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A Princess Vanishes. A Video Offers Alarming Clues

BEIRUT — The princess known as Sheikha Latifa had not left Dubai, the glittering emirate ruled by her father, in 18 years. Her requests to travel and study elsewhere had been denied. Her passport had been taken away. Her friends’ apartments were forbidden to her, her palace off-limits to them.

At 32, Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum went nowhere without a watchful chauffeur.

“There’s no justice here,” she said in a video she secretly recorded last year. “Especially if you’re a female, your life is so disposable.”

So it was with a jolt of astonishment that her friends overseas read a WhatsApp message from her last March announcing that she had left Dubai “for good.”

“I have a very uncomfortable feeling,” one of them, an American sky diver named Chris Colwell, messaged back. “Is this real,” he added. “Where are you.”

“Free,” she responded. “And I’ll come see you soon.” She added a heart.

Her escape — planned over several years with the help of a Finnish capoeira trainer and a self-proclaimed French ex-spy — lasted less than a week.

Within a few days of setting sail on the Indian Ocean in the Frenchman’s yacht, bound for India and then the United States, the Sheikha went silent. She has not been seen since, except in a few photos released in December by her family, which says she is safely home after surviving what they said was a kidnapping.

Yet thanks to the video she made before fleeing, the sheikha’s face and voice have made their way around the world, drawing more than 2 million views on YouTube, spurring avid news coverage and marring Dubai’s image as a world capital of glitz and commerce like a graffiti tag.

Like the young women who have fled Saudi Arabia’s restrictive regime, Sheikha Latifa has made sure no one can forget how few freedoms are allotted to women in the Middle East’s most conservative societies — or how costly crossing Dubai’s ruler can be.

For all its megamalls, haute cuisine and dizzying skyscrapers, Dubai can flip at speed from international playground to repressive police state. It has drawn headlines in the West for detaining foreigners for holding hands in public and drinking alcohol without a license.

Last year, it was widely condemned for holding a British academic, Matthew Hedges, after accusing him of being a British spy. In recent years, the authorities have also intensified a crackdown on internal dissent.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re an ordinary Emirati citizen or a member of the royal family or an expat from a close ally like the U.K.,” said Hiba Zayadin, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If you’re harming that carefully tailored image,” she added, “you will face the consequences.”

Over the video’s 39 stark minutes, her voice composed and forceful, Sheikha Latifa described in fluent English her life of constricting privilege and stunted hopes. She hoped it would change if she could win political asylum in the United States.

“I don’t know how, how I’ll feel, just waking up in the morning and thinking, I can do whatever I want today,” she said. “That’ll be such a new, different feeling. It’ll be amazing.”

Fearing for her life if she was caught, she said she was recording the video in case she failed.

“They’re not going to take me back alive,” she said. “That’s not going to happen. If I don’t make it out alive, at least there’s this video.”

Sheikha Latifa first faced rigid restrictions after her sister’s failed escape attempt years earlier.

When she was 14, her older sister Shamsa escaped from her family’s security detail on a trip to England. Her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, owns a large estate and a prominent thoroughbred racing stable, Godolphin, there.

Hervé Jaubert, right, spoke at a news conference in London after Sheikha Latifa was captured aboard his yacht. He said he was helping her escape. Sheikha Latifa’s father said Mr. Jaubert had kidnapped her.

Hervé Jaubert, right, spoke at a news conference in London after Sheikha Latifa was captured aboard his yacht. He said he was helping her escape. Sheikha Latifa’s father said Mr. Jaubert had kidnapped her.

News reports at the time said Emirati personnel eventually tracked Shamsa to a street in Cambridge, forcing her into a car. When a Scotland Yard detective began investigating her case as a kidnapping, Dubai authorities refused to let him interview her. The case dead-ended there.

Sheikha Latifa said Shamsa, the only of 30 siblings to whom she was close, had been drugged into docility ever since, “basically like walking around with a cage following her.”

Horrified by Shamsa’s treatment, she said she tried to escape across the border to Oman. Retrieved almost immediately, she said she was held in solitary confinement for more than three years.

Emirati family law allows women to be punished for disobeying, and she said she was frequently pulled out of bed to be beaten, deprived of medical care and, until the final few months, even a toothbrush.

Even after she was released at 19, her life was defined by her family’s constraints as much as by its wealth.
She lived in a palace behind high walls, with 40 rooms spread over four wings — one for each female relative who lived there, said Tiina Jauhiainen, a Finnish woman who began training Sheikha Latifa in the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira in 2010. There were about 100 servants and an athletic compound with its own swimming pool and spa. Wherever the sheikha went, a Filipino maid went too.

But hers was a life of enforced, confined leisure. She could spend her money only on hobbies and sports including horseback riding and scuba diving, or on treating friends to lunch or manicures. She was not allowed to study medicine as she had wanted, friends said.

Nor could she travel, even to the next-door emirate of Abu Dhabi, one of seven city-states making up the United Arab Emirates. She pressed friends to describe every trip for her “like she was traveling with me,” said Stefania Martinengo, her friend and skydiving coach.

She was also barred from visiting any nonpublic places, even friends’ homes. An avid sky diver, she once parachuted secretly into an unapproved part of the city for 20 minutes of kayaking with Mr. Colwell.

When friends rode along in the boxy black Mercedes that often ferried her around, she put on headphones and sat in silence, refusing, in front of the driver, to say a word.

Skydiving was her chief distraction.

Dropping into the sky, “you’re equal to everyone,” Ms. Martinengo said. “You don’t talk, you’re just flying. I think she enjoyed being free in the sky.”

At first glance, she seemed neither fabulously wealthy nor wildly unhappy.

Introducing herself as Latifa, she was often taken for just another local woman. Under the all-covering abaya she wore in public, she usually dressed in T-shirts and athletic pants. She demurred her way out of most photos. She listened rather than talked. She never outright complained about her situation, friends said.

She never spoke about her family. Dubai’s dazzlingly wealthy flaunted their lives on Instagram; she was barely Googleable.

But she fantasized about running her own life. She talked about starting an Emirati skydiving team, hoping her father would let her travel to international competitions. A vegan who had become passionate about wellness and detox, she planned to invest in a yoga-and-juice center in Europe with Ms. Martinengo.

When Ms. Martinengo asked how she would help run the business without traveling, she said, “I have a feeling things might change.”

Almost no one realized until later that she had been planning to run for several years.

She first contacted Hervé Jaubert, whose website describes him as a former French intelligence officer and “no ordinary man,” who had once managed to escape Dubai in a small rubber boat by dressing as a woman.

She then enlisted Ms. Jauhiainen. At one point, they trained to dive and swim to Oman via underwater scooter.
Ms. Jauhiainen said Sheikha Latifa wanted to help other women who had been trapped in similar situations, and she wanted to get Shamsa out. If necessary, she thought she could work as a skydiving instructor.

To show that she was safe at home, the government of the United Arab Emirates distributed this picture showing Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, left, with Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, in December.

To show that she was safe at home, the government of the United Arab Emirates distributed this picture showing Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, left, with Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, in December.

“I’m ready to flip burgers or do anything as long as I have my freedom,” she told Ms. Jauhiainen.

A few days before they left, she sneaked out of a mall to record the video at Ms. Jauhiainen’s apartment.

“I’m feeling positive about the future,” she said. “I’m feeling like it’s the start of an adventure. It’s the start of me claiming my life, my freedom, freedom of choice.”

“I’m really looking forward to that,” she said.

The morning of the escape, Sheikha Latifa was driven to eat breakfast with Ms. Jauhiainen at a restaurant, as she often did. According to Ms. Jauhiainen, they got into her car and made for Oman, where they rode an inflatable raft, then Jet Skis, out to Mr. Jaubert’s yacht. A selfie they took in the car shows Sheikha Latifa grinning behind mirrored sunglasses, elated.

“We’re like Thelma and Louise,” Ms. Jauhiainen joked, referring to the 1991 American film.

“Don’t say that,” Sheikha Latifa protested. “It has a sad ending!”

As they sailed toward India on the evening of March 4, the women were getting ready for bed below decks when they heard loud noises. They locked themselves in the bathroom, but it filled with smoke. The only way out was up.

On deck, armed men whom Ms. Jauhiainen identified as Indian and Emirati pushed Mr. Jaubert, Ms. Jauhiainen and the Filipino crewmen to the ground, tying them up and beating them. They told Ms. Jauhiainen to take her last breath. Ms. Jauhiainen saw Sheikha Latifa on the ground, tied up but kicking, screaming that she wanted political asylum in India.

Before long, an Arabic-speaking man boarded. He made it clear, Ms. Jauhiainen said, that he had come to retrieve the sheikha.

“Just shoot me here,” she cried, Ms. Jauhiainen recalled. “Don’t take me back.”
Then she was gone.

Her father, Sheikh Mohammed, did not address her whereabouts until December, when the BBC was about to air a documentary. His office issued a statement saying that she was safe in Dubai, celebrating her 33rd birthday with family “in privacy and peace.” (Ms. Jauhiainen said the sheikha had not chosen to spend her birthday with family in years.)

The statement accused Mr. Jaubert, whom it called a “convicted criminal,” of kidnapping her for a $100 million ransom.

Sheikh Mohammed did not reply to a request for an interview sent to his office. The Emirati embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Things have only gotten stranger since.

On Christmas Eve, Dubai released the first public photos of Sheikha Latifa since her disappearance. They showed her sitting with Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who confirmed that she had met the sheikha at her family’s request.

Ms. Robinson said Sheikha Latifa was safe with her family, but said she was receiving psychiatric care, calling her a “troubled young woman” with a “serious medical condition.”

“This is a family matter now,” Ms. Robinson said.

