Tag Archive for 'Women'

New wave of well-off Pakistani women drawn to conservative Islam

Jason Burke from Lahore in The Guardian:

All the women working in the information technology division of the Bank of Punjab’s headquarters in the western Pakistani city of Lahore wear headscarves tightly wound around their cheeks and chin, framing their faces as they tap at their keyboards. A year or so ago not one covered their heads with the hijab.

“I was the first,” says 28-year-old Shumaila, as she waited with some impatience in the city’s iStore for her new £800 Apple MacBook to be loaded with the software she had ordered.

“I started reading the Qur’an properly and praying five times a day. No one made me wear the hijab. That would be impossible,” she laughs brightly. “I showed the way to the other girls at work.”

They are not alone. Though there are no statistics and most evidence is anecdotal, a new wave of interest in more conservative strands of Islam among wealthier and better educated women in Pakistan appears clear.

It is part of a broader cultural and religious shift seen in the country over decades but which observers say has accelerated in the past 10 years. More:

Ukraine women go topless in anti-India visa protest

From The Telegraph:

Four young Ukrainian women braved sub-zero temperatures today to go topless and climb the balcony of the Indian envoy’s residence in Kiev with placards pronouncing “Ukraine is not a bordello” and “We are not prostitutes”.

The quartet from Femen, a group famous for topless protests against everything from sex tourism to Silvio Berlusconi’s peccadilloes, were protesting the alleged tightening of visa rules by the Indian mission in Kiev for Ukrainian women in the 15-40 age group.

The women cited an Indian newspaper report published last week as proof that the mission had branded all Ukrainian women in the 15-40 age group as prostitutes. More:

Taliban cut nursing woman’s breast, asked others to eat pieces

Iftikhar Firdous in The Express Tribune:

Peshawar: Kashmala Bibi* says her cousin’s breasts were cut into pieces when five militants walked into their house and saw the woman breastfeeding her child. One of the insurgents then asked the other women around to eat the pieces.

This is one of the many tales of horror recorded in a report titled “Impact of crisis on women and girls in Fata”.

The report, released by human rights organisation “Khwendo Kor” (Sisters’ Home in Pashto) with financial support from UN-women, is based on case studies of women from the tribal belt living in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s IDP camps.

Women in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) are more susceptible to violence and abuse in a post-conflict scenario, whether or not they are part of the conflict, it says.

Another stark revelation made in the report is that women in camps were forced to have sexual intercourse in exchange for food and non-food items. Girls and widows were at greater risk.

The surveys from Nahqai and Jalozai camps further show that women were uncomfortable going to restrooms because there was little privacy as men constantly lurked around.

“A security officer forced me to have sex in exchange for cooking oil and pulses when I was collecting food at the main entrance of the camp,” a 22-year-old woman Nighat* from the Jalozai Camp is quoted as telling the discussion group. More:

‘Boksi lagyo!’

Manjushree Thapa in Himal Southasian:

In the winter of 1993, a team of six rongba – southerners – went to Lo Monthang, in the northern part of the north-central Nepali state of Mustang, to set up office. I was among them. At age 24, I was the youngest of the team, the only woman, and also the highest-ranking staff member: I was the officer-in-charge of the inelegantly named Upper Mustang Conservation and Development Programme, or UMCDP. This was the latest, and most far-flung, outpost of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project. I had gotten the job after organisation’s existing staff, and several applicants, had refused the remote posting. My main qualification was that I had published a travelogue on Mustang. My knowledge of the area was my sole advantage over the rest of the team. Otherwise, I was new to NGO work, and under pressure to prove myself. I was determined to do so, by being very, very good.

We knew that the villages of northern Mustang emptied out in the wintertime. Shortly after the previous autumn’s harvest, the able-bodied men and women would have closed up their dealings and headed south, across the Indian border all the way to Ludhiana. There they would have bought wool sweaters wholesale, and then resold them in street-side stalls throughout North India all winter. Their highland features loaned authenticity to their wares. Buyers preferred their sweaters to those sold by vendors from the plain.

Back in the villages remained the elderly and the very young, all becoming grimier by the day as the bitter north wind bore down from the Tibetan plateau, plunging the temperatures to below zero. Everyone – except us rongba, who did not know better – huddled around the sooty hearth for warmth during mornings and evenings. In the daytime, there was the brilliant high-altitude sun to bask in. People came out of their adobe houses to warm up their bones; and the miniature ‘lulu’ cows were freed from their stalls. As the shadows lengthened over the villages’ adobes and narrow lanes, the cows would shift, following the sun, till at sundown they would be edging up to the walls, desperate to hold onto the last of the warmth.

For the locals, there was no work to be done in this season. There was nothing to do but to survive till springtime, when the others – and life – would return to the villages. We had deliberately chosen this period to set up. We wanted to spend the wintertime surveying the villages, and identifying areas in which to work. The work season in upper Mustang spanned from April to September. We wanted to be ready to launch our programmes as soon as everyone returned. More:

Al-Qaeda’s beauty tips

Julius Cavendish from Kabul in The Independent:

The cover of Al-Shamikha magazine

Not content with launching an English-language magazine that debuted with a feature called “How to make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom”, al Qa’ida’s media wing has followed up with a magazine for women, mixing beauty tips with lessons in jihad.

