Recent Resources for Feminists
Carol Mann: Farkhunda’s lynching illustrates Afghanistan's continuum of human rights abuses Print E-mail
 Sunday March 22nd, 2015

The lynching of a woman in broad daylight in present-day Kabul

By Carol Mann

On March 19th 2015, Farkhunda, a 27-year old woman completing her studies, was lynched by a mob in a Kabul street for being suspected of setting alight a copy of the Q’uran or a Tawiz (an amulet, it’s not clear). The family ‘s first reaction (that is to say, before demanding justice), seems to have been explanatory, nearly apologetic, claiming she was suffering severe mental problems and depression­a condition which according to research affects a significant proportion of the female population in Afghanistan. One hardly needs to wonder why.

Farkhunda’s fate reminds me of the execution of Zarmina in a public stadium in Kabul by the Taliban, in the closing years of the XXth century. This was the time that I came into contact with a then very active, but still unknown, militant group in Afghanistan, RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. This secular, egalitarian group was the only one fighting the Soviet intervention not from a religious point of view but from a socialist alternative standpoint.

Documenting Taliban abuses was one of its aims. Thus, one brave woman smuggled in a camera to the stadium and hid it in the folds of her blue burqa to film Zarmina’s execution. Had she been spotted, she would have been killed along with her comrades. I was sent this film in Paris with the hope of showing it on TV. This being pre-9/11, it did not interest anyone at the time, one company telling me that the quality was too poor to be aired on public media! Naturally when Afghanistan became the flavour of the new millennium, these images were immediately appropriated by prominent spokespeople in the name of self-righteous, if tardy, indignation. It took me several years to get the real hero over to Paris to tell her tale on TV. Just to remind you: the images show a female figure in a burqa being dragged to the centre of the stadium by other similarly clad women (presumably policewomen) , made to sit and then shot by an executioner in a turban behind her, firing with a Kalashnikov. Apparently thousands were forced to look on, including the hapless victim’s seven children. Zarmina’s fate became a cause célèbre after 9/11, it was shown as a true example of Taliban evil, complete with sinister beards and head-dresses. The film went global and served to legitimate the US and Allied intervention on the promise, as G.W. Bush repeatedly mouthed, of liberating Afghan women from such outrages and bringing them Western-style democracy and human rights, etc.

Fast forward to now, Now Ruz 2015. Zarmina’s twins (whom she was allowed to wean before being executed) are now adults. The US intervention has come and practically gone, purportedly having created the basis for democracy. Admittedly schools, hospitals have been built, a class of urbanized educated women has been somewhat empowered, the foundations for a possible state have been laid­at least on paper. The only overriding achievement is that henceforth Afghanistan is the world capital for the cultivation of the opium poppy and cannabis and provides over 75% of the planet’s consumption of these drugs, despite the billions spent in attempted eradication.

Compared to the modest statistics in Taliban times, this, in terms of cynical numbers, is the single greatest Afghan success story of recent times, far more considerable than the reduction of maternal and child mortality which continue to be catastrophic.

Look (if you can stomach it) at the horrific images of Farkhunda’s lynching. Again a totally veiled woman, no face showing, like Zarmina, savagely beaten with sticks, and stoned until she is but a bleeding rag-doll. But scrutinise the henchmen shouting Allah-u-Akhbar. No bearded Taliban here or shalwar-kamiz, but young men, some teenagers, slick short hair, leather jackets, jeans, wielding sticks and cell phones to film the scene. One executioner proudly posted the scene on his Facebook page. Looking just like their contemporaries anywhere on the planet, these kids do not appear to be older than 25, which means that they all benefited, however diminutively, from the possibilities afforded to them by the nascent institutions of Post-Taliban Afghanistan. Something comparable could be said for all the thousands leaving Europe and parts of North Africa (especially Tunisia) to join the ranks of ISIS. They are not all illiterate and starving, nor victims of some imperialist plot. Nor were the uniformed and armed Kabuli policemen, however poorly paid, who were calmly watching the lynching.

