The Radical Feminist, Afghanistan's Sara Bahayi

 afghanistans northern militia, photo courtesy of faculty of journalism moscow state university ap photo van sekretarev

afghanistans northern militia, photo courtesy of faculty of journalism moscow state university ap photo van sekretarev

AFGHANISTAN, Mazar-i-Sharif – Yesterday, U.S. citizens awoke to 'news reports' that a YouTube video of a dress that changed colors had received 25+ million hits. People spoke about it on elevators, argued their selection of colors in cafeterias, shared and watched the video on their iPhones, and an endless round of recaps flooded every local and national news outlet.

Concurrently, Americans awoke to the incredible story featured on the front page of the Washington Post about Sara Bahayi, the only female taxi cab driver in Afghanistan. This woman is the epitome of a radical feminist, but her story of courage and tenacity remained far from the topic of inane conversation.

Unlike the bra burning icons of the 60's who sought the opportunity to break through the glass ceiling in Corporate America and ascend to the vaulted ranks of male executives, or even those who just wanted to escape the ennui of their housewife status; Bahayi, 38, is one of a new breed of women who are risking their lives in pursuit of basic freedoms.

As Afghanistan's first and perhaps only female driver, Bahayi's life and those of her loved ones are in very real danger. Something that most women take for granted has become the focus of a feminist revolution in countries like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. It is easy to call yourself a feminist if you are safely ensconced in a political and social system which legislates equal rights protections, even if these protections are not always enforced.

It is quite another to seek equality in a society and culture in which women are considered chattel, a precept that is enforced by Taliban militia and other radicalized groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman, who at 15-years-old was shot in the head by an assassin and nearly died because of her efforts to lobby for the right for girls and women to get an education, is an example of the lengths to which extremists will go to reinforce their belief systems.

Bahayi has waged her quiet campaign of civil disobedience for 10-years driving a taxi through the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif. She has been threatened with grievous harm and even death, though she bravely takes the opportunity to talk to some of her male passengers to try and help them understand that driving a car even if it is a taxi, is not sacrilegious. However, most of her passengers are women who seem to feel more comfortable riding inside the car with a woman driver, and even in some cases riding in the front passenger seat.

Unlike the feature photo in which Burqa clad women are forced to ride in the open trunk of a car, Bahayi has literally taken control of destiny at the wheel of her taxi. According to the Washington Post, she earns roughly $10-20 she earns per day. As an unmarried, childless woman, she uses the money that she earns to help support 15 relatives. "She started working outside the home in the late '90s when her brother-in-law was killed by the Taliban; a male neighbor taught her to drive after Bahayi decided her high school teacher's salary was insufficient; she got her drivers license two years ago in a class of 30 students, all male, only nine of whom passed the test. When driving into Taliban-controlled areas, she sometimes disguises herself as male..."

Bahayi has waged a quiet revolution and it is nice to read that her inspirational story was brought to international attention. Reportedly she is in negotiations to open a dealership. Because of the complexity of property ownership in Afghanistan's patriarchal society, she will require the initial investment and auspices of male partners to launch her business. However, she has stated that once the business is established, she hopes to transform it into Afghanistan's first female-owned car dealership. Watch her tell her story in her own language.

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The Smartest Girl in all of Afghanistan

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Allyson Cartwright, Contributing JournalistLast Modified: 13:36 p.m. DST, 24 June 2014

" 10327-F-BH761-090 " Photo by: Ashley N. Avecilla BALKH, Afghanistan — During Afghanistan’s university entrance exams last month, a girl named Shohreh Ghaderi scored the highest of anyone in the country.

She beat over 225,000 other test-takers. Considering Afghanistan’s history of repressing women’s education, Ghaderi’s feat is challenging the status quo of families not sending their daughters on to higher education.

The university entrance exams in Afghanistan, known as the Kankor, are the Afghan equivalent of the American SATs, but far more imperative for Afghani students. Only about thirty-percent of the students that take the Kankor will be accepted to a public institution of higher education, according to Outlook Afghanistan.

