China’s “Missing Women”

“As a growing body of research shows, however, the world’s most pressing economic and political problems simply cannot be solved without the participation of women. That’s why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is working to ensure that advancing the status of women and girls around the world is fully integrated into every aspect of U.S. foreign policy. As of this spring, with the release of a first-ever secretarial policy directive on gender, advancing the status of women and girls worldwide is officially a requirement in every U.S. diplomat’s job description. As Clinton said in March, the United States will use ‘every tool at our disposal’ to support this crucial cause.

Why? This is, as Clinton has called it, a ‘Full Participation Age,’ an era when information transcends borders, opinions and ideas scale firewalls, and the world can no longer afford to leave millions of women out of the global community. It’s no coincidence that those countries that deny women basic human rights are some of the poorest and least stable. According to the World Economic Forum, countries where men and women are closer to enjoying equal rights are far more economically competitive than those where the gender gap has left women and girls with limited or no access to medical care, education, elected office, and the marketplace.”

Excerpted from: Why Women Are a Foreign Policy Issue (Foreign Policy)

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NYT: Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetry

“’I can’t say any poems in front of my brothers,’ she said. Love poems would be seen by them as proof of an illicit relationship, for which Meena could be beaten or even killed.

“Pashtun poetry has long been a form of rebellion for Afghan women, belying the notion that they are submissive or defeated. Landai means ‘short, poisonous snake’ in Pashto, a language spoken on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The word also refers to two-line folk poems that can be just as lethal. Funny, sexy, raging, tragic, landai are safe because they are collective. No single person writes a landai; a woman repeats one, shares one. It is hers and not hers. Although men do recite them, almost all are cast in the voices of women. ‘Landai belong to women,’ Safia Siddiqi, a renowned Pashtun poet and former Afghan parliamentarian, said. ‘In Afghanistan, poetry is the women’s movement from the inside.'”

In rural Afghan villages, education remains beyond the reach of most young women and girls. While the U.S. and its allies have made significant gains elsewhere in Afghan women’s rights, young rural women still face a significant uphill battle against violence and oppression. The article’s discussion of landai is a refreshing glimpse into the independent, soulful, and sometimes bawdy tradition of women and poetry in rural Afghanistan’s strict post-Taliban society. But it also demonstrates just how precarious life remains for Afghan women, even as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw.

Article: Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetry (New York Times – Subscription Required)

FP: Why Do They Hate Us? The real war on women is in the Middle East.

“How much does Saudi Arabia hate women? So much so that 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca in 2002, after “morality police” barred them from fleeing the burning building — and kept firefighters from rescuing them — because the girls were not wearing headscarves and cloaks required in public. And nothing happened. No one was put on trial. Parents were silenced. The only concession to the horror was that girls’ education was quietly taken away by then-Crown Prince Abdullah from the Salafi zealots, who have nonetheless managed to retain their vise-like grip on the kingdom’s education system writ large.

This, however, is no mere Saudi phenomenon, no hateful curiosity in the rich, isolated desert. The Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region — now more than ever.”

Back in my undergraduate days, when I waffled about my future even more than I do now, I went through a brief phase of wanting to understand Islam. The immediate rush into Quran classes post-9/11 had faded; but Dr. Caesar Farah’s Introduction to Islam course was nevertheless packed with students from all walks of life. It was, without a doubt, one of the most difficult classes of my life.

I called home several times to whine about having to learn yet another difficult language in addition to my Chinese and Russian studies, as studying Islam required more than a smattering of Arabic, and Dr. Farah’s midterm and final exams were heavy in our new vocabulary. The words are still with me, though they have long since lost their meaning. And I suppose if I had attacked Chinese and Russian with the same desperation that had me pacing my shitty student apartment until three in the morning, flipping through index cards and reciting paragraphs of information relating to these foreign terms, I would be fluent by now.

I’m not sure why I was so impassioned to not only learn about Islam, but to excel in this course, when I am admittedly of the lazy intellectual variety of student — one who has never needed to know how to study, who was never given a challenge in high school, and coasted along until encountering … well. Dr. Caesar Farah.

And like just about everyone else who has ever studied Islam, I walked out of that class inspired by the precepts of egalitarianism in this reformist religion, depressed that those concepts failed to transition into modernity, and somewhat horrified by the orientalism so prevalent in Western media’s depiction of the Middle East, even when it’s in the throes of revolution. I wonder if there is a model that can effectively incorporate democracy, religious freedom, and egalitarianism for Middle Eastern states. And I wonder if religion should play a role in post-revolution political parties, and to what extent religion might affect women’s lives.

But this Foreign Policy article, despite its sensationalism and pictures of oppressed women in headscarves, is still an excellent introduction into the violence Middle Eastern women face today, and may still face even after the political revolutions are over.

Article: Why Do They Hate Us? The real war on women is in the Middle East. (Foreign Policy)

WP: In Afghanistan, underground girls school defies Taliban edict, threats

“But word soon spread about the underground girls school — part of a shadow education system developed in places such as Spina to elude the Taliban. The full extent of the system is not known, but American and Afghan officials say such underground networks are not uncommon in places with a large insurgent presence.”

Despite massive gains made by the United States and its allies in the post-Taliban era (such as bringing female enrollment in schools from 5,000 to 2.5 million), over 2 million Afghan girls do not attend school. Those who do are subject to violence and intimidation. Some schools, such as the one in Spina, have gone underground to protect both teachers and students.

Article: In Afghanistan, underground girls school defies Taliban edict, threats (Washington Post)