The 31-page glossy, Al-Shamikha, which translates loosely as “The Majestic Woman”, features a niqab-clad woman posing with a sub-machine gun on its cover.

Much like Elle or Cosmopolitan, it includes advice on finding the right man (“marrying a mujahideen”), how to achieve a perfect complexion (stay inside with your face covered), and provides tips on first aid and etiquette.

Alongside sisterly advice such as “not [to] go out except when necessary” and to always wear a niqab for protection from the sun, the magazine runs interviews with martyr’s wives and praises those who give their lives in the name of the editors’ interpretation of Islam. “From martyrdom, the believer will gain security, safety and happiness,” it says.

For those readers not quite ready for such a drastic step, it argues the pros and cons of honey facemasks and lobbies against “towelling too forcibly”. More:

Women bikers of India

From Economic Times:

Bangalore: Every weekday at 10 am, 19-year-old Dixita Shah tucks her long, black hair into a helmet, zips up a black jacket and kick-starts her trusty Bajaj Pulsar. The growl from the 150cc engine is music to her ears. Her destination: Animaster, an animation institute in Jayanagar (Bangalore), 25 km from her house.

Till six months ago, Shah had to commute to college by bus. The long wait for buses daily made her switch to a bike, that too one with a gear (unlike the conventional shift to gearless bikes for first-time female bikers). Dixita enjoys riding the gear bike as it offers more control and basic features such as kick-start and meter analog, making it more alluring.

Like Dixita, more women are buying bikes as the fair sex in India takes an unprecedented fancy for automobiles. Marketers and industry experts say the Indian retail landscape is being radically transformed as more women take up jobs and seed a surge in the average household income.

Although there is no official data to substantiate the growing number of women taking to the road on motorcycles , industry experts estimate the number of bikes bought by women in India has increased 40% in 2010. Bike-makers Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India (HMSI), Royal Enfield and India Yamaha Motor are witnessing an uptick in sales from women, with the under-30 age group driving the trend. More:

‘Leave your job or we will cut your head off your body…’

With violence on the rise, Afghan women are terrified at the prospect of a deal between President Karzai and the Taliban. Patrick Cockburn in The Independent:

Women in Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan say they are once again being threatened, attacked and forced out of jobs and education as fears rise that their rights will be sacrificed as part of any deal with insurgents to end the war in Afghanistan.

Women have reported attacks and received letters warning of violence if they continue to work or even contact radio stations to request songs.

One female teacher at a girls’ school in a southern Afghan province received a letter saying: “We warn you to leave your job as a teacher as soon as possible otherwise we will cut off the heads of your children and will set fire to your daughter.”

Another woman, Jamila, was threatened in August 2009, in a letter bearing the Taliban’s insignia when she was working for a local electoral commission. It said: “You work in the election office together with the enemies of religion and infidels. You should leave your job otherwise we will cut your head off your body.”

Jamila ignored the letter, but days later her father was murdered. She left her job and moved house. More:

What a cover-up!

Belgium is planning to ban the burqua to “liberate” women. But coercion seldom results in change. Namita Bhandare in The Hindustan Times:

In large parts of secular India, Hindu widows, some of them no more than children, are constrained to wear white. Even if you’ve never been to Benaras where widows are reportedly dumped by the dozen in various ashrams, you have only to see Deepa Mehta’s Water or any of the dozens of photo-features that routinely pop up in newsmagazines, to see these women dressed in stark white, unadorned by jewellery, many with shaved heads, begging for a few rupees, a handful of rice, a rotting banana.

You know that they are widows by the talismans of their white saris. Just as you know that a woman in a burqa is Muslim.

Male-dominated society has for too long controlled what women should and should not wear. In Rajasthani villages, custom dictates what colour a woman’s dupatta should be if she is married, unmarried or a widow. In Kerala, lower-caste women fought for their right to cover their breasts. And in Punjab women routinely cover their heads as a sign of their modesty.

In 2005, an Islamic scholar issued a fatwa against Sania Mirza for wearing short skirts, un-Islamic according to him, while playing tennis. Sania refused to be drawn into the controversy, which in time blew over, with the venerable gentleman going back to the obscurity to which he belonged.

In urban India, even in the conservative north, many clothing taboos are breaking down. Where they wore saris a decade ago, they now wear salwar-kameez, where they wore salwar-kameez, they now wear pants, dresses, shorts even. Not everyone’s pleased: the moral police huffs and puffs about the ‘degradation’ of Indian culture. Regardless, women — even if they are a minuscule minority in urban India — are asserting their right to dress as they please.

Continue reading ‘What a cover-up!’

A writer’s bank of myths

Githa Hariharan in the Telegraph, Calcutta:

I am not sure mythology respects national boundaries. There are common motifs linking myths and tales from entirely different parts of the world. Perhaps some societies have remained more in touch with their myths – it’s certainly true that myth operates in almost all spheres of life in India, including the commercial.

