Muslim Women’s Newsletter – Vol. 6 No.58, January 2012. CSSS

Edited by

Qutub Jehan Kidwai

A STEP FORWARD

Dr. Muzna Kapdi tops the Maharashtra State (M.D. – Child Specialist) exam

Kondhivre – Sangmeshwar:  Popular Educationist of the country Mr. Mubarak Kapdi’s daughter Dr. Muzna topped the Maharashtra University of Health Science – M.D. (Child Specialist). 

It is a matter of pride and a Historic achievement in the entire Kokan region. 

A native of Kondhivre village of the Ratnagiri District, she passed her S.S.C from Mumbai Board with 88 % and H.S.C with 96 %. She had an excellent score in the Medical Entrance Exam (CET).

She passed her M.B.B.S. Degree from the Grant Medical College of Mumbai and joined Bombay Hospital, from where she completed her M.D. whilst creating history.

Notably, she pratices the Islamic dress code complete with Hejab and she feels it is never a hurdle in career development. 

She believes that if students make sincere efforts then nothing is impossible and can reach higher levels of success. 

She thanked Almighty Allah and highlighted the role played by her father Mr. Mubarak Kapdi in guiding her to success. 

71 women get B.Ed. degrees at Mazharul Uloom College of Ambur

Chennai: Mazharul Uloom College of Ambur in Vellore district of Tamil Nadu celebrated second year of B.Ed. course at the college as 96 passouts, including 71 women, were awarded the B.Ed. degrees at a function held on 29th December 2011. Padma Shree Mecca Rafeeque Ahmed, President, FICCI, Tamil Nadu Chamber, presided over the function.

The successful B.Ed. graduates were in their colourful academic attire. Out of 96 successful candidates, 71 women came out with flying colours, and 25 men scored the card. Graduates were from different communities like Muslim, Hindu and Christian. This shows that Ambur Muslim Educational Association (AMEA, which runs this college, considers all candidates equal.

Padma Shree Mecca Rafeeque Ahmed, President, FICCI, Tamil Nadu Chamber, presided over the function. “Among the noblest of the profession, I personally believe, is teaching profession which imparts knowledge to others. Your job has not ceased to a final point with this graduation degrees in your hands, what you have now, is a specific role and responsibility before you, in turn have to make many more of your future disciples as brilliant as a glittering diamond,” said Ahmed.

As a co-educational Institute (in teachers’ training only), Mazharul Uloom College has now around 900 students and offers several undergraduate courses along with M.Sc. (computer science). In a novel experiment, the MU College has been providing free coaching for girl students to appear for B.Com and BCA courses at Hasnat-e-Jaria Girls High School in the tiny leather town during the last nine years. It has enabled almost 900 girls to acquire B.Com degree from open universities and distance learning institutes.

A law to emancipate Muslim women in India

Lucknow, Mar 13: The All India Shia Personal Law Board (AISPLB) has come up with a set of proposals that if becomes a reality will then go on a long way to the empowerment of Women in the Muslim community of India. 

The Times of India has reported that the AISPLB has come up with a proposal that can lead to social boycott of men who fore-go their responsibilites the wife of their wife on frivolous grounds or resort to violence against them. The daily wrote that the proposal may be formally cleared on Mar 13.

According to the report, the proposed law will include a three-level redressal system, a helpline for the aggrieved party, reference to the ‘Majlis-e-Aala-e-Dini’ (expert panel of ulema) to investigate allegations and free legal aid by ‘vakla’ (lawyers’ committee), if the victim’s charges are proved right.

But the most important aspect of the proposed laws is the social boycott of men who leave wives without any substantial reason and go on for another marriage. The entire family may be boycotted, which according to the board spokesman Yasoob Abbas, as stated by the Times of India can even lead to the funeral being let unattended by others.

Abbas was quoted by the daily as explaining, “A noticeable spurt in the divorce rate has prompted us to take such a step. Also, a survey by the Board came up with startling finding that every fourth marriage was either ending in a divorce or heading towards irreconcilable differences.”

