Have we already forgotten about Afghanistan?

Seven months after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, there’s not much news published any longer. Of course, the past month, most has been about the war in Ukraine. That is understandable, but we must not forget that there are still crises going on elsewhere at the same time.

The situation in Afghanistan is still severe, even if humanitarian agencies have managed to distribute enough aid to avert famine and starvation. The winter is now coming to an end, but nearly 20 million Afghans have received aid during the last six months. Without rapid change of the system, it means time is bought for now, but the crisis will return next winter.

The situation for women is worse than ever, since they have not been allowed to return to work since he Taliban came back in power. The exception is teachers and health staff, but even if they are allowed to work, they are not paid. Previously women were even denied begging, just because they are women (see hrw report)

In families where the main, or sole, breadwinner is a woman, it causes huge problems of feeding their families. On top it is hard to access cash, even for those who has savings. The limit of weekly cash withdrawals is very severe, and inflation is high.

Fayzabad, Afghanistan, November 26th, 2008 – Two Afghan Woman in Burkas.
2021: The return of the burka.
Photo: istockphoto.com

Taliban has also revoked the freedom of movement of women. They are no longer allowed outside their home without mahram, which means male escort. Even going to a health clinic for women, to be treated by a female doctor, needs a male escort, because to register requires interaction with a man at the “reception desk”, and he refuses to speak to women directly.

“A former medical student accompanied her pregnant sister-in-law to the doctor. “The Taliban didn’t let us enter the clinic because we didn’t have a mahram,” she said, adding that the appointment was with a female doctor and the clinic was segregated by gender inside. To enter the facility, however, they had to register and receive a card and the person handling this process was a man. Taliban rules prohibited him from interacting with women, and only permitted him to speak with their mahram. The women were forced to call the interviewee’s brother, who arrived an hour later, to register them. “They don’t even have mercy on pregnant women, let alone others,” the student said. “This is so humiliating.”

Taliban has also forbidden taxi drivers to pick up women travelling alone. This makes it impossible to escape a violent husband. Not that the women have any place to take refuge, since Taliban has also closed down all shelters for women, in addition to close down Ministry for Women’s Affairs. In its place they reinstated the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. This ministry is known from the last period of Taliban rule to be extremely severe in their pursuit and punishment of women who do not behave according to their standards.  

When they came to power in August 2021, the Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said that “our sisters, our men have the same rights”, but it was soon enough clear that this is certainly not the case. The fear of reprisals if not modestly enough dressed, has also forced most women back into the burka, when they have to leave their house.

Recently secondary schools for girls were said to open again, just to be closed again the same day. Since Taliban came back, girls are only allowed to attend school up to 6th grade.

An empty classroom illustrating the closed girls’ schools.
Photo: unsplash.com

Education is vital for a country’s development, and as of current only 43% of the Afghan population is literate. That is an improvement, but it still means that 57% are illiterate. This is not likely to improve in the near future, with a government who is more interested in religious education than literacy and science. It seems like it is more important to the Taliban that people can recite the Koran, and know the “proper way of dress and behaviour”, than give them a proper education.

Already several ministries are closed due to a lack of qualified people, as those who were qualified have fled the country or stay away out of fear for reprisals.

This is a sure way to keep Afghanistan a poor and backwards country, with no prospect of developing any time soon. It also means the population is doomed for poverty, joblessness and a constant struggle of feeding their families. It also means that the conditions for girls and women will not improve in the near future.

Taliban is trying to brand themselves more “modern” towards the outside world, but we shall not be fooled by their attempts at doing so. Inside Afghanistan they have imposed strict rules on journalism, and it is forbidden to say anything “contrary to Islam” or that “insult national figures”.

So far about 40% of the Afghan media sources have shut down, and the latest is that local channels are ordered not to broadcast content for international partners, which all in all drastically limit the accessibility to news.

It is important that we do not forget about Afghanistan and the poor situation for its inhabitants, especially the women and children. The Taliban needs to be pressured by the outside world to grant all its inhabitants their human rights, freedom of movement and free speech, and their barbaric methods of punishment must be stopped immediately.