Those who do not qualify have the option of attending one of the few private universities, but most students are too poor to afford it. Shohreh Ghaderi commented on the situation of her fellow test-takers to BBC News saying “Many students who sat for the exam had no security where they live. They don’t have proper books or teachers or access to computer. They have nothing.”

Ghaderi, however, will be one of the fortunate ones that will be going on to university. On taking the exam she said to BBC News, “There were 160 multiple choice questions. I only made three mistakes. I remember I was doubtful of one question. It asked what the chemical formula was for phosphoric acid. It was a very easy question, but I don’t know if I chose the right answer.” Despite those three mistakes, she managed to earn the highest score in the country.

Because of her high score she stands out, but what makes her achievement all the more noteworthy is that she is a girl. Traditionally, Afghan girls do not go on to university, instead opting for a domestic life, but that is not the case for her family. She credits her education to her family saying, “My dad used to help me with my questions. I do not believe any of this has to do with luck. I was brought up in an academic family where everyone cares about education.”

When it comes to how she achieved the highest scores in the country she says to BBC News that there was neither a “special technique” in how she studied nor any unique talent, but it was how hard she studied that mattered. She says, “Everything is possible if you have strong will. You have to have a goal in life and believe that nothing can stop you from achieving it.”

Ghaderi credits peace and security to bettering education for other girls. She tells BBC News that violence in certain areas is why girls are not going to school saying, “Some people won’t let their daughters study because of the lack of security.” She continues to say, “If everywhere was safe then there would be no excuse for stopping their daughters from studying and it would become an outdated tradition.”

With Ghaderi’s impressive score, she will be attending Kabul University. She intends on studying medicine. When she visited a class of other girls prior to their university exams, she left them with this encouraging message, “I hope I can be an inspiration to you all and that you all will be successful in the university entrance exam and then you will become and inspiration for our community.”

Follow Allyson on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

The Opium Economy Booms in Afghanistan

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AFGHANISTAN — The concerted efforts of Afghanistan and US governments will not be enough to curb this year’s opium industry in Afghanistan. The high unemployment rates and political instability in the country will create a surge of opium production and usage; which is predicted to break records for this year. With the threat of complete crop destruction forcing people into the arms of the Taliban, but also a desire to eradicate the drug, this year’s booming opium growth is prompting new courses of action.

Opium, from poppies, is the main ingredient used in heroin. Three-quarters of the world’s supply of opium is grown in Afghanistan. According to VICE News, it is predicted to reach ninety-percent by this year. The Washington Times reports there has been a thirty-six percent increase in poppy farm acreage, to approximately 516,000 acres. The US currently spends $7.5 billion on defensive measures against the opium trade.

Despite production of opium in mostly the southern and western provinces of Afghanistan, US forces are being located to the east to combat the trade. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction defends the shift to the east because it is “generally less than the threat in the south and southwest”. The US forces are trying to fight the trade in the opposite direction of the problem.

Because of the International Security Assistance Force, the Afghan forces have little jurisdiction in combatting the opium trade themselves. A report from Washington’s Afghanistan war watchdog said on the issue, “Drug labs, storage sites, and major trafficking networks are concentrated in rural areas that are increasingly off-limits to Afghan forces due the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) drawdown and declining security in these areas.”

Due to the end of the war in Afghanistan, foreign troops will be leaving by the end of the year, taking with them the most effective combative forces against the trade, as well as much of the country’s stability. As they face staggering unemployment and security concerns against forces like the Taliban, the lack of foreign aid could promote the opium industry.

Opium-use is rising among Afghans because of the tough economic times. The Guardian reports about 1.3 million Afghan adults were regular drug users in 2012 out of a population near 32 million.

Not only is the demand increasing, but it is providing jobs for those unemployed more than any other form of cultivation. Some see the possible utilization of opium production as a solution to actually provide economic growth and stability for the weak Afghan government. Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on counter-narcotic efforts in Afghanistan, told VICE News that because opium cultivation is labor-intensive and profitable, if the 806 square miles of opium fields last year were instead wheat then that would only create twenty percent of the jobs that the opium fields provided.