The daily quoted, AISPLB president Maulana Mirza Mohammad Athar as saying, “Similar restriction will also apply to those who opt for infanticide and selective termination of pregnancy to rule out giving birth to a girl child. No one has a right to play God and eliminate a life in the making due to gender bias. The AISPLB strongly condemns it.”

If these proposed laws get sanctioned, then the long-standing view on the community being gender-biased will be out to rest for once and for all.

Glowork looks to create new jobs for Saudi women

Middle East-based Glowork, a website for women’s empowerment, announced it has inked a new deal with EXA Information Systems in an effort to create thousands of jobs for Saudi Arabian women.

According to a published statement from Glowork, “under this agreement signed at the Council of Saudi Chambers, the companies will permit women to work from their homes.”
The deal means that companies will be able to hire women for positions in customer service, sales, research and digital marketing.

A Saudi-led project, Glowork has already created over 2,000 vacancies through its website enabling employees to work from home.

Khalid Alkhudair, the founder of Glowork, told Bikyamasr.com that current labor laws of segregation have “been an obstacle for companies that aim to hire women, and with this agreement it could change the laws of employment.”

He hopes that through their new agreement, this will enable the empowering of women and women’s employment in the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom.

“Over 80 percent of the companies we approached that never had a female department were happy to hire females but were phased by the segregation policies which requires their offices to have separate entrances and in turn means more cost on their shoulders,” he added.

“The agreement we signed is a historic breakthrough for Saudi as it will undoubtedly create thousands of jobs for women and save a lot of cost,” he continued.

The idea will push for more women in rural areas to enter the job force without having to circumvent traditional boundaries handed down by the Saudi government and the male-dominated society.

EXA is a leading Arab IT company offering a wide range of services including software development, web hosting, and integrated solutions in the Gulf and North Africa region.

 Meet opens avenues for Muslim women to talk Islamic theology

CHENNAI: The Shari’ah convention for women, held on Thursday, the first of its kind, has come as an eye-opener for many in the city’s Muslim community. “I attended this conference, and for the first time in my life I was amazed to see and hear women from other fields talking so perfectly about Shariat (Islamic law) and Islam. I wish I was among them,” Kouser Jahan of Vaniyambadi posted later on the internet.

The primary reaction to Muslim women speaking up from a public platform on theological matters was the surprise element. Yusra, who runs a madrassa, said, “There are not too many female scholars, at least not of repute.”

Indeed there are many Muslim women successful in various fields, but the ranks of religious scholars are closed to them. This is attributed to the male-dominated clergy’s control of religious institutions.

A Faizur Rahman, secretary general for the Forum for Promotion of Moderate Thought Among Muslims said, “I don’t know of any Muslim women scholars of Islamic theology in India. The only two contemporary women scholars of repute are Ayesha bint Abdur Rahman of Egypt and Abida Abdul Azeem from Syria. Although there are some Madrassas for women in India, the products of these madrassas are not known for their erudition. This is because the Muslim patriarchy in India does not recognise women scholars. If there are many women activists today, it is in the face of opposition from the patriarchy and due to the easy access to the theological texts, made available by technology.”

Clearly, the rise of the internet and spread of education among Muslim girls are among factors driving the change. Nikhath Suhail, assistant secretary of AHI Academy for Women says, “It has taken a long time for women in the community to realize their right to education, but we have finally arrived.” There are very few female scholars, she agrees, “but the trend has definitely begun. ”

Zainab Cader, an aalima (female scholar) and principal of Umm-U-Kukulam Women’s Islamic College here, puts it differently. “There are aalim courses available nowadays for three years and many women are enrolling,” she says. “But education among women is still a problem, in my opinion.”

In conversation with Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

 Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is bold. She seeks stories that touch the heart and turns them into movies that break it. Having worked on subjects ranging from child abuse, violence against women, terrorism and natural disasters, Chinoy is passionate about films and views everything through a human mind and yet with the lens of her camera.

From being a brilliant journalist, to an established filmmaker, Chinoy has come a long way. After becoming the first Pakistani to win an Emmy Award, the first non-US citizen to win the Livingston Award for Young Journalist, she has now become the first Pakistani individual to earn an Oscar nomination.

Last October, Chinoy revealed that her documentary Saving Face had entered the shortlist of Best Documentary (short film) category for the Oscars.