The sheikha’s advocates were taken aback that a respected human rights crusader had seemingly embraced Dubai’s official line. They disputed that she had a psychiatric condition, apart from any she might have developed because of imprisonment or drugging.

“I know 100 percent for sure that she doesn’t need mental care,” Ms. Martinengo said. “Maybe now, after all these treatments, but not before. How can you think that a person who’s been in prison for nine months wouldn’t seem troubled?”

Friends also found Sheikha Latifa’s appearance in the photos — slightly dazed, her eyes missing the camera — concerning.

With negative attention thickening around her, Ms. Robinson issued a statement saying that she had made her assessment “in good faith and to the best of my ability,” adding that the sheikha’s “vulnerability was apparent.”

By mid-January, a lawyer who had been working with activists left the sheikha’s case without explanation.

Several friends still in Dubai said they were too frightened to speak, while Mr. Jaubert abruptly stopped responding to requests to be interviewed for this article.

Sheikha Latifa had little doubt about what would happen to her.

“If you are watching this video, it’s not such a good thing,” she said in her video. “Either I’m dead, or I’m in a very, very, very bad situation.”

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Women

Pakistani woman police commander led defense of Chinese mission

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani policewoman Suhai Aziz Talpur heard of the attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi while driving to work. She rushed to the scene to find two of her colleagues dead, and a trio of insurgents attempting to blow their way into the building.

Her fast response and actions during the nearly two-hour assault on the diplomatic mission in the southern port city have been praised for saving countless lives, turning 30-year-old Talpur into an instant celebrity – and potential feminist icon – in Pakistan, where female police officers remain rare.

“The moment I arrived, an exchange of fire was taking place, blasts had been heard, smoke was emanating,” Talpur, an assistant superintendent, told Reuters.

Right away, she took up a position to fire at the attackers and began calling for reinforcements.

“We started to advance inside the consulate and gradually neutralized the situation,” she said.

Since the attack a picture of Talpur holding her pistol, flanked by commandos, has gone viral on social media in Pakistan. Her bravery has also earned her a nomination for the country’s highest award for police officers.
Friday’s attack, claimed by separatist insurgents from the impoverished southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan, killed four people, including two police officers who Talpur said were the real heroes.

“The real credit goes to assistant sub-inspector Ashraf (Dawood) and constable Amir (Khan) who kept the attackers engaged and sacrificed their lives,” she said.

Once the attack ended, Talpur was among the first police officers to enter the mission and began reassuring the staff.

“When I entered there was a Chinese lady and three or four Pakistani men,” she recalled. “The Chinese lady hugged me and I told her ‘you are in safe hands, things are under control’.”

Talpur, who is scheduled to be promoted soon, will be one of only two female officers above the rank of assistant superintendent in the Sindh provincial police force. But she believes women have a big role to play in law enforcement.

“A woman can be a better detective than a man, we see each and every thing and memorize it better,” she said.
Pakistan was recently ranked as the fourth worst country for women in a study conducted by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. But the police and military have recently been running programs to encourage more women in law enforcement roles and in the armed forces.

Police officers are on the front lines of Pakistan’s battle against militancy, often targeted by Islamist and insurgent groups. In 2016, 59 cadets were killed when militants stormed a police academy in the southwestern city of Quetta. The attack was claimed by Islamic State, but Pakistani authorities blamed it on local militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

In Karachi, officers have been targeted by Taliban militants and scores have been killed in a wave of urban violence that engulfed the city for two decades from the 1990s.

Talpur, who hails from a small conservative village in the southern Sindh province, was studying to be a chartered accountant when she decided her chosen profession was too “dull” and joined the police instead.

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Civil Society Women

Fahmida Riaz passes away in Lahore

LAHORE: Well-known progressive Urdu writer, poet, human rights activist and feminist Fahmida Riaz has passed away on Wednesday night. She was 73 years of age.

She passed away after a prolonged illness in Lahore where she was with her daughter

Fahmida Riaz was born on July 28, 1945 in a literary family of Meerat, UP, India. Her family settled in the city of Hyderabad following her father’s transfer to the province of Sindh. Her father passed away when she was four and so she was brought up by her mother.

She learned about the Urdu and Sindhi literature in her childhood and later learnt the language of Persian. After completing her education she began working as a newscaster for Radio Pakistan.

Fahmida Riaz was encouraged and persuaded by her family to step into an arranged marriage after the graduation from college. She spent some years in the United Kingdom with her first husband before coming back to Pakistan after a divorce. During this period she worked with the BBC Urdu service (Radio) and got a degree in film making.

She has one daughter from that marriage.

She has two children from her second marriage with Zafar Ali Ujan, a leftist impressive political worker.

Fahmida Riaz worked in an advertising agency in the city of Karachi before beginning her own Urdu publication Awaz. The liberal and politically charged content of Awaz grabbed the attention of the Zia era and both Fahmida and her husband Zafar were charged with various cases—the magazine shut down and Zafar was imprisoned.

Fahmida Riaz was faced with challenges due to her political ideology. More than 10 cases were filed against her during General Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship. She was charged with sedition under Section 124A of the Pakistan Penal Code. After her husband was arrested she was bailed out by a fan of her works before she could be taken to jail and fled to India with her two small children and sister on the excuse of a Mushaira invitation.

Her friend the renowned poet Amrita Pritam who spoke to then prime minister (late) Indira Gandhi which got her asylum.

Her children went to school in India. She had relatives in India and her husband later joined her there after his release from jail.

The family spent almost seven years in exile before returning to Pakistan after Zia-ul-Haq’s death on the eve of Benazir Bhutto’s wedding reception. During this time Riaz had been poet in residence for Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi and it is during her exile that she learnt to read Hindi. She was greeted with a warm welcome upon her return from exile.

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Women

Nargis, the Pakistani Hazara making strides in karate (By Saba Aziz) – Al Jazeera Sept 18, 2018

Nargis Hameedullah has had to fight for her dreams all her life – both on and off the field.
The 19-year-old is a Pakistani karateka based in Quetta, capital of the western province of Balochistan.

Nargis belongs to the Hazara community, one of Pakistan’s most persecuted ethnic and religious minorities. But that has not stopped her from beating the odds.

At the 18th Asian Games in Indonesia last month, Nargis became Pakistan’s first female athlete to win an individual medal at the multi-sport competition when she won bronze in the plus-68 kilogramme event.

“I always wanted to be the one to bring about a change,” Nargis told Al Jazeera. “I’m very happy to be able to write my name in history.”

Nargis’ success lit up a marginalised community that has been a target of ethnic and sectarian violence for decades.

At least 509 Hazaras, who are mainly Shia Muslims, have been killed in Quetta since 2013, according to the government’s National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR).

The killings have mostly been part of a sustained campaign of shootings and bombings by armed sectarian groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), an affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

But as Nargis returned to her hometown of Hazara Town, a low-income ethnic neighbourhood in the western outskirts of Quetta, she was showered with rose petals by school children who lined up on the streets.

The beat of the “dhol”, a drum, accompanied by the flute, was complemented by a beaming Nargis who was surrounded by dancing residents who gave her a hero’s welcome.

Nargis relished her time in the spotlight, but she said her rise to stardom in Pakistan has not come without bumps.

Hameedullah was given a hero’s welcome on her return home from the Asian Games [Nargis Hameedullah]
February 16, 2013 is a day still etched in Nargis’ mind.

A bomb attack by the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group at a busy vegetable market in Hazara Town killed at least 84 people. Nargis’ maternal grandmother’s brother was among those who died.

“It [his death] really shook me and it affected the entire family,” she said. “I will never forget that day.”

At least nine members of the Hazara Shia community have been killed in a series of attacks since March this year.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Hazaras are particularly vulnerable, because of their distinctive East Asian ethnic features as well as Shia religious affiliation.

Nargis’ train journeys to Lahore and Islamabad for tournaments and training camps are always full of anxiety, with thoughts of the next target killing weighing on her mind.

“As a player, I train physically, my strength has increased, but emotionally and mentally, I have really been affected [by these bomb blasts].”

For the roughly 600,000 Hazaras living in Quetta, security is a major concern. With multiple checkpoints, blocked areas and only one road to enter and exit the community enclave, navigating around the city is not easy, said Nargis.

“A lot of the girls say that any day we could become victims of target killing, so what’s the use of playing? Mentally, I get really disturbed by the security situation.”

She grew up amid violence and security threats, picking up mixed martial arts aged five before making the transition to karate in 2010.

Nargis now juggles almost four hours of training each day with her studies and English tuition at an academy.
“I have got a lot of support from my family. Whenever I go [for tournaments], they make a lot of sacrifices, taking care of my travel expenses.”

Her father works at a local flower shop and mother is doing overnight shifts as a nurse to make ends meet. While there is a lot of opposition from outside the Hazara group, Nargis is all too familiar with the negative remarks from within the conservative community.

But her parents have continued to support their daughter’s athletic career.

“People tell us to focus on her education, and they criticise us and talk a lot,” her mother, Qamargul Hameedullah, said.

Even if I win the world title, and my hijab is a bit off, the Hazara community will not appreciate that
Nargis Hameedullah, Pakistani karate player

“My relatives always say ‘why does Nargis need to play sports, she should select some other career or job and then support the family’,” Nargis said. “They say, ‘she just kicks and punches, what will she get out of it?'”

The hijab, a headscarf worn by many Muslim women who feel it is part of their religion, is also a “major issue for the Hazara people”, her mother added. Nargis wears one and is “very fearful” of it coming off during her fights.

“Even if I win the world title, and my hijab is a bit off, the Hazara community will not appreciate that.”

Despite the challenges, Nargis is striving to make her name in a country that has traditionally had success in sports like cricket, squash and hockey.