Are we asking the right questions? For a start, there is no real ‘Before’ and ‘After’ Taliban but a continuum of abuse against human rights in Afghanistan, which started to escalate more dramatically as from the Civil War, (after the collapse of the pro-Communist regime) between warlords, some of whom are still in power. Should one be surprised that officials in the government and clerics came out in support for the lynching? As far as I am aware, the public murder did not make the immediate headlines in Afghanistan or Pakistan. From Thursday when it happened until Saturday evening, I hardly saw it posted on any Afghan Facebook pages that I subscribe to either, except from a couple of outraged individuals not representing anyone. I am willing to be proven wrong. There were more details to be had from the Western press, suitably and predictably horrified..

My permanently angry friend FS suggested that one should think the situation out in the light of the Charlie Hebdo issue. Hapless Farkhunda, it seems, was not burning anything at all but the suspicion of sacrilege seems to have been enough to warrant and justify her public lynching with the tacit blessing of the authorities. Three interlocked features have been normalized here: first the undefined notion of blasphemy overriding constitutional law which in turn removes citizenship and human dignity from anyone suspected of committing what any other (male) individual may consider a felony. This in turn allows any (male) person the right to represent divine justice and turn himself into an executioner. For what it was worth, Zarmina went through some semblance of a Taliban-style trial but Farkhunda was murdered point-blank in broad daylight, in a crowded neighbourhood.

The notion of state, already moribund with Karzai, seems to have entirely disappeared in Ashraf Ghani’s Afghanistan. Like everywhere else, the condition of women’s rights constitutes the only valid indicator for the maintenance or absence of true democracy and human rights. In Afghanistan once again, this tragedy with a woman’s death at its epicentre is a symptom of the potential collapse of the state if real justice is not carried out and human rights not enforced by law. The women clad in black carrying Farkhunda’s coffin today may well be burying their hopes and futures for a better world.

Afghanistan: Women take responsibilities for burying sister Farkhunda brutally murdered by male mob Print E-mail

 London ~ Monday 23 March 2015

Women break with tradition in Afghanistan to help bury 'completely innocent' Farkhunda who was beaten to death by Kabul mob

A mob beat the 27-year-old woman to death before throwing her body off a roof, running it over with a car, setting it on fire and then throwing it in a river

By Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith

The burial of a woman who was brutally killed in Kabul for allegedly burning a copy of the Koran, saw Afghan women break with tradition on Sunday and help to carry the 27-year-old’s coffin to its final resting place.

The woman, now named as Farkhunda, was beaten to death by a mob in Kabul last week following accusations she had burned a copy of the Koran. The mob of men threw her body off a roof after beating her, ran over it with a car, set it on fire and then threw it into a river next to a well-known mosque in their brutal attack.

Farkhunda, a veiled woman who had just finished a degree in religious studies and was about to take up a teaching post, had got into a dispute with a group of men who sold amulets at the Shah-Do Shamshera shrine, her family said. She had told women not to waste their money on the amulets, calling the sellers parasites.

Farkhunda had been wrongly accused of burning a copy of the Koran People chanted 'we want justice' as Farkhunda was buried

 A man holds up a picture of Farkhuna as he attends her funeral

Her father, Mohammed Nadir, said the men responded by claiming Farkhunda had torched the Koran, causing people to believe she was “not a Muslim” and for her to be beaten to death.

But authorities have been “unable to find any singly iota of evidence to support claims that she had burned a Koran,” the country’s top criminal investigator, General Mohammed Zahir said.

“She is completely innocent,” he added, revealing that 13 people had now been arrested in connection with the killing, including two men who sold amulets. Thirteen policemen have been suspended pending investigation following allegations members of the force stood by and did nothing to stop the attack from happening last Thursday.

Hundreds attended the funeral, which was broadcast live Farkhunda has been found 'completely innocent' of her alleged crime

 Activists called for justice and claimed the killing demonstrated how women are treated as second class citizens in Afghanistan

Farkhunda’s funeral was broadcast live on Sunday and was addressed by politicians, officials and senior police officers. Hundreds of people gathered at the graveyard chanting “we want justice” while the women who attended to help bury her carried the coffin from an ambulance to an open-air burial ground and finally her grave.