Here, she talks to Dawn.com about the long journey to the Oscars, moments after the Oscar nominations were revealed.

What was it that motivated you to work on this subject, which continues to be neglected in the mainstream media?
The film chronicles the work of acclaimed British Pakistani plastic surgeon, Dr Mohammad Jawad as he travelled to Pakistan and performed reconstructive surgery on survivors of acid violence. There my co-director, Daniel Junge suggested that we should make a documentary on this. I was sold in an instant, since I personally feel that acid attacks are the worst form of violence, I stuck to the idea and was determined to show the world the process a woman goes through after this hideous act. I would also like to thank the women for the resilience, patience and dedication they showed throughout the filming of this documentary.

The movie is shot entirely in the Seraiki belt. How common are acid attacks in that part of the country?

The Seraiki belt is sadly the most backward and conservative area of Pakistan, where torturing women is not considered a crime.

What have your critics said about the documentary and its nomination now? 
It has been released only in American cinemas and has received a great response so far. Regarding the nomination [chuckles], it has just been an hour since the nominations came out so no criticism yet.

Do you have any plans to follow the lives of these victims?

Yes we have a complete program ready for this. We will be reaching out through a nationwide program, where we will screen this documentary and encourage the victims to speak at local colleges and schools in order to spread awareness. Also, we will be working with international organisations to provide the victims with skills through training programs and there are plans to rehabilitate some of these women.

What is the status of Taboo Beauty?
Taboo Beauty has been renamed to Transgenders: Pakistan’s Open Secret and has already been screened in the UK.

When and how does the Pakistani public get to see Saving Face?

The film will be aired on March 8 by HBO, which will be followed by screening in selected cinemas across Pakistan
 

STRUGGLE CONTINUES

Child bride’s torture renews Afghan rights worries

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Just 15 years old, Sahar Gul has become the bruised and bloodied face of women’s rights in Afghanistan. The teenage bride’s eyes were swollen nearly shut as she was wheeled into the hospital seven months after her arranged marriage. Black scabs crusted her fingertips where her nails used to be.

According to officials in northeastern Baghlan province, Gul’s in-laws kept her in a basement for six months, ripped her fingernails out, tortured her with hot irons and broke her fingers — all in an attempt to force her into prostitution. Police freed her after her uncle called authorities.

The horrific images, captured by television news cameras last week, transfixed Afghanistan and set off a storm of condemnation. President Hamid Karzai set up a commission to investigate, and his health minister visited her bedside. Police arrested her in-laws, who denied abusing her. A warrant was issued for her husband, who serves in the Afghan army.

The case highlights both the problems and the progress of women 10 years after the Taliban’s fall. Gul’s egregious wounds and underage wedlock is a reminder that girls and women still suffer shocking abuse. But the public outrage and the government’s response to it also show that the country is slowly changing.

“Let’s break the dead silence on women’s plight,” read the title of an editorial Wednesday in the Afghanistan Times.

Despite guaranteed rights and progressive new laws, Afghanistan still ranks as the world’s sixth-worst country for women’s equality in the U.N. Development Program’s annual Gender Inequality Index. Nevertheless, Afghan advocates say attitudes have subtly shifted over the years, in part thanks to the dozens of women’s groups that have sprung up.

Fawzia Kofi, a lawmaker and head of the women’s affairs commission in the Afghan parliament, says the outcry over a case like Gul’s probably would not have happened just a few years ago because of deep cultural taboos against airing private family conflicts and acknowledging sexual abuse — such as forcing a woman into prostitution.

“I think there is now a sense of awareness about women’s rights. People seem to be changing and seem to be talking about it,” Kofi said.

Ending abuse of women is a huge challenge in a patriarchal society where traditional practices include child marriage, giving girls away to settle debts or pay for their relatives’ crimes and so-called honor killings in which girls seen as disgracing their families are murdered by their relatives.

And some women activists worry that their hard-won political rights may erode as foreign troops withdraw and Karzai’s government seeks to negotiate with the Taliban to end their insurgency. Women’s rights, they fear, may be the first to go in any deal with the hardline Islamic militants.

