Imitation is the biggest form of flattery right? 🙂
Her relentless campaign for girls and women’s rights was recognized a day before the International Day of the Girl Child and is an incredible strong signal to the world. Education is and remains key to change.
On my travels in Pakistan and Afghanistan, I’ve met many young brave girls like Malala that, despite the constant threat, defy tribal traditions and seek to be educated. For us in the West, it’s impossible to understand that going to school could mean you get killed by extremists. Yet thousands of girls get up every morning and go to school to become doctors, midwifes, teachers, engineers, etc…
The images below are of Afghanistan, were the educational system was almost completely destroyed by the Taliban.
Today I’ve updated my Instagram feed with images I took on a trip to Afghanistan, photographing female Afghan parliament member Fawzia Koofi as well as researching stories on maternal health and woman, a subject that has been very close to my heart since I first started working in Pakistan in 2009.
I noticed that I started posting images on Instagram a little over a year ago.
Yet, I started photographing with my Iphone and the hipstamatic app in 2011.
For the fun of it, I went back into my archive to see what I had shot back then with my phone and there are still so many little gems and stories there that haven’t been posted on my Instagram because of this timing gap.
So I decided to finish my week delving in my phone archive and posting images from the ‘old box’ sort of say.
Today Afghanistan. Tomorrow back to Europe and my home town Antwerp.
I just found out last week that the work I submitted from Afghanistan in last years Nikon Press Photo Awards was one of the nominees in the stories categorie. It didn’t win the big prize, but it’s always great to see the stories you work on are being appreciated. Sadly no one notified me and I only found out because I saw one of my images online on their website. Lets keep it at saying there is still some room for improvement in communication.
Today terrible news from Badakshan, a remote region in the North East of Afghanistan. I visited this beautiful bur rough area two years ago together with Fawzia Koofi, the parliament member representing Badakshan.
Today, more the 2000 people are feared dead as a landslide buried most of an entire village in the area. Entombed in a blanket of earth nearly 30 feet deep, there is now no more hope for finding survivors…
I went into my archive, as I remember we visited a place that was affected by a landslide as well. Sadly this is very common in the mountainous area of Badakshan when springtime comes. Snow melts, heavy rains can fall, causing landslides, stone avalanches… No need to say how bad this is for one of the poorest places in our entire world.
Yesterday the group exhibition ‘Recht en Architectuur’ (Law and Architecture) by 11 press photographers from VVJ Antwerpen opened in the Justice Department also known as the Butterfly palace here in Antwerp. They are up until the 27th of February during opening hours. Bolivarplaats, Antwerpen.
I chose to submit my work on Women in Afghanistan as I felt fighting for women’s rights and fighting against injustice there was fitting for the theme. Yesterday again showed how important it is to continue telling the world about their situation as a new law is about to be passed which will strip women of rights even further. President Karzai is about to sign a law, already passed by parliament, that would prohibit the questioning of relatives of an accused perpetrator of a crime, effectively eliminating victim testimony in cases like domestic violence.
The statistics really are mind boggling…
Global Rights found that 87% of Afghan women will experience some form of violence in their lifetime; 62% experience multiple forms of violence, including forced marriage and sexual violence. Most of this violence happens within the family, so you can just start to image what this law would mean…
Girls like Rehan (not her real name) who I met in a shelter of Women for Afghan Women will be robbed of justice and won’t get any opportunity to testify against their perpetrators. In a country like Afghanistan it already takes a huge amount of power and courage to take the decision to leave everyone and everything behind to get to safety. It’s a huge deal to decide to take action against domestic abuse and rape.
As prosecutions would be nearly impossible it’s very likely that women will stop coming forward. In a time when slowly slowly they are getting educated and becoming aware of their rights, the passing of this law would mean an enormous step back for women and women’s rights. I can only imagine the situation worsening once the International forces will leave…
The cover photo of this audiobook is a portrait I took of Fawzia when I met her in Belgium during a book conference. We immediately had an amazing conversation and talked about maternal mortality and life for women in Afghanistan. This talk led up to me getting on a plane to Kabul a little over a year later and actually visiting her and traveling to her home province of Badakshan in the North-Eastern part of the country. An incredibly beautiful place where the mountains rise up in full glory, but at the same time make life hard and rough.
Fawzia withdrew as a presidential candidate for the upcoming elections in 2014, but remains nonetheless an outspoken politician and human rights activist. She invests a lot of her time in trying to raise education levels, especially for girls who during the Taliban regime were not allowed to go to school at all. It’s wonderful to see how she inspires countless young women to study, work hard and aspire to a promising life .
I just started reading the book written by Malalai Yousafzai (cowritten with Christina Lamb), another girl who is fighting for the right to go to school in Pakistan. Shot in the face by Taliban when she was just 15 years old, because she voiced this right to an education for girls too loudly.
She survived wondrously and is now even more outspoken then before. What is sad to read though is that now in Pakistan, her book is banned in private schools and people are gearing up against her, feeling she is too pro- western and even call her anti-islamic. I’ve heard the same things happen to a rape victim I met while I was in Karachi and working on my story ‘Because I’m a girl’ on rape in Pakistan.