Felbab-Brown goes on to say, “What we really need to ask ourselves is, is it bad to have this illicit economy? It probably is bad, but is it much worse than the alternative? The alternative right now would be huge political instability and it would also be huge unemployment,” she said. “So yes, it’s undesirable that there is a major illicit economy that constitutes so much of the country’s GDP, but there’s just no way to walk away from that.”

What concerns the US government, though, is more than the illicitness of the opium trade and drug use; The US is more concerned with the implications that this trade can have on strengthening the Taliban and warlords.

The poor farmers are not the ones who profit off of the opium crop. The local warlords, Taliban, and wealthy elites connected to the government instead pocket the revenue, according to VICE News. The DEA claims that high-ranking Taliban members double as drug lords who finance terrorist attacks using drug money.

However, eradicating the drugs could also promote the Taliban. With eliminating the crops, it would cripple the poorest farmers who would them be forced to turn to the Taliban. Felbab-Brown told VICE News, “[…] what would inevitably happen is that eradication would target the poorest sectors of society, and they would then become dependent on the support of the Taliban for basic survival, and consequently they would dislike the state and dislike the counterinsurgency, and strengthen their bond to militants like the Taliban.”

To regulate the opium trade prompts the concern of drug use and funding terrorists, however to eliminate the trade offers similar outcomes. Graeme Smith, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, told VICE News, “The fact of the matter is that Afghanistan will continue to be the world’s leading opium producer probably for many years to come and the international community will need to help Afghanistan get off the sauce when it comes to finding another way to bring in hard currency.”

Follow Allyson on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

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Iran: Morality Laws Lead to Arrest of Dancing to “Happy” Celebrants

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Allyson Cartwright, Contributing JournalistLast Modified: 00:52 p.m. DST, 22 May 2014

House Party, Iran, Photo by Beyond Borders Media

TEHRAN, Iran — Three men and three women were arrested in Tehran after posting a YouTube video of themselves dancing to Pharrell Williams’s hit song “Happy."

The video entitled “Happy in Tehran” was deemed obscene by the Tehran police chief, Hossein Sajedinia. The country, however, has rallied around the six young Iranians and is criticizing the government for being too socially restrictive.

Subsequently, five of the dancers in the video have been released, but the director is still being held in police custody, according to CNN.

The “Happy in Tehran” video depicts the Iranians dancing around different locations to the song “Happy”. Most notably, the three women were publicly unveiled—a punishable offense in Iran. It became a viral video in Iran and was shared all over social media. When it was posted in April, the video garnered more than 165, 000 views on YouTube before it was blocked.

After the attention that the video received, it also caught the attention of Tehran police who determined that making the video was criminal. Police Chief Sajedinia explained to the state-run Iranian Students' News Agency why the video creators had been detained, “After a vulgar clip which hurt public chastity was released in cyberspace, police decided to identify those involved in making that clip.”

Sajedinia decided to make an example out of the creators adding, “Our dear youths should try to avoid these kinds of people. Like actors, singers, and these kinds of problems. Try to avoid it.”

The police tricked the video creators into their arrest, a source told Iran Wire.  The sources said, “All of the young producers received phone calls informing them that a friend had suffered a car accident and required their help. When they arrived at the address they had been given over the phone, security forces were waiting to arrest them.”

After the arrest, The Huffington Post says a public interrogation was held on Iranian state TV. On Iranian TV, the video creators were identified as “actors” who were coerced into making the video for an audition and told that it would not be aired.

The Iranian regime that has been in power since the 1979 revolution enforces conservative, religious values that result in the limitations of internet publication. The “Happy in Tehran” video represents how social media has been used globally to rebel against this kind of hardliner authority. After the arrests of the creators, most people seemed to defend them. Other Iranians reposted the video adding “#FreeHappyIranians” in support of the detained.