“I’m afraid we won’t have all this anymore if the Taliban are allowed back into society,” said Sima Natiq, a longtime activist.

Freedoms for women are one of the most visible — and symbolic — changes in Afghanistan since 2001 U.S.-led campaign that toppled the Taliban regime. Aside from their support for al-Qaida leaders, the Taliban are probably most notorious for their harsh treatment of women under their severe interpretation of Islamic law.

For five years, the regime banned women from working and going to school, or even leaving home without a male relative. In public, all women were forced wear a head-to-toe burqa veil, which covers even the face with a mesh panel. Violators were publicly flogged or executed. Freeing women from such draconian laws lent a moral air to the Afghan war.

As U.S. troops begin to draw down, activists say Afghanistan is unmistakably a better place to be born female than a decade ago.

In parliament, 27 percent of lawmakers are female, mostly because the constitution reserves 68 seats for women. More than 3 million girls are in schools, making up 40 percent of the elementary school population, according to the education ministry. A survey last year indicated that women dying in childbirth had dropped by nearly two-thirds to below 500 per 100,000 live births since 2005, although that is still one of the world’s highest rates.

Still, for every improvement, there are other signs of women’s continued misery. The U.N. says more than half of Afghanistan’s female prison population is made up of women sentenced by local courts for fleeing their marriages — the charge is often phrased as “intent to commit adultery,” even though that’s not a crime under Afghan law. And the U.N. women’s agency UNIFEM estimates that half of all girls are forced to marry under age 15, even though the legal marriage age is 16.

“There’s very good standards on paper. There’s very active women’s networks,” said Georgette Gagnon, the U.N.’s human rights director in Afghanistan. “A lot has been done, but there is still a long way to go.”

A U.N. report in November also found that a 2009 law passed to protect Afghan women from violence was rarely enforced. For the 12-month period ending in March 2011, prosecutors filed indictments in 155 cases, only 7 percent of all 2,299 crimes reported. And activists say those complaints are a small fraction of the true level of abuse.

Part of the problem is the ingrained attitudes of police and courts that cause them to turn a blind eye or even send women back to their abusers, said Latifa Sultani, coordinator for women’s protection with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

“Some local officials still believe women shouldn’t have rights,” Sultani said.

Last month, Karzai pardoned a 19-year-old woman who was imprisoned after she was raped and impregnated by a cousin. A local court sentenced her to 12 years in prison for having sex out of wedlock, a crime in Afghanistan. The judge told her she could get out of prison if she agreed to marry her alleged rapist, but she refused and gave birth to her daughter in prison.

Passing laws that protect women is one thing, enforcing them is another. Women’s groups are pressing Karzai to do more, but most acknowledge that with the central government so weak, the real battle will be fought in individual police stations, courtrooms and prosecutors’ offices. Not least will be persuading Afghans to change their views.

That’s why the gruesome story of Sahar Gul’s imprisonment and torture is seen by some activists as an opportunity for the government to recommit publicly to women’s rights. They say are encouraged that Karzai felt compelled by the outcry to become involved.

“This is a sign of progress in a way,” Kofi said. “This is just a small example. We have hundreds of thousands of women like Sahar Gul who are victims of violence, but their voices are not heard.”

For now, Gul remains in a Kabul hospital, where she transfered from a local hospital in Baghlan province. An Afghan official said this week that she will be sent to India for further medical treatment. It’s unclear where she will go when she returns to Afghanistan.

 

Egypt Revolt Loses Legitimacy as Brotherhood Ignores Women Abuse

 

Jan. 19 (Bloomberg) — A group of men gathered around Amira El Bakry in Tahrir Square as she brandished a newspaper photo that shocked many Egyptians. It showed troops dragging a female protester along the street, her robe ripped open to reveal a blue bra and bare midriff.

“Is this OK by you?” the 25-year-old El Bakry, her voice shaking with anger, asked the men, as they squinted at the picture and one suggested the protester was trying to cause a scene. Later, El Bakry marched through Tahrir with thousands of women to condemn the brutality and demand that Egypt’s military rulers step down. Some at the Dec. 20 rally wore tight jeans tucked in boots, others were in flowing robes and full-face veils. “The women of Egypt are a red line,” they chanted.