The women attendees, who are usually excluded from these rituals, were surrounded by a group of men who had formed a chain to offer them protection and support as they carried Farkhunda’s coffin.

Farkhunda’s brother Najibullah told the crowd: “She is a sister to you all, and it is your duty to bury her.”

Men formed a protective chain around the female pallbearers

 Farkhunda had completed a degree in religious studies and was about to take up a teaching post

Farkhunda's brother denied reports his sister had suffered from mental health issues Najibullah said he is changing his second name to Farkhunda in memory of his sister, and denied media reports his sister had been mentally ill. He said this claim was a made-up defence by his father, who had wanted to protect his family after police told them to leave the city for their own safety.

President Ashraf Ghani, now in Washington on his first state visit to the United States since taking office in September, condemned the killing as a “heinous attack” and ordered the current investigation.

Activists have condemned the killing, calling for justice for Farkhunda and for women in Afghanistan.

Thirteen men have been arrested and as many policemen suspended in connection with the killing.

 Activists lay in Farkhunda's grave before she was buried

Women do not traditionally attend burial rituals “We want justice for Farkhunda, we want justice for Afghan women. All these injustices happening to Afghan women are unacceptable,” a prominent women’s rights activist, known as Dr Alima, said.

“In which religion or faith is it acceptable to burn a person to death? Today is a day of national mourning and we will not keep quiet.”

Despite the end of the Taliban’s rule in 2001 following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, and the supposed end to the restrictions placed on women under the previous regime, activists claim women are still treated as second-class citizens.

Under the Taliban, women could neither attend school nor work, and were forbidden from leaving the house without a male guardian.

While the last decade has seen much progress, with millions of girls now attending school and women entering employment, particularly in major cities, some rural areas have seen little changed and hard-won rights are at risk of being reversed as aid and foreign troops are withdrawn.

Additional reporting by agencies

Afghanistan: Kubra Khademi in hiding post-metal underwear demo against sexual harassment Print E-mail
Sunday March 15, 2015

Afghanistan: Woman wears metal underwear to protest against sexual harassment, goes into hiding

Afghan performance artist Kubra Khademi was just 4 years old the first time she was molested by a stranger on the street, and recalls thinking one thing "I wish I had a metal underwear". (AP)

Kabul: Afghan performance artist Kubra Khademi was just 4 years old the first time she was molested by a stranger on the street, and recalls thinking one thing: "I wish my underwear was made of iron."

So more than 20 years later she donned a suit of armour with large breasts and buttocks and wore it on the streets of Kabul to protest Afghanistan's endemic harassment.

The eight-minute performance was not well received: She is now in hiding and afraid for her life. But after a lifetime of being pinched and prodded on the streets ­ and being told to keep quiet about it ­ the 27 year old is determined to break her deeply conservative society's silence on sexual harassment.

Women, even those who wear the all-encompassing burka, regularly endure verbal abuse and unwanted touching in Afghanistan, where the fight for gender equality is still in its infancy. After more than a decade of activism, girls are still sold into marriage, domestic violence goes largely unpunished, and few women occupy positions of public responsibility.


Khademi was four when a stranger touched her bottom while she was walking to a shop near her family's home in Quetta, Pakistan, where they had joined a tide of refugees fleeing war and the brutal rule of the ultra-conservative Taliban. She was molested in the streets on many other occasions throughout her life, including one instance shortly after she had returned to Afghanistan in 2008 to take entrance exams to study fine arts at Kabul University.

On that occasion, she screamed, assuming someone would come to her aid. Instead, the crowd turned on her.

"All the people stared at me and even started yelling at me: 'You whore! How dare you scream! Did you enjoy it?'" Khademi told The Associated Press.

"Nobody saw that man. Maybe he was among the people shouting at me. This stuff happens daily and I see it. But if I am a 'good girl' I shouldn't say it, not to my mother, not to my brother, I shouldn't say it in public. But I will say it."