Featured image: Wanman Uthmaniyyah, unsplash.com

Sources/further reading:

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/afghanistan

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/09/29/list-taliban-policies-violating-womens-rights-afghanistan

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/09/29/afghan-women-frightening-return-vice-and-virtue

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/18/afghanistan-taliban-deprive-women-livelihoods-identity

https://text.npr.org/1046952381

https://theconversation.com/afghan-women-face-increasing-violence-and-repression-under-the-taliban-after-international-spotlight-fades-176008

https://theconversation.com/taliban-2-0-arent-so-different-from-the-first-regime-after-all-173394

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/23/afghan-journalists-taliban-rules-restricting-role-women-on-tv

https://www.dw.com/en/taliban-are-revoking-afghan-womens-hard-won-rights/a-60283590

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-60893054

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-60845540

Trying to piece it together…

Three weeks into the war in Ukraine it seems hard to predict the outcome, except for the fact that Ukraine will be left in ruins. What we all hope for is that the Ukrainians will get out of this war as a free and democratic country. And perhaps it should be added that a lot of us also hope for the fall of Putin as a consequence of his totally unjustified attack on Ukraine.

What we do already see the contours of, is a new approach in the West towards securing their own energy supplies, to be able to get out of the Russian grip. We have also been reminded of how vulnerable we are as Ukraine and Russia are the leading suppliers of wheat, sunflower seeds, gas and ingredients for making fertilizer. The war, in addition to the recent pandemic, has already caused shortages, and experts warn of even higher prices of food as farmers all over the world will face shortages of fertilizer, resulting in less productivity and thereby higher prices. The higher prices of food, fuel and electricity are already duly noted by consumers everywhere.

The question now is, how are we going to meet the challenges we are facing? For sure, not being dependent of oil and gas from Russia is a good start. Will it be a push to the green shift, or not? It has also become evident that supply chains can be highly unreliable, and so it has sparked a debate about self-sufficiency in some countries, like in Norway.

High food prices is of great concern all over the world. For the middle class, they might be able to re-prioritise their spending, e.g. cut down on “luxury” spending like vacations, new furniture, and new cars. For the poorer segment of society, it will add to their hardship. They do not have much to spend in the first place. Increased prices on both energy, fuel and food will hit them very hard. What will the various governments do to ease their strain? Because if nothing is done, there will be a risk of violent protests, like the Yellow Vest movement we saw in France only a few years ago, or the Egyptian revolution in 2011.

The Ukrainians are fighting for their sovereignty, freedom and democracy. Values that the West seems to take for granted, even though we have had a couple of reminders over the past few years that we should not. What happened in USA during the time Trump was president, and what happened after the 2020 elections should be carefully noted. Poland has also been moving in a less democratic direction lately, as have Viktor Orban’s Hungary. In France extreme right-wing candidates are ranking high on the polls before the upcoming elections this April. Perhaps Putin’s war in Ukraine will help undermine them, as we are now reminded of what extremism and despotism look like.

The Russian people are obviously asking themselves these days if they are heading back to the way of life they experienced in the Soviet Union. No freedom of speech, no Western import goods, restricted travel, high inflation etc. In other words, is Putin about to pull a new iron curtain between Russia and the West?

The young generation of Russians have grown up with access to everything we have in the West. Will they accept going backwards? Is there any chance they will be able to change the direction their country is about to take? Considering the massive protests against the war it certainly looks like they will not let themselves be oppressed without fight. Others are simply leaving their country.

Most European countries have decided to expand their military spending, in addition to seek solutions to an acute energy deficiency. They have also been very a wide consent regarding the sanctions against Russia, and what is at stake in a broader view. Democracy in itself is threatened. How are we going to cope with that?

Frankly speaking, I have more questions than answers these days. The latest news is that Putin has laid out his demands for peace, but the details are not yet known, adding to my list of questions.  

Whatever happens over the next weeks, the world will not be the same as it was before February 24, 2022.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue

From time to time, I get this saying on my mind, I guess because it has a nice rhythm to it. I know it’s a saying concerning good luck for a wedding/marriage, but it has occurred to me that it is a good way to explain migrant life. Here follows my little “analysis”, and I think it is one that most migrants can relate to.

Something old…

The old represents all the cultural luggage we bring with us. It includes among other things our maternal language, traditions, values, worldview, conceptions and so on.

When arriving in a new country, we are expected to leave, if not all of it, so at least some of it, behind. But that is near to impossible. These things are part of who we are, it’s kind of in our bone marrow. And even if some of these things might fade, or disappear, it doesn’t happen overnight.

All Norwegian kids climb on the svaberg, i.e. the rocky formation on the coast, in the summer. It’s a big part of my childhood.
Photo: TBermond

Unless we are already fluent in our new language, and have a habit of using it already, we keep thinking (and dreaming) in our mother tongue. Our mother tongue also defines our way of seeing the world, how we organise it, how we relate to others.