The scene recalled the mass protests of a year ago, also joined by women of all ages and backgrounds. El Bakry supported those efforts to topple Hosni Mubarak, yet she’s worried about the new political order too. Mubarak-era army chiefs are running the country, and Islamist parties with traditional notions of women and their rights are poised to win elections that end this week. “That could be a lose-lose situation for us,” she said. “But we have a role to play, and we’ll have to keep fighting for it.”

Arab women took the fight onto squares and streets across the region last year. From Tunisia, where revolts began, to Egypt and Libya, women rallied alongside men to bring down autocratic rulers. Now, they’re fighting not to be pushed aside by the change they helped create, as elections revive the fortunes of Islamic political groups that were suppressed under the old regimes.

‘Seize the Square’

“So many people created coalitions, in the ‘seize-the- square’ moment,” said Margot Badran, author of “Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Convergences” and a senior scholar at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center. “Now, with the Islamists’ vast parliamentary victories, many fear the old division between secularism and religion may reassert itself. I do not see this as a foregone conclusion.”

The rebellions of Arab women have challenged social barriers and patriarchal cultures as well as dictators. In Saudi Arabia, largely spared public protests, women stepped up a campaign to take to the streets in their cars — an act of civil disobedience in the only country in the world that bars women from driving. Saudi women didn’t overturn the ban, or gain the right to vote in this year’s municipal elections, though King Abdullah said they can participate in 2015.

Nobel Peace Prize

Yemen’s Tawakkul Karman, who won the Nobel peace prize last year, spent most nights for eight months camped out with protesters demanding the departure of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who agreed in November to step down as president. Now, she’s leading opposition to a plan granting him immunity from prosecution.

Expanding the role of women can boost the region’s economy as well as strengthening emergent democracies, according to the World Bank. It says that that 26.8 percent of women in the Middle East and North Africa were in the labor force in 2009, about half the global average. Per-capita incomes could have grown substantially more if the region’s women had more economic opportunity, the bank said.

For women’s groups in Egypt, the initial target has been the military rulers who took over from Mubarak and are accused by activists of using similarly violent tactics — as in the Tahrir beating that enraged El Bakry. Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state, called that incident “a disgrace.”

Women say they also face abuse and sexual harassment from the public and other protesters when they join rallies. Fatma Emam, a 29-year-old research associate at the non-government group Nazra for Feminist Studies, joined a celebration of international women’s day in March last year and recalls a volley of insults. “I felt that day how little the street cares for women’s issues,” she said.

No Female Faces

Some women perceive another threat from the first elections since Mubarak’s ouster. Seven weeks of voting end today and results are due in the next two days. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is set to win about 45 percent of seats, according to its latest estimates. In second place is a bloc of Salafi Muslims, followers of an austere interpretation of Islam. While all parties were required by law to have women on their candidate lists, there may be fewer than 10 women among the 498 elected members, according to provisional results.

The main Salafi alliance kept the faces of its female candidates off most of its publicity material. Salafi candidate Abdel Monem el-Shahat, who failed to win a seat in parliament, told a private television channel that he would like Egypt’s women to wear the niqab, or full-face veil — though he added that it shouldn’t be mandatory.

Polygamy Laws

Libyan women were part of the protests against Qaddafi and the armed revolt that followed, nursing wounded rebels and helping raise cash for weapons. After the fighting eased, women such as Laila and Salwa Bugaighis said they noticed a change.

Salwa, a lawyer from the eastern city of Benghazi, quit her position on the National Transitional Council saying women were being sidelined. The issues she raised were the same as those being debated across the region: electoral representation and the place of religion in family law.

When he declared the country liberated after Qaddafi’s death, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the transitional government until elections scheduled for June, said a Qaddafi law that limited polygamy was un-Islamic and would be revoked. He backtracked a week later, saying the Libyan people would decide such matters and Libya would be a moderate Muslim nation.

‘Increase the Volume’

A draft election law announced this month guarantees women 20 of 200 parliament seats, less than the 40 percent quota they had sought. Unless compelled by law, “no tribe will nominate a woman,” Salwa Bugaighis said.