The repeated harassment and other deeply personal experiences inform her exhibitions, which can take years to evolve and yet last just minutes. A late 2013 performance at a Kabul gallery, which many viewers found distressing, consisted of her slapping both sides of her own face for almost an hour. She said she wanted to highlight her country's tolerance of violence after more than 30 years of war.


Ahead of her Feb. 26 suit of armor performance, she spent four months interviewing women about sex, sexuality and identity. Many stories were about cruelty and loss, but none of the women seemed to own their own experiences, she said.

"What I felt was the same: women do not have the right to enjoy, and should not have the right to enjoy. It's like food ­ you desire to eat, but good women should not talk about it, good women should not enjoy it, good women should not have the right to think of it as her right," she said.

There undoubtedly have been improvements since the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban in 2001. Billions of dollars in aid have poured into projects aimed at cutting maternal mortality rates, boosting women's access to health care and schooling, and educating police and the judiciary in enforcing constitutional guarantees of equality.

Khademi said the angry reactions from both men and women to her performance ­ including death threats and accusations that she is an American spy ­ are proof that Afghan society is changing.

But change is slow, and fear of change remains deeply entrenched.

When she put on the suit of armor and returned to the crowded Kabul neighborhood where she had been harassed in 2008, the crowd turned on her again. People threw stones and threatened to beat her, and after just eight minutes she declared the performance over and returned to her car, which was surrounded and damaged by the angry mob.

But amid the melee at least one person seemed to understand the message.

"Look at that girl," she recounted a boy saying who was about 10, not much older than she had been on that distant day in Quetta. "She doesn't want to be touched."

Australia: Majority of cases unreported, but sexual assaults, 93 % by men, rise by 19% in 2013-14 Print E-mail

 (Australian Edition) ~ Wednesday 25 February 2015

Sexual assault offender numbers in Australia jump by 19% in 2013-14

Australian Bureau of Statistics’ report, Recorded Crime – Offenders, shows 93% of offenders were male

The charge includes offences such as child sexual abuse and possessing child sexual abuse material. ( Dave Hunt/AAP)

By Melissa Davey and Nick Evershed

The number of people charged with sexual assault offences increased nationally by 19% in 2013-14, new data shows.

The figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed people aged 10 and over with a principal charge of “sexual assault and related offences” increased to 7,175 in 2013-14, up from 6,006 the year before. As a rate per 100,000 people, this is an increase from 30.1 to 35.3 year-on-year.

Of those, 93% were male, the figures published as part of the Recorded Crime – Offenders report found.

As well as aggravated and non-aggravated sexual assault, the charge includes offences such as child sexual abuse and possessing child sexual abuse material.

A spokesman for the men’s family violence prevention organisation No to Violence, Rodney Vlais, said while it was difficult to say why there has been such a marked increase, he believed more people may be coming forward to report the offences.

“My sense is that the increasing community and public attention to violence against women occurring across much of Australia might be resulting in increased reporting of sexual [violence] against women in general, as well as violence against women in intimate relationships,” he said.

“Of course, reported sexual violence to police is just the tip of the iceberg, as most assaults go unreported, including sexual violence that men use against their intimate partners.”

The data also showed the number of youths with a principal offence of sexual assault and related offences increased from 1,369 in 2012-13 to 1,855 in 2013-14. That represented a jump of 36%.

The director of the National Centre for Crime and Justice Statistics, William Milne, said this was driven by an increase in non-assaultive sexual offences of 48%.

“While we did see an increase in the number of youths reported for sexual assault and related offences, overall there was a 4% decline in the number of youth offenders,” he said.

There was also an increase in the rate of people charged with illicit drug offences, which rose from 322 per 100,000 people in 2012-13 to 351.4 in 2013-14. This increase was across all subcategories, including dealing or trafficking illicit drugs, manufacturing or cultivating illicit drugs, and possessing and/or using illicit drugs.

The rate of other categories of offences, such as homicide, property damage, and robbery and extortion have decreased over time.