Nargis was not the first Hazara to make the country proud in karate. Her senior, 30-year-old Kulsoom Hazara, who also hails from Quetta, has won gold at the South Asian karate championships for the past three years.

“A few years ago, people had the mindset that what do girls have to do with sports or karate,” said Nargis. “Even now, some families say that, but there have been a lot of changes. Families are sending girls to different sports clubs for karate, taekwondo, wushu.

“We have a lot of martial arts clubs [in our community] and mostly, the participants are women.”

One of those clubs is the Hazara Shotokan Karate Academy on Kirani Road run by Nargis’ long-time coach and former national player Ghulam Ali.

The 2004 South Asian Games (SAF) gold-medallist, Ali, said he has noticed women from his community, making strides not only in sports, but other fields as well.

“Presently, in Hazara Town and Mari Abad [another predominantly Hazara suburb], there are more girls than boys participating in everything,” said Ali, who trains more than 80 girls at the club.

“After a long period of restrictions, they [Hazara women] are getting more freedom. In the past, we faced a lot of oppression, but now we are getting some chance. And we’re trying to get involved in every field – in universities, shops, businesses, sports. It’s really great.”

Ali is confident that more women will draw inspiration from Nargis.

The teenager, meanwhile, is now dreaming to qualify for the Olympics.

“I want to raise my country’s flag and would also like to hear the national anthem being played and everyone standing up in respect.”

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Civil Society Women

UK ‘deeply concerned’ by brief abduction of British Pakistani journalist and establishment critic

The UK has expressed deep concern after a British Pakistani journalist was abducted by unnamed men in the latest seizure of a media critic of the military establishment.
Gul Bukhari was driving to a television studio late on Tuesday when her car was intercepted by pick-up trucks in the city of Lahore.

Her plainclothes abductors were overseen by men wearing military uniforms according to her driver. A mask was placed over her face and she was driven off.
Ms Bukhari, a dual British national, was later released to her family who said she was well and requested privacy.

But the British High Commission said it was giving her consular assistance and said it was “very concerned at reports of Gul Bukhari’s abduction”.

Ms Bukhari has been an outspoken critic of the military in advance of what is expected to be a tense general election scheduled for July 25.

She has also defended ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who clashed with the defence establishment before the Supreme Court forced him from office last year over an undeclared source of income.

A string of social media activists have been kidnapped in the past year in what rights’ groups say is a campaign to intimidate and silence critics of the powerful security establishment.

Five bloggers disappeared for several weeks last year before four of them were released. All four sought refuge abroad, with at least two since saying they had been tortured by a state intelligence agency while in captivity.

A leading English language newspaper last month complained it was being blocked from sale in large parts of the country after it published an interview with Mr Sharif that angered the army.

The military has denied any role in previous disappearances and did not immediately comment on Ms Bukhari’s seizure.

But the incident was seized on by activists as further evidence of a concerted effort to stifle dissent and scare off critics.

“If true, this would be a most audacious attempt to silence a known critic. Is this Pakistan or Kim’s North Korea or Sisi’s Egypt?” Syed Talat Hussain, a prominent journalist, said.

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Women

Instep Today Aurat March 2018: Freedom over fear

KARACHI, March 10: Thousands of women, men and transgender people gathered on Thursday to take part in the first ever Aurat March (Women’s March) held in Karachi to rally against discrimination and acts of violence towards women and other gender minorities in Pakistan.

The event marked the global celebration of International Women’s Day which is celebrated across the world to honour the daily struggles of women and pay tribute to their social, economic, cultural and political achievements.

Karachi’s Frere Hall, Lahore’s Lytton Road and Islamabad’s Press Club were meeting points for the women who came out to highlight these issues.

‘Aurat March’ was planned and organised entirely by a diverse group of women belonging to different ethnicities, classes and sections of society. The march itself was not linked to a particular organization, political party or group. In fact, it included representatives from the Awami Workers Party, the Feminist Collective, the Women’s Collective and Girls at Dhabas among others.

That’s what makes it more significant – it was a collective effort, not spearheaded by any one entity, making it a movement that all Pakistani women (and men who support women’s rights) can own.

The Aurat March, spearheaded by Sheema Kermani and the independent rights organization, ‘Hum Aurtain’ was originally meant for Karachi. The idea inspired similar women’s rights organizations and progressive forums in Lahore and Islamabad.

While the numbers were not as high in Islamabad and Lahore as they were in Karachi, there was still a significant presence that made its way to show their solidarity.

The crowd in each city grew as everyone kept marching on from the starting point till the crowds dispersed. Women (and men) held placards and banners and shouted slogans like ‘Ghar ka Kaam, Sab ka Kaam’ and ‘Women are humans, not honour’. They had placards that read ‘paratha rolls not gender roles’, ‘freedom not fear’ and ‘our rights are not up for grabs, neither are we’.

Women wore t-shirts that read ‘my favorite season is the fall (of patriarchy)’ and ‘girls just want fun-damental human rights’. Some wore masks of deceased social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch and one group held a charpoy that said ‘patriarchy’s janaza’ (funeral of patriarchy) on their shoulders.

A number of prominent personalities put out social media messages in solidarity with those who were marching. There was a video montage circulated of celebrities and activists saying ‘equal’ and ‘barabar’ – many of whom also participated in the walk.

According to the organisers of the event, the goal was to get women to come out on the streets and help them reclaim public spaces. Leena Ghani, one of the organisers of the Lahore march told Instep that Lahore’s march was in solidarity with Karachi’s.

“The Karachi march was much bigger because they had been planning it for longer but it was heartening to see that every woman felt it was inclusive.”

She shared how women were most happy about reclaiming public spaces and feeling safe on the streets.

The women said they were marching in solidarity with women all over the country and globally, as a promise to carry the torch of resistance until women were treated equally in the society.

The agenda was to start conversation around and demand fundamental rights as women, including an end to violence against women, labour rights, reproductive rights, environmental justice, anti-sexual assault laws, wage equality, fair political representation and opportunities, education equality, equality for the transgender community and an end to child marriage and honour killings.

The events in all three cities were open to the public and women from all walks of life came out.

There were also some men and a large representation from different schools, colleges and universities present on the occasion. The march was quite a landmark in Pakistan’s women’s rights movement and one can only hope it’s the beginning of change

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Women

A sisterhood with nerves of steel

“The truth does not change when a government does. Like freedom, truth is open to misuse, but, again like freedom, it can’t be withheld on that count,” wrote the late Razia Bhatti in one of her searing editorials.

These were not merely fine words: Ms Bhatti, editor of the Herald and later of Newsline – not to mention the women journalists who worked with her – stood by those words throughout her career, speaking truth to power no matter how ruthless her adversaries, be they despots, ‘democrats’ or drug barons.

Women journalists like them were never more in need of courage than during the repressive Ziaul Haq years, when they fought not only for the freedom of the press but also against state-sponsored misogyny that impacted their personal and professional lives.

By that time, more women had begun to enter the field, especially in the English-language media, and this sisterhood found a collective voice.

That steady trickle of women journalists was to become a flood some decades later as scores of private television news channels began to crowd the airwaves. But it all began with an intrepid few who had the self-belief to break into the male domain that was journalism at the time.

A list of these accomplished women would have to include, among others, names like Najma Babar, Ameneh Azam Ali, Najma Sadeque, Rehana Hakim, Nargis Khanum, Zohra Karim, Maisoon Hussein, Saneeya Hussain and Jugnu Mohsin.

A couple of them – Sherry Rehman, one time editor of Herald, and Maleeha Lodhi, the first woman editor of a daily newspaper in Pakistan – have moved on to distinguished diplomatic and political careers.

To many of them, Razia Bhatti (left) and Maleeha Lodhi are figures to emulate.

Among the pioneers was Zaibunnisa Hamidullah who wrote for Indian newspapers before independence. Post-1947, she began writing a column for Dawn, which made her Pakistan’s first female political commentator.

She was also founder and editor of Mirror, a unique combination of a glossy society magazine with hard-hitting editorials – the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove – that repeatedly took Ayub Khan’s government to task. The magazine was banned twice for its temerity.

However, women like Ms Hamidullah were outliers. With its odd hours and somewhat seedy reputation, it was some time before families began to consider journalism a suitable career for their daughters. When Mahnaz Rehman, resident director of the women’s rights organisation Aurat, told her father she wanted to work at a newspaper, he was horrified, even more so because she wanted to join an Urdu newspaper.

“English journalism was considered a little more respectable at the time. But I stood my ground, and joined Musawat [the PPP mouthpiece].”

Not only that, but Ms Rehman later became secretary-general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), the lone woman holding her own among a sea of men at the noisy union meetings.

Women’s periodicals, among them Aanchal, Bedari and Akhbar-e-Khawateen – the latter being the first women’s weekly in Pakistan – were comparative oases of calm. However, besides offering the standard ‘feminine’ fare catering to the Urdu-speaking public, some of them also carried content on social issues and women’s rights.

Shamim Akhtar, editor of Akhbar-e-Khawateen for 22 years, says: “We even did stories based on undercover reporting such as one on a fake pir in North Nazimabad. One story of ours [about David Lean’s relationship with a married Indian woman] even got us into trouble with Dr Israr Ahmed.”

For many women, Dawn, the largest English-language newspaper in Pakistan, was where they cut their teeth in the profession. In fact, editors at the paper actively looked to hire female journalists. Nargis Khanum, who passed away just recently, started off back in 1966 as a reporter covering art and culture.

Shahida Kazi, fresh out of journalism school, joined the same year as a reporter. Although, like Ms Khanum, she had a ‘safe’ beat — health, education and women’s issues — a female reporter was unheard of at the time. “As a feminist and a Marxist, my job was to prove that anything a man can do, I can do as well,” she says.