Her cousin Laila is a gynecologist in Benghazi and head of a committee to care for survivors of the violence. She says it’s hard for women in Libya to make their demands heard, citing the country’s social conservatism and lack of traditions of activism and democracy.

“We plan to increase the volume gradually and steadily, until it reaches the ears,” Laila Bugaighis said in an e-mail. “The fact that our voices as women activists are being heard for the first time, that we are talking about politics, gender equality, elections, health-care reform, violence and democracy, is a breakthrough.”

Egyptian women engaged in the protests before and after Mubarak’s fall cite a similar sense of new horizons.

‘In Their Faces’

El Bakry says that forcing people to confront the image of the battered woman protester in Tahrir helps push the argument forward. “The photo is very painful to see,” she said. “When you go and put it in their faces, and tell them, ‘see what has happened to your women,’ that makes them see how wrong this is. It shows that new lines are being crossed every day.”

Last month, Samira Ibrahim, a young woman from conservative southern Egypt, successfully sued military authorities who she said subjected her to a virginity test. A court last month ordered that such tests should be halted.

Key to the prospect of expanding such victories will be the line taken by Islamist parties.

The Brotherhood, like Ennahdha, promises consensus. The Nour party, the main Salafi bloc, is less accommodating in public. The difference was on display when Egypt’s Christian minority celebrated Coptic Christmas this month. The Brotherhood issued a statement congratulating the community, and sent top officials to attend Christmas Eve mass at Cairo’s Orthodox Cathedral. Nour officials said it’s not permitted for Muslims to share in Christian religious celebrations.

‘Stay at Home’

When Azza el-Garf, who won a parliament seat for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, discusses the prejudice she has encountered on the campaign trail, her language recalls the secular activists.

“As I got up on stage, I sometimes saw sarcastic looks in the eyes of some of the men,” she said. “It was as if they were saying: ‘What could this woman possibly have to tell us?’” She said it was worse under Mubarak, when the Brotherhood was banned and she was blocked from registering as a candidate in the 2010 election. She said a security official told her: “People like you should stay at home and peel onions.”

In other areas, their views conflict. El-Garf attacks “Suzan’s laws,” a reference to Suzan Mubarak, wife of the ousted president, who many Egyptians say was an influence on legislation raising the marriage age and making it easier for women to get divorced. “Too easy,” El-Garf said.

Islamist politicians may moderate their views as they move into positions of responsibility, said el-Ashry, the women’s rights activist.

“If not, we then tell them, ‘Thank you, we’ll try someone else’,” she said. “Whether in the name of religion or in the name of the military council, I am betting that Egyptians will not let go of their freedom.”

 

A TRIBUTE

 

A beautiful mind that was

 

 If you want to do something big in your life, you must remember that shyness is only the mind. If you think shy, you act shy. If you think confident, you act confident. Therefore, never let shyness conquer your mind.”

These are the unforgettable words young Arfa Karim Randhawa had uttered in an interview for Seattle P-I, an online newspaper. This was her message to the youngsters around the world, a measure of what she wanted to be in life.

Her death is the death of a dream, leaving the country without an ambassador who won it plaudits the world over.

Much has been written about her distinguished career which is hard to be sketched in a few words. Recognised for her precocity, Arfa stunned the world by becoming the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional (an award given to those who master the company`s programmes) in 2004.

She was hardly nine at that time and Bill Gates acknowledged her achievement by inviting her to visit the Microsoft Headquarters in USA.

Seattle P-I reporter Todd Bishop paid her a glowing tribute in these words: `The visit to Microsoft headquarters was the culmination of a meteoric rise that has turned Arfa into something of a celebrity in her country. It began at age 5, when she walked by a computer lab at her school and started wondering about those strange `boxes` the computers and monitors. Later, when she found out what they did, she was amazed.

`When you push a button, something magically appears on the box,` she said, recalling the experience`.

She was presented the Fatima Jinnah Gold Medal in the field of Science and Technology by the then prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, on Aug 2, 2005 113th birth anniversary of Fatima Jinnah. She also received the Salaam Pakistan Youth Award in August 2005 and president`s award for Pride of Performance.