We also carry with us all those unexplainable rules about how to manoeuvre in society. What is polite, what is not, how to greet each other, when and with whom to be formal, and with whom we are informal. These are things that we learn from childhood, and it is hard to explain to others why it is like this. It’s just how it is.

Leaving all of this behind the moment you step on foreign soil is impossible, because it would be like erasing who you are.

Something new…

That will be about everything we experience in our new country. The language, the culture, the food, how society is organised, values, traditions, social codes… It might even include the climate and topography.

Depending of our place of origin, what is new can be right out shocking, or it can seem familiar, at least on the surface.

The beach in Nice
Photo:TBermond

In my case, the move from Norway to France seemed rather smooth at first, but I soon realised that even if the food was not that different, the unwritten and unspoken rules for socialising was indeed very different. Not to mention the language, which I didn’t master at all upon arrival.

I asked many questions about how to behave correctly, or perhaps rather why people do like this or that. But the answers remind vague until this day. With that said, little by little I have learned to manoeuver more in accordance to the rules, but I suspect that I will never master it as a native French. That’s also because at times it feels so contradictory to what I am used to, that it’s hard to adapt fully. I never want to be rude or insult someone by intention, but at the same time I find it hard to submit to social rules I find somewhat ridiculous. (Just to make it clear, I do respect the French law!)

In any case, as years have gone by, I have adopted a lot of French habits. It’s hard not to, when it’s part of your everyday life. And being married to a French, and raising our kids here, it feels only natural to adapt to my new environment.

Something borrowed…

It will be a natural continuation of “something new”, and the most important thing that we “borrow” when we arrive in a new country is the language. It’s the key to get to know people and to understand what’s going on both “big scale” (society) and “small scale” (local life, everyday life).

For some, learning a new language is easy. They arrive, and voilà, they master the language after a few months. That must be so fantastic, and people like that really impress me big time! But unfortunately it doesn’t work like that for most of us. We don’t go to bed one evening, and wake up the next morning speaking our new language fluently. It takes time, and it takes patience. Not just for the newcomer, but also for the others.

To be honest, this is not my preferred books! But they are very useful, along with my dictionary and the litlle book with Franch verbes listed.
Photo: TBermond

When I was still struggling a lot with the language, I got so upset with people who didn’t care to speak slowly, and who didn’t care to make an effort to understand me. I knew I made plenty of mistakes! I pronounced words wrong (I still do!), my grammar was horrible (it’s getting better). But I made an effort, and I just wanted people to understand that. When I got to know people who appreciated me learning their language, when they took effort to speak in a way I would understand (simple phrases, speaking more slowly), and gently correcting me, I was so grateful! And that made a big change in my progress.

The longer you stay in a new country, the more you pick up “their ways”. As mentioned above, it feels natural to adapt elements from the new culture as time goes by. And even things that seem strange in the beginning, becomes a natural part of life. Maybe you don’t even really notice these small changes at first, but they become evident when you go back to visit your home country. It can be the way you organise the day, or what you prefer to have for breakfast or dinner. Or the way you interact with other people. Myself, I have happily adopted croissants for breakfast, the ritual of aperitif, or apéro as they say, and cheese after dinner. None of this is common in Norwegian daily life.

Miam mian! Looks good, no?
Photo: TBermond

Something blue…

Every migrant knows that there are moments, short or long, when we feel bewildered and lost. Moments when we don’t manage to make ourselves understood properly, when we have this mixed feeling of anger and sorrow because we want to say something, but we lack the words. All the conversations we miss out on, because we don’t manage to articulate our views in our new language.

Moments when we feel utterly homesick, and just want to jump on the first plane to our native country. When family and friends could just as well have been on the Moon, because they are no longer where we are. Phones are good, but it’s not the same as sitting face to face.

When we realise that friends got lost, because it turned out to be too difficult to keep in touch when the geographical distance got too big, and daily life is too full of whatever needs to be done.

When we feel like having a proper conversation in our mother tongue, to discuss something important in life, but there’s no one around.

When something out of the ordinary happens, and all we want is to be close to our family and friends, but it’s not possible. Like when someone in the family turns sick, or dies, or someone is celebrating an anniversary or wedding, and we are not able to attend.

One of my favourite places in Norway.
Photo: TBermond

Feel free to leave a comment it you have something you would like to add or experiences you would like to share. Wish you all a nice day!