In 2002, Mukhtar Mai, a rural Pakistani woman from a remote part of the Punjab, was gang-raped by order of her tribal council as punishment for her younger brother’s alleged relationship with a woman from another clan. Instead of committing suicide or living in shame, Mukhtar spoke out, fighting for justice in the Pakistani courts.
Further defying custom, she started two schools for girls in her village and a crisis center for abused women.
She wrote her own memoir, “In the Name of Honor” and her story was included in the bestseller “Half the Sky” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. But all this made people turn against her… I heard and read commentaries that she must have done this on purpose and that she got raped to get money or to try to get a visa to go the West. How else is her advocacy to be explained?
The responses to Mamala’s story feel the same as Mukhtar’s, and it’s a shame that these women are inspiring countless people all over the world but still can’t seem to be respected in their own country. There is still a long road ahead for sure and it’ only shows the need for more education of both boys and girls. Because education is key and can change things in the long run.
With the risk of (happily) sounding like a broken record, I want to again talk about women’s rights or lack thereof in Afghanistan.
The Afghan government is thinking about bringing back death by stoning as capital punishment for adultery. Human Rights Watch calls on the Afghan government to immediately reject the proposal by the Justice Ministry. A working group led by this Ministry of Justice that is assisting in drafting a new penal code has proposed provisions on “moral crimes” involving sex outside of marriage that call for stoning.
Stoning was used as a punishment for adultery during the Taliban era who were in power from the mid-1990s until 2001. After the fall of the Taliban, the Afghan government quickly signed on to international human rights conventions and to respect human and women’s right. This is not to say that barbaric practices like stoning have been banished completely in the country though.
Yesterday on the informative news programme Terzake,(WARNING: really schocking images ) you could see footage of a young woman and man, accused of adultery, being stoned in Kunduz in 2010. This doesn’t happen frequently, but my experience last year in Afghanistan was that the situation is much worse then we in the West think. While I was traveling with Parliament member Fawzia Koofi, we heard about a woman being executed by Taliban in a village a few dozen miles outside Kabul. Conservatism is the rule and most women still can’t go outside without their burqa (both in rural areas as in the capital Kabul)
My work didn’t seem exotic enough and somehow people told me they had seen it all already before. Well… but sadly this is the reality on the ground in Afghanistan. It’s not about a bowling alley or an internet café in Kabul for the mostly Western expats and a few modern educated Afghans. It’s not about a young female graffiti artist that in reality can’t even go on the streets to spray her art on walls all over Kabul. Don’t get me wrong, these wonderful initiatives are great and important. Young women like Noorjahan Akbar and Shamsia Hassani are amazing and incredibly inspirational because they literally take to the foreground and risk their lives and safety by speaking out and fighting for more rights. But sadly it’s still a minority in a mainly conservative and very traditional country.
I’ve visited the female prison in Faizabad, where women are jailed for so called ‘moral crimes’… Locked up because they ran away from their abusive husbands or accused of adultery like the woman in the photo below.
I spoke to a young girl, that ran away from home twice because her uncle tried to force her to marry his son. In a country like Afghanistan, this girl was an exception, not for what happened to her, but for being able to escape and find security in a women’s shelter. Imagine the incredible strength she must have to leave everything and everyone behind in a society like hers.
We, as Western media, need to keep being responsible and show the reality on the ground, not just what we think is hip or what we think our Western public wants to see. We need to keep our audiences informed and bring more depth and nuance into our stories. I understand our governments want to find ways to show and justify the huge amounts of money that have been spent since the fall of the Taliban and want us to believe, by using us as the Media, that Afghanistan is doing so well that we can leave the country on it’s own and things will work out fine. But it’s not a fairy tale like that and when we hear news like wanting to bring back stoning as a punishment, it makes me fearful especially for some of the girls and women over there that I had the incredible honor to meet.
Today marks the second International day of the Girl Child with a special focus on educating girls.
Not so long ago I did a post on girl’s education on Malala Yousafzai day and just now Malala won The EU Shacharov prize for freedom of thought. And boy does she have a freethinking mind… What an advocate for girl’s education if there ever was one. So eloquent, outspoken, smart and honest. An inspirational girl to say the least.
An interview with Christiana Amanpour will be aired soon I think and a there are lots of incredible interviews and speeches by her to be found online. Christina Lamb helped write her book ‘I am Malala’ which I look forward to reading soon as well.
Girls in many countries are still unable to attend school and complete their education. And even when girls are in school, the quality of their education is often poor. There are no expectations for them to use their diploma if they ever finish school to get one and often their household responsibilities will keep them from attending their classes regularly …
Yet, education is key. Educate girls and women and you’ll better a whole society.
During all my travels this is exactly what I found and heard people say over and over again. It helps in reducing maternal mortality, it helps reduce poverty, …
To finish, I just want to share a couple of images of some of the amazing girls I met along my travels in the past few years. Sparkly, smart, funny, beautiful, moving and at times heartbreaking. All of them wonderful and each one touching my heart.
Happy international girls day everyone!