Besides, she was invited to various international forums, including an event organised by the Pakistan Information Technology Professionals Forum, in Dubai.

During her two-week stay, she flew a plane at a flying club (at the age of 10) and received the first flight certificate.

In November 2006, Arfa attended the Tech-Ed Developers Conference entitled `Get ahead of the game` in Barcelona on an invitation from Microsoft.

She was the only Pakistani among more than 5,000 developers in that conference. Recently, a software technology park has been named after her.

Thanks to her beautiful mind, Arfa had achieved at 16 what not many can even think of in their lifetime. She proved herself ahead of the game and silenced those who knew Pakistan for wrong reasons alone.

Her life was an example of individual brilliance this country is known for and her death at a time when there is little to cheer about in several important spheres is a bitter reality.

Arfa has gone but will not be forgotten. Her legacy will live on to remind all those at the helm of affairs that the future of the country is in the hands of the students like her and that they must spot and nourish the talent and help it blossom.

It is time the powers that be moved beyond raising lifeless monuments and empty slogans and do justice to Arfa`s memory by investing in the country`s future.

 

SPORT

Afghan girls throw punches for Olympic gold

 

 

Afghan women practise inside a boxing club in Kabul.

KABUL: Teenage Afghan sisters Shabnam and Sadaf Rahimi are taking the fight for women’s rights more literally than most of their peers, throwing punches in a ring as members of their country’s first team of female boxers.

They practice inside a spartan gym with broken mirrors, flaking paint, four punching bags, and a concrete floor padded with faded pink and green mats. Some girls wear face masks to keep away the dust coming up from the floor.

“It was my dream to become a boxer. At first my father did not agree with me. He said girls should not be boxing,” 18 year-old Sadaf told Reuters, out of breath from punching the bag. “After I got my first medal, he changed his mind.”

Female boxing is still relatively unusual in most countries, but especially in Afghanistan, where many girls and women still face a struggle to secure an education or work, and activists say violence and abuse at home is common.

Three times a week, the girls come to practise at the Ghazi stadium, once used for public punishment by the Taliban, the hardline Islamists who ruled the country from 1996 to 2001.

Women were stoned for adultery there and despite an expensive revamp, its gory past sometimes spooks the athletes.

“My family fled to Iran during the Taliban…but I heard that women used to be killed here and sometimes when I exercise alone inside the stadium I panic,” Sadaf said.

Under the Taliban, all sports for women were banned. They still have far fewer opportunities for exercise than men.

Boys peered through the dirty training hall windows during one practice, curiosity piqued by the sight of girls doing pushups and throwing punches.

Not all onlookers are simply curious.

Many in this conservative society still consider fighting taboo for women, and the girls deal with serious threats.

“Two years ago someone called my father…and threatened that he would either kidnap or kill us if he let us train,” 19- year-old Shabnam said.

They did not return to training for a month, until their trainer offered to organise transport for the girls, and still limit workouts to the gym, where the government provides security.

OLYMPIC MEDALS

The team was created in 2007 by Afghanistan’s National Olympic Committee to challenge stereotypes and encourage girls to stand up for what they believe in.

“We want to show the world that Afghan women can be leaders, too, that they can do anything, even boxing,” their coach, Mohammad Saber Sharifi, said.

The team received some financial support from the Olympic committee and a local non-governmental group, Cooperation for Peace and Unity, but supplies are still scarce.

Sharifi, himself a former professional boxing champion, hopes to source more support to build a boxing ring, improve their equipment and send the girls to international meets to hone their skills.

The biggest hope is to reach the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where women’s boxing will debut as a medal sport, but a tough qualification round in China in May stands in the way.

No Afghan woman has ever won a medal at the Olympic games, but taekwondo fighter Rohullah Nikpai may have paved the way by taking a bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games, becoming a national hero in the process.

The Rahimi sisters are aiming at the same podium. Shabnam won her first gold medal at an international competition in Tajikistan this year, where her younger sister also took silver.

“I want to become a good boxer so that I can bring more pride to my country. My dream is to raise the Afghan flag for my country,” Shabnam said.

About raheelraza

Author, Public Speaker and Human Rights Advocate
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