Den internasjonale kvinnedagen 2022

Dagen er her, den internasjonale kvinnedagen 2022. Noe fremgang har det vært det siste året, abort er legalisert i Colombia, Mexico og San Marino. Samtykkelov, som definerer sex uten samtykke som voldtekt, er innført i en rekke europesike land, blant dem Danmark, Sverige og Island. Andre land vurderer også oppdatering på utdaterte lover som gjelder voldtekt. Disse landene er Finland, Nederland, Spania og Sveits. I 2021 bestemte omsider norske politikere seg for at Norge også skal få en samtykkelov. For et land som hevder å være best i klassen på likestilling, var det på høy tid!

Dessverre er det sånn at selv om det har vært fremgang på enkelte områder, så har det gått i revers på andre. Etter to år med pandemi har andelen jenter under utdannelse gått kraftig ned. Vold i hjemmet har økt, noe som først og fremst rammer kvinner og barn.

Tilgangen til helsetjenerster for kvinner, spesielt angående reproduktiv helse og abort har mange steder fallt helt bort, og er blitt sterkt redusert andre steder.

Etter Talibans overtakelse av Afghanistan, har jenter over 12 år mistet retten til å gå på skole, kvinner har mistet retten til å arbeide, og kvinner får ikke reise med offentlig trasport uten å være i følge med en mann. Tjue års kamp for kvinners rettigheter i Afghanistan, alt som var oppnådd, ble blåst bort over natten da Vesten lot Taliban få komme tilbake til makten.

I Etiopia brukes seksualisert vold, spesielt mot kvinner, som et våpen i krigen. Både etiopiske og eritreiske soldater er skyldige i voldtekter og andre seksuelle forbrytelser mot kvinner i landet.

I USA har abortmotstanderne vunnet stadig mer terreng, og ingen har kunnet unngå å få med seg at staten Texas har innført tilnærmet totalforbud mot abort. I juni 2020 kommer abortspørsmålet opp for høyesterett i USA, og tilgangen til trygg og lovlig abort står dermed i fare i hele USA.

Krigen i Ukraina viser oss nok en gang hva en humanitær katastrofe innebærer for kvinner og barn. Denne krigen føyer seg inn i den sørgelig rekken av land hvor befolkningen allerede lider, som I Jemen, Afghanistan, Etiopia, Myanmar, Syria…

Kvinnekampen handler om så mye mer enn likelønn og fordeling av foreldrepermisjon. Disse sakene er også viktige! Men det faktum at vi i Norge og Europa har gjort store fremskritt på disse områdene, betyr ikke at kampen er over. Fremdeles er det millioner av kvinner og jenter der ute som har behov for at vi også fortsetter å holde fokus på saker som lik rett til utdanning og arbeid, at vi fortsetter å jobbe mot barneeksteskap og omskjæring, bedre rettsvern for voldtektsofre og kvinner på flukt, for sikker tilgang til trygg og lovlig abort, sikker og trygg tilgang til prevensjon, og tilgang til forsvarlige helsetjenester, for å nevne noe.

La oss jobbe mot en bedre verden, for absolutt alle, ikke bare i dag 8. mars, men hver dag hele året!

Kilder:

Rapport fra Amnesty Internasjonal i anledning kvinnedagen 8. mars 2022

https://samtykkelov.no/internasjonal-oversikt

8 March 2022

Another 8 March. And still we have to march and speak up for women’s rights. For our right to control our own bodies. Our reproductive health. For our right to marry of our own will, when we come of legal age, and not as child brides. We have to fight for maternity wards and access to mid-wives, for contraceptives and informed family planning. We have to fight for access to free and safe abortion. For equal status and equal rights. For women’s health to be taken as serious as men’s health.

It is true that in some countries women has fought and won certain rights, and that on paper there’s equality between the genders. But putting something on paper, doesn’t mean it works like that in real life. Men are still over-represented in higher positions. Women are still over-represented in low-income jobs and part-time jobs.

Women are still being labelled “hysterical” if they speak in a loud voice and gesticulate, while a man is deemed to be “powerful”. Girls are still taught to be nice, gentle and caring, while boys are expected “to be boys”.

Women are still blamed for sexual assault, when in fact they are the victim. They are asked questions about their way of dressing, and their behaviour. Because they must have done something to attract a man’s attention. When in fact it’s the man who has shown no respect for the woman.

I write this while there is an ongoing war in Ukraine. A war set in motion by Putin. I cannot even start to imagine the horrors the Ukrainian people are living right now. Parents, grand-parents and children taking shelter from the bombing. Heroic women and men fighting the Russian army.

As we march for women’s rights on this particular 8 March, let us also march for all the innocent victims of this war, and every other war. We are women, we are able to carry two thoughts at the same time, and to multi-task!