Some of her male colleagues, however, used to call her a ‘meena bazaar’ reporter because they thought she couldn’t cover ‘important’ stories. Ms Kazi forayed into politics in 1968 when she joined PTV, from where she retired 18 years later as senior news editor.

In this era of many ‘firsts’, Zubeida Mustafa joined Dawn as features editor in 1975. The men, an old-school bunch, did not quite know how to react to this young woman. “They would stand up every time I entered the room,” she chuckles.

Within a few months, Ms Mustafa was promoted to assistant editor; before her, no woman had been in a position senior enough to have a say in matters of policy or articulate the paper’s stance on various issues through the editorials.

In this brave new world, at least for women, a very mundane problem presented itself – the location, or even the existence, of a ladies’ toilet on the premises. “If I’d asked my colleagues, I think they’d have fainted,” says Ms. Mustafa.

“So I’d zip across to the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, where I’d worked earlier.” Only an accidental encounter one day with the women at the Herald magazine in one of the many corridors in Haroon House solved that mystery.

If journalism was generally a boys’ club back then, the parliament beat was particularly so. But that didn’t deter the feisty Anis Mirza, whose wit and eye for detail livened up her column – ‘From the Press Gallery’ – that she penned for Dawn.

In one column she wrote: “Outside the National Assembly … rain washed away the stifling dust, heat and haze of the Punjab. But in the National Assembly, octogenarian Maulana Hazarvi was asking stifling questions on whether or not government provided separate compartments for ladies in rail cars.”

Challenging gender stereotypes – typified by the quaint term ‘lady reporter’ – required dogged determination and, sometimes, the capacity to turn liability into an opportunity.

Nafisa Hoodbhoy, who joined Dawn in 1984, got the coveted political beat after she dug into the health beat that she’d been assigned, and started reporting on gunshot victims piling up in hospitals as a result of ethnic warfare raging in Karachi at the time.

“After seeing me at every incident, a crime reporter from an Urdu newspaper finally cried out in exasperation ‘Doesn’t Dawn have any male reporters left’?”

Political reporting from the 1980s onwards, especially in Karachi, with newly emerging centres of armed street power and an unaccountable law-enforcement apparatus, meant that journalists – regardless of gender – risked life and limb at the hands of one quarter or the other.

Late one evening in 1991, ironically after attending a protest demanding an end to brutality against journalists, Ms Hoodbhoy narrowly escaped falling victim to an attack herself. It was only presence of mind that saved her from two would-be assailants lurking in the shadows near her house. The foiled attack made headlines across Pakistan.

Mariana Baabar, during her 38 years as a journalist at The Muslim, Frontier Post, Nation and The News, knows a thing or two about violence against journalists. Sometime during Nawaz Sharif’s second tenure as PM, the Jang Group was locked in a battle with the government.

When the FIA stole the publication’s newsprint, a group of Jang employees, including Mariana, descended upon the law-enforcement agency’s Rawalpindi office to protest.

There they were set upon by FIA personnel, who thrashed them with steel batons. “If I wasn’t wearing my winter coat at that time of year, my injuries would have been far worse,” she says.

To this day, she remembers her blood running cold at a remark made by one of the men raining blows upon her. “We killed the wrong bitch,” he hissed. A few weeks earlier, Ms Baabar’s German Shepherd had been poisoned.

These trailblazing female journalists didn’t see their gender as a handicap in their profession (except perhaps for the lack of ladies’ toilets at almost every newspaper in the earlier days!). They simply shrugged and got on with their work.

Categories
Women

Women drivers break cultural barriers in coal-rich Thar

ISLAMKOT: As Pakistan bets on cheap coal in the Thar desert to resolve its energy crisis, a select group of women is eyeing a road out of poverty by snapping up truck-driving jobs that once only went to men.

Such work is seen as life-changing in the dusty region bordering India, where sand dunes cover estimated coal reserves of 175 billion tonnes and yellow dumper trucks swarm like bees around the country’s largest open-pit mine.

The imposing 60-tonne trucks initially daunted Gulaban, 25, a housewife and mother of three from Thar’s Hindu community.

Up to 400 trucks may be needed once digging is done deep enough to reach mineral, and a driver can earn Rs40,000 a month

“At the beginning I was a bit nervous but now it’s normal to drive this dumper,” said Gulaban, clad in a pink saree.

Gulaban — who hopes such jobs can help empower other women facing grim employment prospects — is among 30 women being trained to be truck drivers by Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC), a local firm digging up low-grade coal under the rolling Thar sand dunes.

Gulaban has stolen the march on her fellow trainees because she was the only woman who knew how to drive a car before training to be a truck driver. She is an inspiration to her fellow students.

“If Gulaban can drive a dumper truck then why not we? All we need to do is learn and drive quickly like her,” said Ramu, 29, a mother of six, standing beside the 40-tonne truck.

Until recently, energy experts were uncertain that Pakistan’s abundant but poor-quality coal could be used to fire up power plants.

That view began to change with new technology and Chinese investment as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a key branch of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative to connect Asia with Europe and Africa.

Now coal, along with hydro and liquefied natural gas, is at the heart of Pakistan’s energy plans.

SECMC, which has about 125 dumper trucks ferrying earth out of the pit mine, estimates it will need 300-400 trucks once they burrow deep enough to reach the coal.

Drivers can earn up to 40,000 rupees a month.

Women aspiring to these jobs are overcoming cultural barriers in a society where women are restricted to mainly working the fields and cooking and cleaning for the family.

Gulaban’s husband, Harjilal, recalled how people in Thar would taunt him when his “illiterate” wife drove their small car.

“When I sit in the passenger seat with my wife driving, people used to laugh at me,” said Harjilal.

But Gulaban, seeking to throw stereotypes out of the window, is only focused on the opportunities ahead.

“As I can see our other female trainees getting paid and their life is changing,” Gulaban added. “I hope…for a better future.”

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2017

Categories
Religion Women

A disaster in the making’: Pakistan’s population surges to 207.7 million

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — For years, Pakistan’s soaring population growth has been evident in increasingly crowded schools, clinics and poor communities across this vast, Muslim-majority nation. But until two weeks ago, no one knew just how serious the problem was. Now they do.

Preliminary results from a new national census — the first conducted since 1998 — show that the population has grown by 57 percent since then, reaching 207.7 million and making Pakistan the world’s fifth-most-populous country, surpassing Brazil and ranking behind China, India, the United States and Indonesia. The annual birthrate, while gradually declining, is still alarmingly high. At 22 births per 1,000 people, it is on a par with Bolivia and Haiti, and among the highest outside Africa.

“The exploding population bomb has put the entire country’s future in jeopardy,” columnist Zahid Hussain wrote in the Dawn newspaper recently. With 60 percent of the population younger than 30, nearly a third of Pakistanis living in poverty and only 58 percent literate, he added, “this is a disaster in the making.”

The chief causes of the continuing surge, according to population experts, include religious taboos, political timidity and public ignorance, especially in rural areas. Only a third of married Pakistani women use any form of birth control, and the only family-planning method sanctioned by most Islamic clerics is spacing births by breast-feeding newborns for two years.

Even if the birthrate slows, some experts estimate that Pakistan’s population could double again by midcentury, putting catastrophic pressures on water and sanitation systems, swamping health and education services, and leaving tens of millions of people jobless — prime recruits for criminal networks and violent Islamist groups.

But instead of encouraging fresh ideas to address the population crisis, the census has triggered a rash of arguments over whether certain areas have been over- or undercounted, or reclassified as urban instead of rural. These squabbles amount to fights over political and financial spoils, including the number of provincial assembly seats and the amount of funding from the central government.

A few people, however, are paying close attention to the larger picture. One is Shireen Sukhun, a district officer for the Population Welfare Department in Punjab province. Her mission is to persuade Pakistani families to have fewer children and offer the families access to contraceptive methods — but she is keenly aware of the obstacles.

“The fatal combination we face is poverty and illiteracy,” Sukhun said. “It takes a long time to change people’s mind-sets, and we don’t have the luxury of leaving it to time.”

One outpost in her campaign is a tiny, bench-lined room in Dhoke Hassu, a congested working-class area of Rawalpindi. Inside, Rubina Rehman, a family welfare worker, listens all day to women’s problems with feverish babies, painful deliveries and other woes. Once they feel comfortable with her, she broaches the topic of contraception.

It has not been an easy sell. All the clients are Muslims, and most have little education. Some have been taught that God wants them to have many children. Some have husbands who earn too little to feed a large family but keep wanting another child. Some would like help but are too shy to discuss a taboo topic.

“When we first opened this post, women were frightened to come, and some people asked why we were against increasing the ummah [Muslim masses],” Rehman said. “But we explained how the prophet taught that you should have a gap of 24 months between each child, and that you should consider the family’s resources when making decisions. Now we do not face such opposition.”

On Thursday, a dozen women crowded into Rehman’s office, some carrying infants or toddlers. Several leaned close and whispered to her, then slipped packets of birth-control pills into their purses. One woman named Yasina, 35, explained proudly that she had gotten an “implant” — a hormone dose injected under the skin that prevents conception for several years.

“I already have five children, and that is more than enough,” she said. At first she had agreed to a tubal ligation, which the government arranges at no cost, but her husband, a laborer, would not allow it. “So I got the implant instead, and I didn’t tell him,” she said, bursting into laughter as the other women smiled.

Outside, the markets and alleys of Dhoke Hassu were teeming with a mix of Afghan refugees, migrants from rural Punjab and government workers. Some expressed confidence that God would provide for any children that came. But many said that it was important to balance family size with income and that their Muslim beliefs did not conflict with such practical needs.