Even the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, came to the defense of the creators. He tweeted today, in reference to the five creators’ release, a quote he made last year, “#Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.” Reuters reports that Rouhani has been vocal about his opposition to harsh internet censorship saying in a speech from this weekend, “We ought to see (the Internet) as an opportunity.

We must recognize our citizens' right to connect to the World Wide Web.” Pharrell Williams, the singer of “Happy”, also spoke out in support of the six Iranians. The Grammy Award winner posted on his Facebook page, “It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness.”

The video credits seem to suggest their intentions were just that harmless as it reads, “We have made this video as Pharrell Williams' Fans in 8 hours, with iPhone 5S. 'Happy' was an excuse to be happy. We enjoyed every second of making it. Hope it puts a smile on your face. © All Rights Reserved by Sol Production.” According to the video creators, the purpose of the video was to celebrate the UN's International Day of Happiness. Neda, one of the arrested dancers told Iran Wire, “We wanted to tell the world that the Iranian capital is full of lively young people and change the harsh and rough image that the world sees on the news.”

Follow Allyson on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

Outrage After Turkish Mine Explosion Kills Over 200

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Allyson Cartwright, Contributing JournalistLast Modified: 21:04 p.m. DST, 15 May 2014

"Orgreave S24's washout (3 of 3)  Photo by: Earthwatcher

SOMA, Turkey— At least 245 Turkish miners have died and 120 are still trapped after an explosion of a coal mine in what is being called the “worst industrial accident in the country’s history”. Hopes of rescuing the remaining miners are “dimming” according to Energy Minister Taner Yildiz. Thousands of people are rallying in response in Turkey, angered by the disaster and the lacking efforts from the government and rescue agencies.

The explosion in the mine occurred after a malfunction with a power unit. This has resulted in a power outage in the mine, making the mine cages inoperative and thus rescue efforts far more difficult. It is also reported by The Guardian that fires from the blast had not yet been extinguished, 18 hours after the explosion. Most of the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning as claimed by Yildiz. Reuters reported that oxygen is being pumped into the mine in order to keep the remaining trapped miners alive. However, Mehmet Torun, a board member and former head of the Chamber of Mining Engineers says, “Unless we have a major miracle, we shouldn't expect anyone to emerge alive at this point.”

Tensions are rising above ground as well in the nearest city to the mine, Soma. Friends and relatives of the deceased and trapped miners are venting frustrations against Prime Minister Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party. Erdoğan’s government has a questionable history with the mining industry. Turkey was ranked third worst for worker deaths by the International Labour Organization in 2012. The New York Times says just two weeks ago they vetoed a proposition for a parliamentary commission that would try to alleviate the dangerous conditions in the mining industry. His government is further criticized for not responding to his rival party, Republican People's Party. They requested action on work-related incidents in the Soma mines in April, but were refused.

Violent demonstrations concerning the mining accident are occurring in Soma as well as in the country’s largest city, Istanbul, and the capital, Ankara. Wednesday afternoon protestors, mostly teens and 20-somethings, confronted riot police at the headquarters of the Justice and Development Party, according to The Huffington Post. They also said that the police were equipped with gas masks and water cannons. The protestors could be heard shouting that Erdoğan was a “murderer” and a “thief”. It was reported that hundreds of protestors were also at the Soma Holding headquarters, the company that owns the mine.

Erdoğan’s presence at the mine furthers the anticipation of his candidacy in the upcoming presidential election, despite him not confirming a bid. He has postponed an international trip, instead going to visit the mine. He also has declared three days of mourning in Turkey for those miners lost. According to The Huffington Post, in the past he has been unsympathetic to the dangerous mining conditions in Turkey, saying after a 2010 accident where 30 miners died that it is part of the “profession's fate”. In the case of this accident in Soma, Erdoğan insists that it will be fully investigated. On the miners still trapped, the prime minister said, “Our hope is that, God willing, they will be brought out. That is what we are waiting for."