Global: FGM declining, but in some African & Middle Eastern countries still hovers at 80% Print E-mail
 Volume 385, No. 9971, p843–844, 7 March 2015

World Report

Working towards an end to FGM

By Jules Morgan
Stopping female genital mutilations, and providing high-quality care to survivors, are not easy goals but momentum is gaining to achieve them.

In practising communities, female genital mutilation (FGM) is a social norm­a public declaration of social acceptability that families believe makes their daughters pure, clean, and prepared for marriage. The ritual is a celebration for the community, as Rehab, cut before her sixth birthday, explains: “Without anaesthetic the midwife started to carve my external genitalia…women who were present started to cheer.” The practice is enforced by communities in which cultural and religious conventions are often more robust than national laws that ban FGM. However, cutting has serious health effects, and is classed by many people as child abuse.

More than 130 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM and, although incidence is declining overall, in some African and Middle Eastern countries, the prevalence is still more than 80% (table). European countries with a large migrant population from FGM-affected communities are now responding more collaboratively, following the long-awaited UN resolution in 2012 that called for a global ban on FGM.

Table : FGM overview in Africa and Middle Eastern countries

Taken from Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: a statistical overview (UNICEF 2013). Data are for women aged 15–49 years. FGM=female genital mutilation. B=FGM banned. C=FGM criminalised.
*Reporting in Republic of Sudan, not South Sudan.
†In some states.
‡In Kurdistan region.

FGM campaigners have been pushing for more action, visibility, and sustainable policy development to end the practice for the past three decades. The charitable organisation FORWARD has taken a leading role in engaging affected communities and delivering professional quality training in the UK, Europe, and Africa. Arriving at the London-based offices, there's a distinctive buzz of activity, and “creating a buzz around the topic of FGM” is exactly what is needed says Executive Director Naana Otoo-Oyortey.

FGM is a health issue
“When I was older and became pregnant I was in terrible pain…It wasn't until I was in labour for 4 days and there was no way for the baby to come out, that someone said to me, you're going through this because of your FGM. This joined all the dots up­all the problems I'd had sexually, in my health and emotionally, were because of the FGM.” Sarian's words are indicative of a widespread blindness within FGM-practising communities of the link between FGM and health issues such as recurrent bladder and urinary infections, cysts, infertility, obstetric fistula, increased risk of childhood complications, and neonatal deaths.

Sarian and Rehab now work as community facilitators at the Health Advocacy Project, Manor Gardens Centre, London, UK, alongside Rosalind Jerram, FGM project manager, who tells The Lancet that, “In the last 3 months, we gave FGM educational workshops to 136 members of practising communities, including men. We trained 413 statutory professionals on FGM and gave training to 58 students.” Training, education, and awareness are objectives shared by many professionals working in FGM prevention services.

Specialist midwife Joy Clarke based at the Whittington Hospital, London, UK, told The Lancet that 15 years ago FGM, rarely disclosed, would often go undetected until the late stages of pregnancy. Referrals from general practitioners were rare, she explains, and initially most women came to the clinic through word-of-mouth referrals. In her view, to approach the subject with cultural sensitivity, from an educated and informed standpoint, requires specialist quality-approved training. The emotional effect on midwives and health professionals is substantial: “we need our own support group”, she says, with a gravity that speaks volumes. Clarke believes that therapeutic support, “for processing and reflecting”, is vital.

Managed by the Health Advocacy Project, the Dahlia Project, in partnership with the Maya Centre, is run by FGM survivor and campaigner Leyla Hussain, and offers a unique service of group and individual counselling. Hussain told The Lancet that “in FGM communities mental health problems don't exist”. The link between FGM and psychological trauma has, therefore, been ignored or suppressed, particularly by the survivors themselves. She identifies that, “In the UK, the three topics that people are afraid to talk about are race, gender, and sex, and FGM involves all three.”

Receptive world stage
The UK has had legal sanctions preventing FGM in place for almost 30 years. However, only after many hard-fought years do campaigning organisations and individuals feel more visible. Political support and high-profile media coverage have been effective drivers of social change.