“If half of our population is young, what will happen to their lives, their jobs, their needs?” mused Rizvi Salim, 29, a government railways employee carrying his only child, a 2-year-old girl, in his arms. Salim said that he was raised with seven siblings but that today, “things have changed. We do believe that God will take care of us all, but we also need to plan for our futures.”

But upwardly mobile urban communities are more open to such perspectives than rural areas, where two-thirds of all Pakistanis live. In village life, the influences of traditional culture and Islamic teachings are stronger, and the reach of public media campaigns about baby spacing is much more limited.

Attempts to open rural family welfare offices are often met with community suspicion and political opposition, but health officials say more mothers are asking about birth control. The remaining major taboo, they said, is permanent contraceptive practices such as vasectomies or tubal ligations.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the population nearly doubled, from 17.7 million in 1998 to 30.5 million this year. The province is home to several million Afghan refugees, numerous Islamist militant groups and conservative religious leaders suspicious of supposed foreign plots to sterilize Muslims. But their views, too, are evolving.

“Islam does not contradict the idea of family planning, but it challenges the Western concept of birth control,” said Mufti Muhammad Israr, a religious scholar in Peshawar, the provincial capital. He said Islam allows “natural family planning” via breast-feeding but not “stopping the reproductive system permanently. The prophet Muhammad asked believers to marry and produce children.”

Hospital officials in Mardan, a large district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said this month that they frequently deal with cases of child malnutrition and often see mothers with several very young children. They said that although more married couples are seeking family-planning services, women still have difficulty getting their husbands to cooperate.

One pregnant housewife waiting to see a gynecologist in Mardan had a small child on her lap and a 5-year-old girl by her side. All looked weak and malnourished.

“My husband doesn’t care about my health or the health of our children. He can barely support us, but he wants more,” said Zarina Bibi, 34. She said that a doctor had advised her to take a break from childbirth for several years but that she had no choice. “My husband doesn’t want birth control.”

Correction: The headline on an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the rate at which Pakistan’s population has grown.
Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.

Categories
Pakistan Politics Women

New Pakistan PM wants probe of harassment charges against Imran Khan

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s new prime minister called on Friday for an investigation into allegations that opposition leader Imran Khan harassed a woman lawmaker, charges Khan dismisses as revenge for his role in the ouster of then-premier Nawaz Sharif.

A furious social media backlash threatening violence against Khan’s accuser, lawmaker Ayesha Gulalai, has also exposed raw nerves about the treatment of women in Pakistan.
The case has been splashed across domestic media, at times eclipsing the installation of a new cabinet led by Sharif’s ally, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, as prime minister.

Abbasi told the National Assembly he wanted a special panel to investigate the allegations.

“We respect the person who has made the accusation, but we also respect the accused, and it is their right to be able to contest these allegations,” he said.

On Tuesday, at a news conference at the National Assembly, Gulalai had announced she was quitting Khan’s opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, saying he had no respect for women and had sent her obscene text messages.

Khan, a former captain of Pakistan’s national cricket team, denied the allegations.
He said he had a long record of professional work with women and accused Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of organising a smear campaign ahead of elections next year.

The announcement, four days after the Supreme Court disqualified Sharif over undeclared income he denies having received, in a case Khan brought before the court, prompted PTI supporters to accuse her of working for the ruling party.

On Friday, Khan said any parliamentary probe should look into any financial connections between his accuser and the ruling party.

He said “PML-N want to simply settle their political scores” after several court cases against him “flopped” but added, “Nonetheless, I welcome the committee being formed by the prime minister” as long as it was based on evidence.

Gulalai, however, told Reuters she stood by her allegations, adding that she was not surprised at being the target of online threats, including calls to douse her in acid and raze her home.

“In our society, it is common that a victim is targeted, always, and if you’re a woman you hardly find anyone to stand by you,” she said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Richard Balmforth

Categories
Women

From begging to earning! Chakwal girls break a taboo (When NGOs Make A Difference)

With all humility, it was elating for me to visit a slum of Chakwal the other day. I saw a young woman of 24 waiting in a pink-white rickshaw for her regular fares, two female teachers, as I reach the makeshift school established beside the dismantled Chakwal-Bhoun railway track in Kazamabad locality under the Jhuggi School Project.

JSP, as it is called, is indeed an inspiring initiative for educating the children of slum dwellers.
Bali Rani, the confident and smiling rickshaw driver, picks up her regular passengers from the school and drops them at their homes.

Besides picking and dropping the two teachers, she has five other regular passengers.

Bali had never thought she would be called to be a bread-earner for her family – her two children and her aged and ailing mother, that too plying a rickshaw on the roads of Chakwal city plagued by unruly male rickshaw drivers.

Bali was born to a family of the forsaken and abandoned nomads of Pakistan in a slum in Sargodha. Her parents used to live on begging.

When girls of her age were spending time playing and at school, Bali was accompanying her mother on begging rounds.

“Barefoot and in tattered clothes I used to trudge along my mother,” she tells with tears welling in her eyes recalling her woeful past.

At 18 she was married to her cousin.

Instead of bringing happiness, and relieving her of her drudgery, the betrothal added to her pains.

“My husband was a drug-addict who never earned a single penny,” she recalls.

Three years into the marriage, the birth of two sons brought her the joy of motherhood but made life much tougher.

“Whenever I asked my husband for money and food, he would get furious and start beating me. I tolerated the daily beating and humiliation for some time but not long and got divorce from him,” she said, rather triumphantly.
With her two sons Bali returned to the slum of her parents and to begging. Later the family moved from Sargodha to Chakwal with hopes of “better hunting grounds”.

But her sensitive soul rebelled and she quit begging in August 2016.

“Begging was the worst experience of my sad life. Many snubbed my pleas for alms, while others would offer money in exchange for sex. That was revolting. I never yielded to their lustful demands,” she said.

“However, there also were God-fearing people who gave me alms without a frown on their face.”

Life changed for Bali six-months ago when Yunus Awan, social activist and chairman of the local NGO, the Trust, Awareness and Knowledge (TAIK), which runs the Jhuggi School Project, convinced her to turn a new page in her miserable life.

Bali was trained for a month in driving a rickshaw and the Plan Pakistan organisation donated her, in partnership with two other girls in her position, a pink-white rickshaw under its pilot project meant to make impoverished women financially independent.

Since then the three have been living a happier life.

“Male rickshaw drivers harass us by hurling foul remarks at us but I damn care.

I just ignore them with the contempt they deserve. It is their evil nature which they would continue to display,” says Bali in exasperation.

People of Chakwal at large though appreciate and show respect the three brave female rickshaw drivers.

“Don’t women in our villages drive donkey-carts, and do all kinds of hard work in the fields and at home, like tending the cattle? So why frown at women driving a rickshaw, or motorbike or a car?” wonders Yunus Awan, the chairman of TAIK.

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2017

Categories
Civil Society Foreign Affairs Women

Donald Trump protests attract millions across US and world (Jan 21, 2017)

Millions of protesters have taken to the streets of cities in the US and around the globe to rally against the new US President Donald Trump.

Larger numbers of demonstrators than expected turned out for more than 600 rallies worldwide.
The aim was principally to highlight women’s rights, which activists believe to be under threat from the new administration.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump used his first full day in office to visit the CIA’s HQ.

He said he was “1,000%” behind the spy agency’s employees and also accused the media of being dishonest in its reporting of the size of the crowd at his inauguration.

Mr Trump did not refer to Saturday’s protests.

‘We are the majority’
The biggest US rally was in the capital Washington, which city officials estimated to be more than 500,000-strong.
This far exceeded the 200,000 that had originally been expected by organisers of the Women’s March on Washington.
By most estimates, it also surpassed the crowd at Friday’s presidential inauguration.

The protesters in the nation’s capital heard speeches from Scarlett Johansson, Ugly Betty star America Ferrera, Ashley Judd, Gloria Steinem and Michael Moore among others.

A planned march to the White House proved impossible as the entire route was filled with demonstrators.
Interim DC Police Chief Peter Newsham told Associated Press: “The crowd stretches so far that there’s no room left to march.”

During his speech, Michael Moore ripped up a copy of the Washington Post, saying: “The headline was ‘Trump takes power’. I don’t think so. Here’s the power. Here’s the majority of America right here. We are the majority.”

The singer Madonna also made an appearance, swearing several times in a speech carried live by major US TV networks.

“Yes, I am outraged. Yes, I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House,” she said.

America Ferrera told the crowd: “We march today for the moral core of this nation, against which our new president is waging a war.”

Huge crowds were reported at other US protests.
So many turned out in Chicago – some 150,000 – that a planned march had to be called off and the event declared a rally. Streets were also overflowing in Los Angeles.

Huge crowds were also reported in New York, Seattle, Boston and Miami, some of the venues for about 300 nationwide protests.

Many women wore knitted pink “pussy hats” – a reference to a recording that emerged during the election campaign in which Mr Trump talked about groping women.

Organisers of a London rally said between 80,000 and 100,000 people had taken part there. Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Bristol were among the other UK cities holding protests.

Anti-Trump marches took place earlier in Australia, New Zealand and in several Asian cities.

Women’s March Sydney co-founder Mindy Freiband told the crowd: “Hatred, hate speech, bigotry, discrimination, prejudicial policies – these are not American problems, these are global problems.”

Barcelona, Rome, Amsterdam, Geneva, Budapest, Prague and Berlin were among the European cities that took part.
In Paris, protester Francoise Seme Wallon said Mr Trump was “a nasty guy and he’s dangerous for the whole world”.

Mr Trump’s first full day in office began with an inter-faith service at Washington National Cathedral.
He then visited the CIA’s HQ in Langley, Virginia.

In a speech there, he told about 400 employees: “There is nobody who feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than me.”

