scandal has exploded in the last few days. On Friday, football's governing body Fifa said it was investigating claims made by women in the national football squad. The Afghan Attorney General's Office then announced its own investigation too.

On Monday, President Ashraf Ghani addressed the allegations head on, saying they were "shocking to all Afghans".

"Even if mere allegations cause our people to stop sending their sons and daughters to sports, we need to act immediately and comprehensively," he said.

Hummel, a Danish sportswear company, has pulled sponsorship of the Afghan Football Federation (AFF), which is at the heart of the allegations.

Sayed Alireza Aqazada, the secretary general of the federation, whose president Keramuddin Karim is among the accused, repeated previous denials. The women's stories aren't true, he said. No sexual harassment had ever been carried out against any female player.

But the furore is showing no signs of abating. Questions were asked in both houses of Afghanistan's parliament on Monday. Then Hafizullah Rahimi, the head of Afghanistan's Olympic committee, made a surprising statement to reporters in Kabul.

"Sadly, these sorts of concerns have reached us," he said. "Sexual abuse does exist, not only within the Football Federation but in other sports federations as well. We have to fight it."
  Former captain Khalida Popal says men have destroyed the team (Image copyright AFP)

It's the first formal acknowledgement that persistent allegations made by former members of the women's national football team of rampant abuse by male coaches and others in positions of power may be credible.

Many of the allegations have come from Khalida Popal, a former captain of the Afghan women's national football team who also served as its programme director. She risked her life as a teenager to play football in secret - when Afghanistan was still under Taliban rule. In order not to get caught she and her friends played in silence so the Taliban guards on the other side of the school wall wouldn't hear them.

Speaking to the BBC from Denmark, where she has lived since 2011, after fleeing death threats in Afghanistan, she said she had witnessed first-hand widespread physical and sexual abuse of girls and young women by coaches and federation officials. Girls complained to her about a range of abuse, from rape to sexual touching and harassment.

She says she almost lost hope of anything being done about it after she started to document abuse by two coaches. She took her findings to the Afghan Football Federation several years ago.

"Instead of removing them or punishing them", she said, "they were promoted."

Some of the key culprits, she claims, are powerful figures in Afghanistan with close links to government. Officials in the federation would tell players that they could get them on the team list and give them money if they had sex with them, she said.

The BBC has spoken to several young women still living in Afghanistan - including some athletes from sports other than football - who tell similar stories of sexual harassment and bullying. They say the abuse often happened when they were competing to get a place in the national team or for the chance to train or play overseas. One says she was told: "Show me how beautiful you are because only beautiful girls will get on the team."

 The team's first game was against international troops (Image copyright AFP)

The allegations about the women's football team have particular resonance because it was earlier celebrated internationally as a symbol of a new, more liberal Afghanistan - and a showcase for the freedoms enjoyed by girls and young women after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

The fact that the football stadium in Kabul where the team trained was once the venue for Taliban executions only emphasised the contrast.

The irony isn't lost on Khalida Popal. When she was the football team's programme director, she recruited American female coaches and many Afghan women from the diaspora. The Afghan women, she said, "dreamed of doing something for their country, of supporting their sisters back in Afghanistan, of developing a strong national team that represents a positive image of the women of Afghanistan".

"But unfortunately men tried to destroy our programme."


She says that since her allegations were published on Friday in The Guardian newspaper (Scroll Down to Read), she's heard from a dozen men and women who have thanked her for speaking out, some tearfully, and said they had similar experiences but were too frightened to come forward.

"I know my voice can change so many lives," she told me. "I know my voice can change the system."

Additional reporting by the BBC's Afghan Service.
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 London ~ Friday 30 November 2018

Fifa examining claims of sexual and physical abuse on Afghanistan women’s team

• Team sponsor Hummel cuts ties pointing to allegations
• Abuse allegedly perpetrated by men in Afghanistan’s FA
• Afghan FA says it ‘vigorously rejects the false accusations’
Exclusive by Suzanne Wrack
 
 Allegations that players in Afghanistan’s women’s team have been abused by men from the country’s football federation are being looked into by Fifa. (Courtesy of Afghanistan women's national football team )

Fifa is examining allegations that members of the Afghanistan national women’s team were sexually and physically abused by men from the country’s football federation, including its president, Keramuudin Karim.

The claims have prompted the team’s principal sponsor, Hummel, to cut ties with the Afghan federation (AFF) and call for new leadership. The Danish sportswear manufacturer said it was “presented with strong allegations of severe mental, physical, sexual and equal-rights abuse of the female players by male AFF officials”.

Senior figures associated with the Afghanistan women’s team have told the Guardian that abuse took place inside the country, including at the federation’s headquarters, and at a training camp in Jordan last February.


Khalida Popal, a former head of the women’s football department at the AFF, who was forced to flee the country in 2016 and seek asylum in Denmark, has spoken to the Guardian, together with the players Shabnam Mobarez and Mina Ahmadi and the head coach, Kelly Lindsey, about the ordeal of players within the country and their frustrations with a system that, they feel, has failed to protect them.

The AFF said in a statement that it “vigorously rejects the false accusations made with regard to the AFF’s women’s national team”. It added that it has a “zero-tolerance policy towards any such type of behaviour”.

Fifa confirmed it was investigating the claims and a source at world football’s governing body told the Guardian it had been working with the United Nations on some players’ safety.