Follow Allyson on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

Social Media Bans Persist in Turkey

 recep tayyip erdogan, photo by cvrcak1

recep tayyip erdogan, photo by cvrcak1

TURKEY, Ankara - First Twitter and now YouTube, social media platforms in Turkey are continually being banned by the Turkish Telecommunications Authority. This latest YouTube ban comes after a video posted on March 27 on the site that is supposedly of an audio recording of top Turkish officials discussing a military operation against Syria, according to CNN.

This leak was followed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s accusations that YouTube and Twitter are being used to slander and spy on the government. The Twitterban came first on 21 March 2014 after a re-election rally during which CNN quoted Erdoğan as saying he was determined to “root out Twitter”; however, the ban was deemed unconstitutional by the Turkish high court.  The YouTube ban followed six days later.

Besides the audio recording of a planned false-flag against Syria, more audio was leaked that incriminate the Justice and Development party leader, Erdoğan. What he calls “immorally edited material”, had been published on YouTube that supposedly was of Erdoğan instructing his son to hide millions of dollars from the police, further implicating him of corruption allegations.

After public outcry and protest, the 27 March 2014 YouTube ban was overturned 2 April 2014. Al Arabiya News said that the ban was found to be in violation of human right and instead of a site-wide sanction, 15-videos were banned. However, just two days following the lifting of the ban, it has been reinstated.  This back-and-forth with the rulings against YouTube has created more mass disapproval in Turkey and internationally.

Turkey has been vying for admission into the European Union, but after these latest regulations by the Turkish government, it seems like this may be less and less of a possibility. An anonymous high-ranking EU official spoke on Turkey’s EU bid to Today’s Zaman saying, “For Turkey's EU membership, countries like France and Germany will eventually seek a referendum for public support, and Turkey has lost the support of young and liberal constituencies in the EU with its ban on social media. This [ban] has definitely not brought Turkey closer to the EU.”

Losing EU favor is only the beginning. The US has also been vocal about their objection to Erdoğan’s social media ban. Al Arabiya News reported that last Friday, Washington had been urging the Turkish government to “open all social media space in Turkey”.

Even the massive internet company Google has joined the protest against the YouTube ban. Russia Today reported that Google has appealed the YouTube ban to Turkey’s Constitutional Court. Since Google Inc. is the owner of YouTube, a Google spokesperson told Wall Street Journal via email, “it is obviously very disappointing to people and businesses in Turkey that YouTube is still blocked, and we are actively challenging the ban in the courts,” and that the YouTube ban impedes on “freedom of speech”.

Any negative impact of these social bans on Erdoğan’s chances of winning has yet to be determined. Prime Minister Erdoğan is currently running in the Turkish presidential election. Local elections in Ankara were challenged March 30 after claims of corrupted results, of which Erdoğan won. Reuters reported that the opposition party’s call for a recount was denied. It appears that in local elections his candidacy has not been tainted. Turkish national elections for presidency will take place on 10 August 2014.

Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

Steve McCurry | Through His Eyes

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 01:48 a.m. DST, 23 December 2013

McCurry took his most recognized portrait, "Afghan Girl", in a refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan. The image itself was named as "the most recognized photograph" in the history of the National Geographic magazine and her face became famous as the cover photograph on the June 1985 issue. . The identity of the "Afghan Girl" remained unknown for over 17 years until McCurry and a National Geographic team located the woman, Sharbat Gula, in 2002.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EC6b6X-Tf_E] McCurry continued to cover armed conflicts, including the Iran-Iraq War, Lebanon Civil War, the Cambodian Civil War, the Islamic insurgency in the Philippines, the Gulf War and the Afghan Civil War. His work has been featured worldwide in magazines and he is a frequent contributor to National Geographic. He has been a member of Magnum Photos since 1986.

McCurry focuses on the human consequences of war, not only showing what war impresses on the landscape, but rather, on the human face. “Most of my images are grounded in people. I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face. I try to convey what it is like to be that person, a person caught in a broader landscape, that you could call the human condition.” (Source: Wikipedia)

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