During the election campaign, Mr Trump had sharply criticised the intelligence agencies over their stance on alleged Russian involvement.

Mr Trump also talked up his yet-to-be-confirmed nominee for CIA chief, Mike Pompeo.
“You will be getting a total gem,” he told the employees.

In one of his first steps, Mr Trump ordered government agencies to ease the “economic burden” of the health law known as Obamacare.

His team also quickly overhauled the White House website. The revamp replaces Barack Obama’s policies with Mr Trump’s new agenda.

The new administration lists only six issues on the website – energy, foreign policy, jobs and growth, military, law enforcement and trade deals.

Critics complained that it made no mention of civil rights, healthcare, climate change or LGBT rights.

Categories
Foreign Affairs Women

Muslim woman who voted for Trump asks Georgetown to intervene over professor’s ‘hateful, vulgar’ messages

A former Georgetown professor who wrote an opinion article in support of President-elect Donald Trump has asked the university to intervene after a current Georgetown professor responded with insults and an obscenity on social media.

After Trump was elected in November, Asra Q. Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and a co-founder of a Muslim advocacy group, wrote a Washington Post article titled, “I’m a Muslim, a woman and an immigrant. I voted for Trump.” On Thursday, Nomani filed a formal complaint with the university, alleging discrimination and harassment after comments made by Christine Fair, an associate professor in Georgetown’s School for Foreign Service.

“I am a single mother who can’t afford health insurance under Obamacare,” wrote Nomani, who taught at Georgetown from 2008 to 2012. “As a liberal Muslim who has experienced, firsthand, Islamic extremism in this world, I have been opposed to the decision by President Obama and the Democratic Party to tap dance around the ‘Islam’ in Islamic State.”

On Nov. 22, Fair responded to the post on Twitter.

“I’ve written you off as a human being,” Fair wrote in one message detailed in the complaint. “Your vote helped normalize Nazis in D.C. What don’t you understand, you clueless dolt?” Fair wrote, later adding: “YOU publicly voted for a sex assailant.” She went on to say that Nomani “pimped herself out to all media outlets because she was a ‘Muslim woman who voted for Trump.’ ”

Fair called Nomani’s appeal to her employer a “very dangerous trend.” She said Nomani, a former professor at Georgetown, has no standing at the university to complain.

“I am most concerned about the increasing appeal to employers to silence the criticism of citizens made in their private capacity as citizens,” she wrote in an email to The Washington Post. “Because most of us need our jobs, as few of us are financially independent, this is the most pernicious form of bullying of critics.”

After trading direct messages with Fair on Twitter and appealing to Fair’s supervisors last month, Nomani filed the complaint Thursday with the university’s Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action organization.
“I am writing to share with you that, as a result of my column, Prof. Fair has directed hateful, vulgar and disrespectful messages to me, including the allegations that I am: a ‘fraud’; ‘fame-mongering clown show’; and a ‘bevkuf,’ or ‘idiot,’ in my native Urdu, who has ‘pimped herself out,’ ” Nomani wrote in a Dec. 2 email included in the complaint to Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies. “This last allegation amounts to ‘slut-shaming.’ ”

As Nomani’s complaint recounts, Fair took to Facebook on Dec. 6, saying that Nomani had published private direct messages and attacked her First Amendment rights by appealing to her employer.

“She has no right to decry criticism . . . even criticism that is in language that offends her fragile sensibilities,” Fair wrote in a Facebook post. “ ‘F–k off’ and ‘go to hell’ and ‘pimping yourself out’ for media coverage offended her . . . but not ‘I can grab their p—–s’ or the various misogynist, racist, xeonophobic [sic] race-baiting bulls–t espoused by her candidate of choice.”

Fair concluded: “So again, Ms. Nomani, ‘F–K YOU. GO TO HELL.’ ”

Georgetown officials said it was unclear what action, if any, it would take on Nomani’s complaints.

“We take these issues seriously and understand and appreciate the concern about the tone of these exchanges,” university spokeswoman Rachel Pugh wrote in an email. “As an academic community we hold dear our commitment to free speech and expression. Being committed to the free and open exchange of ideas does not mean, however, that we approve of or endorse each and every statement made by members of our faculty.”

Nomani said Wednesday that she knew Fair when she worked at Georgetown and once had dinner at her house. In her Dec. 2 email, she said she considered her a friend.

Nomani said she doesn’t want Fair to lose her job, but thinks an apology and training are appropriate.

“I honor the First Amendment, I believe in the First Amendment,” she said. “With all rights come serious responsibilities. Civil discourse is one of those responsibilities, especially for educators. We are models.”

In a Dec. 28 follow-up letter to Irfan Nooruddin, a professor in Georgetown’s School for Foreign Service, Nomani said Fair has continued to criticize her on social media, calling her an “attention mongering crybully” among other insults.

Categories
Civil Society Religion Women

Death threat, warning to media spray-painted on Karachi murals

The walls of Karachi Press Club — which had recently been painted with colourful murals of several progressive civil society activists and journalists — were vandalised last night allegedly by members of politico-religious parties.

The messages left by the vandals were spray-painted over the portraits of nearly all women activists featured on the wall.

Though the vandals remain individually unidentified, the walls have the initials of politico-religious parties Pakistan Sunni Tehreek (PST) and Tehreek-i-Labbaik (TLY) sprayed on them.

A call for executing Asia Bibi, currently on death row as a blasphemy accused, was written in large black letters next to the portrait of Yasmeen Lari, a prominent architect, historian and humanitarian aid worker.

Lari’s portrait had been defaced with crude marks spray-painted on her face. A line in Urdu below the painting read:”Immediately arrest and hang Shaan Taseer or you’ll be responsible for the consequences.”

Shaan Taseer is the son of slain Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was gunned down by his guard for speaking against Pakistan’s blasphemy law and in favour of minorities’ rights. Shaan recently repeated his father’s stance on the blasphemy law, and has been criticised heavily by the religious right for his views.

The portrait of Zubeida Mustafa, a renowned journalist and the first woman in Pakistani mainstream media, had been defaced with the words “Curse on the Jewish media” sprayed across her face. Her quote: “Women’s lack of empowerment condemns us to social problems,” had been defaced with a profanity.

PST’s initials could be seen spray-painted on a mural honouring Perveen Rehman, who was killed in 2013 allegedly for standing up to Karachi’s powerful land mafia. She had been working on documenting land-use around Karachi, and this may have upset entrenched criminal elements in the city.

Her quote: “Development should mean human development,” has been sprayed over with a religious slogan.

The mural dedicated to Fatima Surraiya Bajiya, a playwright and social worker, had likewise been defaced with profanities directed at the Taseer family and demands to release Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who was among more than 150 individuals arrested by authorities in Lahore yesterday for trying to gather for a pro-blasphemy law rally on the day of Salman Taseer’s death.

Categories
Women

It started with a retiree. Now the Women’s March could be the biggest inauguration demonstration.

Teresa Shook never considered herself much of an activist, or someone particularly versed in feminist theory. But when the results of the presidential election became clear, the retired attorney in Hawaii turned to Facebook and asked: What if women marched on Washington around Inauguration Day en masse?

She asked her online friends how to create an event page, and then started one for the march she was hoping would happen.

By the time she went to bed, 40 women responded that they were in.
When she woke up, that number had exploded to 10,000.

Now, more than 100,000 people have registered their plans to attend the Women’s March on Washington in what is expected to be the largest demonstration linked to Donald Trump’s inauguration and a focal point for activists on the left who have been energized in opposing his agenda.

Planning for the Jan. 21 march got off to a rocky start. Controversy initially flared over the name of the march, and whether it was inclusive enough of minorities, particularly African Americans, who have felt excluded from many mainstream feminist movements.

Organizers say plans are on track, after securing a permit from D.C. police to gather 200,000 people near the Capitol at Independence Avenue and Third Street SW on the morning after Inauguration Day. Exactly how big the march will be has yet to be determined, with organizers scrambling to pull together the rest of the necessary permits and raise the $1 million to $2 million necessary to pull off a march triggered by Shook’s Facebook venting.

The march has become a catch-all for a host of liberal causes, from immigrant rights to police killings of African Americans. But at its heart is the demand for equal rights for women after an election that saw the defeat of Democrat Hillary Clinton, the first female presidential nominee of a major party.

“We plan to make a bold and clear statement to this country on the national and local level that we will not be silent and we will not let anyone roll back the rights we have fought and struggled to get,” said Tamika Mallory, a veteran organizer and gun-control advocate who is one of the march’s main organizers.

More than 150,000 women and men have responded on the march’s Facebook page that they plan on attending. At least 1,000 buses are headed to Washington for the march through Rally, a website that organizes buses to protests. Dozens of groups, including Planned Parenthood and the antiwar CodePink, have signed on as partners.

Organizers insist the march is not anti-Trump, even as many of the groups that have latched on to it fiercely oppose his agenda.

“Donald Trump’s election has triggered a lot of women to be more involved than they ordinarily would have been, which is ironic, because a lot of us thought a Hillary presidency would motivate women,” said Dana Brown, executive director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. “A lot of women seem to be saying, ‘This is my time. I’m not going to be silent anymore.’”

Trump Inaugural Committee spokesman Boris Epshteyn defended the president-elect’s popularity among women in an interview on CNN. While Trump did not receive the majority of women’s votes, he got an “overwhelming” number of them, Epshteyn said.

“We’re here to hear their concerns,” he said. “We welcome them to our side as well.”

That all this could grow out of a dashed-off post from her perch nearly 5,000 miles from Washington is amazing to Shook, who has booked her ticket and plans to be in the capital on Jan. 21.

“I guess in my heart of hearts I wanted it to happen, but I didn’t really think it would’ve ever gone viral,” said Shook, who is in her 60s. “I don’t even know how to go viral.”