On Feb 6 ­International Zero Tolerance Day­the UK Department of Health announced new measures to end FGM, including £1·6 million to improve National Health Service response, a more integrative and mandatory reporting system, and improved training for front line health workers. Additionally, there is a unified call for the Department of Education to enforce and openly support training in schools, for teachers and for students, who some believe are being wrongly sheltered from the brutality of FGM, keeping at-risk individuals stigmatised and unprotected.

One Department of Health initiative has been the strategic development of the FGM Enhanced Dataset, which aims to move away from anonymous data and collect prevalence information about patients receiving treatment. Deborah Hodes and Sarah Creighton, from University College Hospital, London, UK, have been instrumental in its development and told The Lancet that numbers are expected to escalate following its implementation, before a plateau. However, with mandatory reporting the numbers will be more accurate and better inform policy and service requirements across the country.

Local solutions
Marleen Temmerman, director of WHO's Department of Reproductive Health and Research, states the importance of presenting a unified and tough stance in Europe: “Respect for culture stops when it causes harm, and FGM causes harm.” She is concerned about the rise in the income-generating medicalisation of FGM. With increased education about health risks, families prefer the clinical environment to the traditional “bush”. This raises an ethical dilemma that she has herself faced­“If I, as a doctor, opt for the little cut, I will perhaps save this girl from the more severe form of FGM”. Temmerman believes that this predicament is shared by families and doctors and highlights the complexity of reaching communities that resolutely uphold the practice for social acceptance. “We must be careful not to overlook all FGM practices as the majority of health risks come from type III and there is danger of encouraging a milder type of cutting. A ban on all practice is imperative”, she says. “Think globally, act locally” is Temmerman's dictum and this is a crucial strategy. The way forward is to support local campaigns in FGM-practising countries, and not try to impose Western solutions on potentially hostile and unreceptive communities.

Recognising the influential role of ambassadors in the diaspora in Europe, FORWARD has shaped programmes in Africa on Participatory Ethnographic Evaluation Research­projects that encourage intergenerational community engagement at a local level. In Otoo-Oyortey's experience, investing in research undertaken by individuals in practising communities is strategically beneficial.

Waris Dirie, founder of the Desert Flower Foundation, is an influential figure in the international movement to end FGM. The Foundation recognises the economic pressures facing families and have set up Save a Desert Flower, a sponsorship programme that offers US$30 per month to families in exchange for sending their daughters to school and safeguarding them from forced marriage and cutting. Within 1 year, Dirie told The Lancet, “1000 contracts have been signed in Djibouti and Sierra Leone…we have received more than 5000 applications from families…our goal is to save 1 million girls in the next 5 years.” The youth generation is seeing a shift in attitudes, Dirie says, we get 80 000 visits a week on Facebook. Engaging the next generation is pivotal to the prospect of eliminating FGM in the future.

Desert Flower Foundation Centres have opened in Berlin and Stockholm. In Krankenhaus Waldfriede Hospital, Berlin, 50 women have received treatment in the past 18 months. The treatment model is one of individual holistic care, and includes reconstructive surgery of the clitoris and labia. Similarly in the Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm, surgeon Hannes Sigurjonsson tells The Lancet that the role of reconstructive surgery, although controversial in FGM cases, has three main benefits: functionality, pain reduction, and aesthetics­reclaiming what was taken through violence.

Maintaining momentum
UNICEF recognise that although prevalence has been slow in decline, “we can be more optimistic when we look at the changed policy and national horizons”. According to UNICEF, most girls and women in most practising countries believe FGM should stop. Nevertheless, respect for leadership in communities perpetuates the continuation of FGM, so it stands to reason that strategic leadership is needed to end it.

FORWARD's Otoo-Oyortey recognises the opportunities for a worldwide movement, with a global audience ready and willing to act. The organisation's campaign slogan­“FGM is my issue too”­is one that it is hoping everyone will adopt.

Read more at  Save a Little Desert Flower

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