The source said: “Fifa has been fully aware of the situation in Afghanistan and has been working hard to secure the safety of the girls. They have been working very discreetly with those involved – given the sensitive nature of the accusations and danger to life posed – since March to pull together evidence for a formal investigation and have brought in the UN. Such is the extent of their concern for the girls still in the country and the need to bring in an organisation that can make political and legal interventions outside of Fifa’s abilities.”

In its statement Fifa said: “The serious subjects mentioned are being looked into by Fifa. As some aspects of these allegations involve sensitive topics linked to the protection of those involved, we have sought support from relevant parties who willingly offered their suppor”

Popal said that, in the course of an investigation she has carried out into the allegations, she heard claims of physical abuse, sexual abuse, death threats and rape. She said: “It was very difficult for us, living in the country, to talk about these things because these are very powerful guys. If a player from Afghanistan raised a voice they can get killed.”

Having fled the country two years ago, Popal organised national team training camps in Jordan, Japan and the UAE which have brought together players from inside and outside Afghanistan.

She told the Guardian that for the first such gathering, in Jordan in February, the players arriving from Afghanistan were accompanied by two men.

“They sent two male representatives, going under the title of ‘head of women’s football’ and ‘assistant coach’,” she said. “They were bullying and harassing the girls, particularly the ones from Afghanistan because they knew they wouldn’t speak up. I confronted them, told them they can’t do that and I’d make a complaint.

“It continued. These guys were calling on the rooms of the players and sleeping with the girls. AFF staff members would say to girls that they could get them on the team list and would pay them £100 a month if they would say yes to everything. They were pushing and forcing the girls. Coercing them.”

She said players reported to her what was going on and told her she needed to get it stopped. Popal said: “I phoned the president and said: ‘You should stop this. If you don’t stop it I cannot stop the girls from going to the media with their stories.’ He was promising that he would take serious action.

“He said to just keep playing football and we should keep it quiet until they come back and then they [the men] will be punished.”

According to the American Lindsey, the two male officials alleged to have abused players in Jordan “were promoted and moved to other areas within the AFF”.

Afghanistan’s Shabnam Mobarez has said a contract she was asked to sign by the FA is ‘taking away my basic human rights away from me, and my rights as a female’. (Haris Rahimi/Cloud 9 Productions)

Popal said that shortly after the camp in Jordan ended “nine players, who are based in Afghanistan, some of our best players, were kicked off the national team, accused of being lesbians”. It was, she claimed: “Because some of them were going to talk to the media. The president [privately] labelled them lesbians to silence them from speaking out about the sexual abuse in Jordan and abuses by coaches. He beat one of the girls with a snooker cue. He beat the player and said she was a lesbian and she was kicked out of the federation.


“If they spoke out, no one would listen to them because being accused of being lesbian or gay in Afghanistan is a topic you don’t speak about and puts you and your family in a lot of danger.”

Popal said that when she learned nine players had been sidelined she started an investigation and multiple allegations were made regarding Karim, a former governor of Panjshir province and chief of staff in the ministry of defence before he took over the presidency of the AFF in 2004.

She said: “While I was doing the investigation with these players I found out the huge extent of the abuse, sexually, mentally, physically, happening from the president himself.”

She claimed: “Not only that, he has a room inside his office that is a bedroom with a bed. The doors of his office [use] fingerprint recognition, so when players go in they can’t get out without the fingerprint of the president.

“I tried to search for the girls. I found some of the girls that were sexually abused, and physically abused if they said no. The federation would make an excuse to get rid of the player so that if they came out [and spoke publicly], it would look like they were just upset about being kicked off the team. That investigation took me half a year and there was physical abuse, sexual abuse, death threats and rape cases.”


Lindsey said they tried to raise the issue with the Asian Football Confederation. “They basically said: ‘We can’t speak to you about this because you’re not a member association, we need your president or your general secretary to speak with us.’”

 
An AFC spokesperson told the Guardian: “The AFC is looking into the various media reports which have been published and the complaints that some Afghanistan players have made on social media. There have been no reports of any sexual abuse to the AFC from any Afghanistan player.”

The Afghan federation said it would fight to support and protect all its players and that “these very serious allegations seem to come from former employees, without ever having directly contacted the AFF and/or provided any specific information to help the AFF to investigate”.

It added: “Should the AFF receive specific factual information and/or evidence, it will not hesitate to initiate further investigations immediately and to take all appropriate steps to prevent such actions and prosecute those responsible for them.”

A further development was the arrival of women’s national team contracts that those involved describe as “aggressive”, “one-way” and about “silencing” players.

Those that did not sign were kicked off the team. Mobarez tweeted that the contract prevented her from being paid for playing, limited their ability to get sponsorship elsewhere or pursue other promotional ventures, and removed mediation in disciplinary proceedings.

“I think this contract is very inhumane because it’s taking away my basic human rights away from me, and my rights as a female,” Mobarez, the captain, who plays in Denmark, said.

Ahmadi said: “It empowers us more and makes us more motivated to spread the message and accomplish great things. We all still have the same goal. They can’t break us.”

Hummel said it had “clear documentation of breach of contract as well as the fact that AFF leadership has been aware of the allegations since February this year without taking actions or informing sponsors. The documentation of unacceptable behaviour includes, but is not limited to, a new contract stripping player of several basic human rights.”

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