Unsure of how to proceed in those initial few days, she said she enlisted the help of the first few women who messaged her to volunteer, some of whom independently also had an idea for a march. But as the march grew in prominence, it got caught up in a broader conversation in liberal circles about race and leadership, with activists and others criticizing that initial planning group for its racial makeup: Shook and all the women she tapped to help in the march’s nascent stages are white, she said.

Some also took issue with the name Shook had proposed, the Million Woman March, which was the name of a 1997 gathering of hundreds of thousands of black women in Philadelphia. The racial concerns set off a heated conversation on the group’s main Facebook page, with some African American women especially taking umbrage.

For her part, Shook said her aim was not to co-opt any other movement. It was just an idea that took hold after the victory of a president-elect caught on tape boasting of grabbing women’s private parts and the defeat of a woman who seemed to her much more qualified for the job. She said she had no idea of the race of the women she first contacted; in fact, she said, most had an image of Clinton as their Facebook profile photo.

Complicating matters, it became apparent that the march probably could not start at the Lincoln Memorial as Shook had proposed, since the inaugural committee has dibs on that space.

Overwhelmed and under pressure, the original organizers eventually handed the reins to a diverse group of veteran female activists from New York: Mallory, the gun-control activist; Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York; Carmen Perez, head of the Gathering for Justice, a criminal-justice-reform group; and Bob Bland, a fashion entrepreneur.

Together, they settled on a new name: The Women’s March on Washington, a nod to the 1963 demonstration that was a cornerstone of the civil rights movement. They even received the blessing of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s youngest daughter, Bernice King.

In the District, Janaye Ingram, the former executive director of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, has been working to secure permits and hash out logistics for the march, including ensuring there is a proper sound equipment and sufficient portable toilets.

People traveling to attend the march seem less concerned with behind-the-scenes politics than the chance to call for more family-friendly government policies, equal pay for women or reproductive rights. Some say they simply want to stand against the crass way Trump has spoken about women.

Lindsey Shriver, a 27-year-old former pastry chef who is an at-home mom in Ohio, said she was offended this election cycle by Trump’s rhetoric, which she characterized as “hateful and misogynistic.” She also wants to highlight the need for paid family leave and affordable child care.

“I realized that being a feminist in my own personal life wasn’t going to be enough for my daughters,” Shriver said.

Caroline Rule, 57, a lawyer living in Manhattan, says she will attend with her 15-year-old daughter. While she agrees with the pro-women message behind the march, she said she would probably participate in any march that pushed against Trump’s messages.

“I absolutely despise Donald Trump and everything he stands for,” she said.

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem has recently signed on as a march co-sponsor, and celebrities including Amy Schumer, Samantha Bee and Jessica Chastain say they plan to attend.

Feminist scholars say the march reflects an emerging view of feminism: one that is less defined by reproductive issues, such as birth control and abortion, and more by how the challenges faced by women intersect with those encountered by African Americans, the LGBT community and immigrants.

Still, reproductive rights will be a large part of the march, with Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America as key partners.

Hahrie Han, a political science professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara specializing in political organizations and political engagement, said it’s not all that surprising that individual women instead of an established organization founded this march. Established organizations all come with at least some political baggage.

“The challenge with having one organization brand it as its own is that each organization has its own image that draws some people and pushes others back away,” she said.

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Women

Afghan Response to Female Pilot’s U.S. Asylum Case: ‘I Am Sure She Lied’

KABUL, Afghanistan — Contending that her “life isn’t at risk at all,” military officials in Afghanistan have asked that the United States reject the asylum case of Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, the first female fixed-wing pilot in the Afghan Air Force.

On Thursday, Captain Rahmani revealed that she had applied for asylum this summer, saying she felt unsafe in Afghanistan, where she and her family have received death threats. For the last 15 months, she has been training at air bases in Arkansas, Florida and Texas.

Captain Rahmani said that her Afghan male colleagues in the air force treated her with contempt and that she felt at risk.

“Things are not changing” for the better in Afghanistan, Captain Rahmani said in an interview on Friday. “Things are getting worse and worse.”

Gen. Mohammad Radmanish, a Defense Ministry spokesman, disputed her claims of being in danger.

“I am sure she lied by saying she was threatened, just to win the asylum case,” General Radmanish said on Sunday. “It is baseless that she claimed her life was at risk while serving in the Afghan Air Force.”

“Since Captain Rahmani’s claim is new, we expect her to change her mind and return to her own country and continue serving as a pilot,” the general said. “We request from our American friends and government to reject her asylum case and send her back, because knowing the truth, Captain Rahmani’s life isn’t at risk at all.”

The American government has celebrated Captain Rahmani as an example of its success in advancing women’s rights in Afghanistan. In 2015 the State Department honored her with its annual Women of Courage award, and Michelle Obama praised her courage.

In Afghanistan, few supported her decision, and there were worries that her asylum request would affect the process of training Afghan pilots outside the country.

“Captain Rahmani’s claim that she was harassed in the workplace is not true, because in the air force all the pilots and staff are well-educated and highly trained people,” said Col. Ayan Khan, a helicopter pilot in the Afghan Air Force. “How can they harass their female colleague who serves along them?”

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Women

A Female Afghan Pilot Soars and Gives Up

Perhaps no Afghan’s story better embodied America’s aspirations for Afghanistan than that of Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, the first female fixed-wing pilot in the fledgling Afghan Air Force.

She was celebrated in Washington in 2015 when the State Department honored her with its annual Women of Courage award. “She continues to fly despite threats from the Taliban and even members of her own extended family,” the first lady, Michelle Obama, said in a statement.

On Thursday, on the eve of her scheduled return to Afghanistan from a 15-month training course at Air Force bases in Texas, Florida and Arkansas, Captain Rahmani broke a sobering piece of news to her American trainers. She still wants to be a military pilot, but not under her country’s flag. This summer, she filed a petition seeking asylum in the United States, where she hopes to eventually join the Air Force.

“Things are not changing” for the better in Afghanistan, Captain Rahmani said in an interview on Friday. “Things are getting worse and worse.”

Captain Rahmani was 10 years old when the United States toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001. As the Bush administration set out to rebuild a country scarred by war, it made promoting women’s rights a priority, a bold undertaking in a deeply conservative nation where women had been barred from schools and the work force.

During her teenage years, Captain Rahmani was inspired by America’s goal of emancipating Afghan women. When she was 18, with the support of her parents, she eagerly enlisted in her country’s air force. “It has been always my dream to do this job, be a pilot,” she said. “It made me really proud.”

The American government hailed her example as a bright spot in the difficult effort to build the Afghan Air Force, which has cost American taxpayers more than $3.7 billion. The endeavor has been marred by delays, logistical challenges and wasteful spending.

After photos of Captain Rahmani wearing tan combat boots, a khaki flight suit, a black head scarf and aviator glasses were published in the press when she earned her wings in 2013, she and her relatives in Kabul began receiving death threats. At work in Afghanistan, she said, she felt unsafe because most of her male colleagues held her in contempt. Still, she put on a brave face during the early months of her training in the United States, which began in September 2015.

“I would just want to encourage all of the females around the world, especially in my country where the females have no rights, to just believe in themselves and to have more self-confidence,” Captain Rahmani told an American military journalist in March 2015 during a visit to a Marine Corps air station.

But that resolve has eroded in recent months. The Afghan Air Force stopped paying her salary shortly after the American training program began, Captain Rahmani said. When female workers at an airport in southern Afghanistan were slain this month, she was horrified to hear some members of Parliament quoted as saying the women would have been safe if they had stayed at home.

This new phase of her life in the United States starts with trepidation. “It makes me really nervous,” she said of having her asylum petition pending when President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to bar Muslims from entering the United States. Still, Captain Rahmani said she sees the United States as a place where women can aspire to accomplish great things.

She doesn’t believe that to be true of her homeland. Pursuing pathbreaking goals in today’s Afghanistan as a woman is futile, she said. “It’s better to keep it as a dream and not let it come true.”

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Civil Society Women

In Pakistan, five girls were killed for having fun. Then the story took an even darker twist.

ISLAMABAD, Dec 17 — It was just a few seconds, a video clip of several young women laughing and clapping to music, dressed for a party or a wedding in orange headscarves and robes with floral patterns. Then a few more seconds of a young man dancing alone, apparently in the same room.

The cellphone video was made six years ago, in a village deep in Kohistan, a rugged area of northwest Pakistan. It was the last time the young women, known only as Bazeegha, Sareen Jan, Begum Jan, Amina and Shaheen, have ever been definitively seen alive.

What happened to them remains a mystery. Their fates have been shrouded by cultural taboos, official inertia, implacable resistance from elders and religious leaders suspected of ordering their deaths, and elaborate subterfuges by the families who reportedly carried out those orders.

Even in Pakistan, where hundreds of “honor killings” are reported every year, this case was extreme. According to court filings and interviews with people who investigated it, the families confined the girls for weeks, threw boiling water and hot coals on them, then killed them and buried them somewhere in the Kohistan hills.

Later, when investigators appeared, relatives and community leaders insisted that the girls were still alive and produced a second set of similar-looking girls to prove it. They even disfigured one girl’s thumbprints so she couldn’t be checked against the identity of the victim she was supposed to impersonate.

The story illustrates many of the reasons Pakistani officials have failed to curb the problem of honor killings. These include the cruel sway of traditional tribal councils, known as jirgas, over uneducated villagers; the lengths to which such leaders may go to defy state authority; and the casual worthlessness they assign to the rights, lives and even identities of young women.

Today, the truth is finally beginning to emerge, mostly through the efforts of a few individuals including Afzal Kohistani, a young man whose brothers were killed as a result of the incident. He spent years seeking help from local and provincial officials, then petitioned the Supreme Court. In 2012, his case was dismissed, but last month the high court reopened it and ordered a new investigation that has produced a chilling report.

“This has destroyed my family. The girls are dead, my brothers have been killed and nothing has been done to bring justice or protect us,” said Kohistani, 26, who has received death threats. “I know I will probably be killed, too, but it doesn’t matter,” he said in an interview last week. “What happened is wrong, and it has to change.”

Renewed judicial interest in these long-ago events coincided with another encouraging development: the passage of a new law in parliament that strengthened judicial powers in honor-killing cases. Often, even when such crimes manage to reach the courts, there is no punishment because the law allows victims’ families to “forgive” the perpetrators — who are often their own relatives.

The new law, passed in October, gives judges more ammunition to impose life prison sentences for honor killings in extreme circumstances, allowing them to overrule personal deals by making the murder a crime against the state. But supporters fear that cultural and political resistance will continue to prevent justice being done.

“We don’t know yet whether the law will make much difference. Punishment is still not mandatory, and forgiveness can still negate justice,” said Benazir Jatoi, a lawyer who works on women’s rights. “Until there is more political will, I don’t think the lives of ordinary women threatened with honor violence will change.”

The Kohistan case unfolded in a conservative rural region where social mingling between genders was taboo. The the girls’ participation in a coed singing party was risky enough, but someone posted the video on the Internet, where it spread rapidly, bringing shame on their community before the vast virtual world.

The head of the local jirga, a Muslim cleric, allegedly issued a religious decree ordering the five girls to be killed for dishonoring their tribe, along with the boy seen dancing and every member of his family. There was no resistance from the community. After the girls were disposed of, several brothers of the boy were also caught and killed. The rest of the family, including Kohistani, fled the area.

stood for more than a year. No crimes were reported and no one came to investigate. Kohistani, a college graduate from one of the area’s wealthier families, said he repeatedly approached local and provincial officials, reporting the killings and seeking protection, but was chided for opposing the jirga’s verdict.

“No one in my district or my province has ever spoken against honor killing. They tell me I have defamed my culture, my religion, my tribe,” Kohistani said last week. “Everybody knows what happened, but no one is ready to come forward. This an illegal, unconstitutional and un-Islamic tradition, but people don’t even consider it a crime.”

Finally, with assistance from a lawyer in Islamabad, Kohistani appealed directly to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, a liberal activist, personally took up the case in 2012 and ordered two fact-finding missions sent to the remote area by helicopter.

When the visitors demanded to see the girls, their families at first refused, but eventually presented three girls and said they were the ones in the video. The three delegates had no chance to speak to the girls in private, but they compared their faces to images from the video. Two were convinced of the likenesses; the third, Farzana Bari, said she had doubts.

“I was upset and confused. We had no translators who knew their dialect, and everyone there insisted these were the same girls,” recounted Bari, an academic in Islamabad. “When we got back the second time, I filed a dissenting report, but the judge closed the case. I still feel terrible.”

After that, life apparently returned to normal in the village for several years. One journalist sent photos of both groups of girls to analysts in England, who found only a 14 percent chance they were the same individuals. That evidence was taken to a provincial court, but it declined to take action. Kohistani, in the interview, named each of the original girls and their replacements, who he said were similar-looking sisters, cousins and sisters-in-law.

Finally, last month, Kohistani’s crusade got an unexpected break when the Supreme Court, under a new chief justice, agreed to accept his petition. Once more, a fact-finding mission was sent to the village. This time, it included a district judge and two police officers, armed with government ID records with the heights and thumbprints of the missing girls.

What they encountered was hair-raising.
In his report afterwards, Kohistan Judge Shoaib Khan said the village elders were “unanimous” in insisting that the girls were alive. But two of the girls they produced were much younger than the victims, according to their official birth dates. A third could not be identified because both thumbs had been burned; her parents insisted that it was from a cooking accident. He concluded that at least two girls did not match the ones in the video and that the others were probably also imposters.

“All this leads to the suspicious conclusion that something is wrong at bottom,” Khan wrote. The case, he advised, “needs exhaustive inquiry.”

One day last week, Kohistani, wearing a conservative suit and carrying a copy of the judge’s report, walked up to the Supreme Court. He smiled slightly as he shook hands with his attorney, and they went inside to wait for the next hearing.

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Women

Scooty revolution: Women learn to ride bikes on Karachi’s mean streets

She was perhaps the only one riding on two wheels in a world full of men. But, that was then. Now, within days, more than a thousand women have filled the application form to learn how to drive a scooty from Mehwish Ekhlaque. The applications are queuing up and they don’t have space for more.

“It has been my dream that a group of women ride with me, both for passion and as a means of commuting,” says Ekhlaque. Social media advertisements of the scooty driving workshops for women, advertised by Super Power Scooty, show Ekhlaque in her element. Helmet on, hair flowing out of it, with the protective gear on, totally in control – she is the image of an empowered woman that so many females in Pakistan want to emulate.

Faiza Saroj, a teacher, is one of Ekhlaque’s first students. Her husband is helping her get a grip of the scooty during recess. “This is a great new initiative. The stigma associated with women driving motorbikes has to end. We need a culture of acceptance for women who want to commute on motorbikes. I would love my daughter to learn to ride motorcycles too,” she says.Yet, stigmas are not easy to end, and the ride has not been easy for Ekhlaque as one of Karachi’s very few women who ride motorbikes regularly. While male-dominated groups of motorcycling aficionados have been encouraging and supportive, she struggles with the idea that motorcycling, both as a hobby and as a means of transport, remains limited to men. “A woman deserves the same sense of control a man gets when he kick-starts a motorbike. I belong on a motorbike. It makes me feel alive,” she expresses. However, Ekhlaque has had to be parts of all-men groups to take morning and evening rides and out-of-city motorcycle trips. “I don’t mind that, but we have to come to a point where women can also do this on their own,” she says.

In a city of over 20 million that still does not have a mass transit system, and a growing number of women pursuing professional careers, it is the need of the day that women have the option of using motorbikes as a means of transport. Yet, Karachi, a city where millions of motorcycles are registered and a much bigger number still unregistered, the number of women riding motorbikes can be counted on fingers. “I’m not learning this for recreation; it’s a need. Do people realise how difficult it is for girls who have to commute every morning from North Karachi to Saddar for work, changing many busses on way?” says Sarwat Muzammil. This young IT entrepreneur is a natural, according to Ekhlaque, and has learnt to ride the scooty within a day. “My father was initially reluctant; he was worried about my safety,” says Muzammil. “But once he met Mehwish, and we explained to him the reasons, he relented, and is in fact now encouraging me,” she shares.

Umair Malik and Haris Khan from the Pirani Group are part of the communications team that designed and marketed these workshops, and the response, they say, is more encouraging than they anticipated. “Mehwish is incredible. We were just testing the waters initially. Within days, we have realised the immense potential that lies in this,” says Malik.
The workshops are going to be conducted for three days every week – Friday, Saturday and Sunday – for the month of December at different locations in the city to enable the maximum number of women to benefit from the opportunity. And they are free of cost. They include both theory and practice. “Traffic laws for riding a motorcycle and safety protocol are part of the workshop,” confirms Ekhlaque.

However, these workshops are on for just a month, and each student will get a chance to learn for only two to three days. They will, at best, just give women a taste of the pleasure of riding a scooty, says Ekhlaque, who feels that she needs at least 10 to 15 classes with each student to bring them to a point that they are able to ride motorbikes confidently on their own in any part of the city, even during rush hours. “My dream is to have a motorcycling institute teaching women how to maneuver two-wheelers. But for that, I need support. I am hoping against hope that someone comes forth and invests in this cause. I need others who believe in this to join hands with me,” she expresses. The time is right. The demand is there. And so is the teacher. Are there any takers?

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Women

Pakistan to deport National Geographic ‘Afghan Girl’

Peshawar, Nov 4: An Afghan woman who appeared on a National Geographic cover when she was 12 will be sent back to the war-stricken homeland she fled decades ago, after a Pakistani court ordered that she be deported.

Sharbat Gula, whose striking green eyes were captured in an image taken by photographer Steve McCurry in a refugee camp in Pakistan in 1985, was arrested last week.

She was accused of living in Pakistan on fraudulent identity papers after a two-year investigation, one of thousands of refugees using fake ID cards.

Gula pleaded guilty on Friday, her lawyer said, and the court sentenced her to 15 days’ imprisonment and a 110,000 Pakistani rupee (£1,319) fine.

“She has already spent 11 days in jail,” Mubashar Nazar said. “We had requested the court release her on humanitarian grounds.”

An Afghan consulate official said the fine imposed on Gula had been paid and she would be released on Monday. “We will take her to Afghanistan in an honourable way on Monday,” said Abdul Hameed Jalili, a counsellor for refugees at the Afghan consulate in Peshawar.

Her four children will also return to Afghanistan. Gula, who has hepatitis C, has said her husband died several years ago.

The National Geographic image of Gula became the most famous cover in the magazine’s history. After a 17-year search, McCurry tracked Gula down to a remote Afghan village in 2002, where at the time she was married to a baker and had three daughters.

Pakistani officials say she applied for the fraudulent ID card in Peshawar in 2014.

Gula’s plight highlights the desperate measures many Afghans take to avoid returning to their homeland, as Pakistan takes a tougher stance on undocumented foreigners.

Pakistan has for decades provided a haven for millions of Afghans after the Soviet invasion of 1979. But since July hundreds of thousands have returned to Afghanistan.

Last month the UN refugee agency said more than 350,000 documented and undocumented Afghan refugees had returned from Pakistan in 2016. It expects a further 450,000 to do so by the year’s end.