Myths are constantly being reinterpreted to create new, more relevant myths. And there are opposing streams of myths. There is the ‘official’ body of myths promoted by those in power: the prescriptive myths that may perpetuate divisions based on class, caste or gender. These myths usually claim sanction by religion or tradition. Then there is the evolving and layered body of myths with room enough for point and counterpoint, classical and folk traditions. This great and inclusive storehouse has continued to serve as a bank for writers, artists and filmmakers as they try to understand the world.

In my case, both The Thousand Faces of Night and When Dreams Travel focus on women’s lives and dreams. So, they turn to myths that contain chaste, self-effacing women as well as the more ambiguous figures of women who offer resistance to the ideal model. Myths help to locate certain ‘irrational’ parts of our existence. They always seem to contain subversive elements, which leak into the more straightforward moral stories in unexpected and revealing ways. In When Dreams Travel, I used the Scheherazade story – of a bride telling stories to hold the bloodthirsty sultan’s interest. The story is like the stage of the novel. And onstage we get to see some of the many faces of ‘female chastity’ and ‘male power’. More:

Kabul’s riskiest business

From The Daily Beast:

Habiba’s kindergarten at the end of a narrow and dusty alley is still open, but only barely. A year ago, laughter and the sounds of children playing floated from the new two-story white house with rows of little red and yellow chairs filling its freshly painted living rooms. Then Habiba’s son was kidnapped by men demanding more than $25,000 from his mother, an outrageous sum for an entrepreneur saddled by startup debt and struggling to keep capital flowing through her young business. Fearing for her own safety and that of her other children, she shuttered her classrooms and moved her family to Pakistan while she awaited word from the men who took her son. The family’s life savings vanished as Habiba spent what cash she had to cover travel and living expenses in Peshawar. By the time she returned to Afghanistan months later, her customers were gone, her business was hobbled and her debts had mounted.

While the United States debates the fate of Afghanistan and the foreign forces now stationed in it, a small but significant network of Afghan businesswomen faces a threat far more immediate than Taliban resurgence: unchecked criminal thuggery crushing their fledgling ventures and robbing them of their livelihoods. Targeted by criminal gangs seeking to profit from their success-sometimes with the help of jealous neighbors-these entrepreneurs now find their safety at increasing risk in a poor and battered country. Afghanistan’s growth depends on the economic contributions of business owners like themselves. More:

India’s Muslim girls box their way out poverty

Poh Si Teng from Calcutta in the Wall Street Journal:

As the sun dips below the horizon, roll call begins at a boxing club in southeast Kolkata.

Standing tall, soldier-style in three lines, are 47 students — some as young as 8 years old, a few as old as 23 — who hold their positions in front of an outdoor boxing ring at the Khidderpore School of Physical Culture, a community sports center.

Several are clad in identical athletic shorts and tanks; others wear faded T-shirts and knee-length shorts. As they stand in formation, they look past the yellow ropes of the ring, past the grill that fences the complex, past the open dirt field and crumbling construction at a park, where the neighborhood kids are laughing, screaming and playing cricket and catch.

They look past the squalor.

As a trainer eyeballs the lines, an assistant calls the students by their assigned numbers.

“Number 20,” yells the assistant.

“Present, sir,” responds a soft voice from the second line.

The trainer, Sheikh Nasimuddin Ahmed, calls number 20, a 16-year-old girl named Sughra Fatma, to the front. Grabbing her ear firmly with a twist, the 31-year-old man berates her for snickering during roll call, and reiterates the importance of discipline. As punishment, Ms. Fatma must do a dozen squats. Everyone watches. More:

Why I left Pakistan to give birth in the U.S.

Ayesha Javed Akram at DoubleX:

Lahore, Pakistan: When I saw two pink lines slowly emerge on the home pregnancy kit I keep hidden in a cupboard in my bedroom, I sat down on the bathroom floor in shock. Within minutes, I realized the lines weren’t going to disappear no matter how intently I stared at them. Rushing to our bed, I shook my husband awake, placed my mouth close to his ear, and shrieked, “I’m pregnant.” And then, after a pause, “We can’t have the baby here.”

When other excited first parents would have become engrossed in preparing a nursery and shopping for baby clothes, my husband and I began getting our visas sorted out, making travel arrangements, and applying for time off from work. We were headed to America to have a baby.

As Pakistan’s military desperately fights Taliban in the north, and the rest of the country suffers through frequent suicide bombings and security threats, those with money have silently begun purchasing residences abroad. Others have started applying for Canadian or U.K. citizenship. And upper- and middle-class Pakistani mothers, desperate to provide their children with exit options, have started indulging in what’s commonly called birth tourism. Almost every pregnant Pakistani woman I know is scheduling a trip abroad in her sixth month of pregnancy, so that she can stay and deliver the baby in a country that allows your child to become a citizen if he or she is born there. As of 2009, only a handful of countries permit birth-right citizenship. The most prominent are Canada, Mexico, and the United States. More:

White male seeking sexy Asian women

Laura Miller reviews “The East, The West, and Sex: A History of Erotic Encounters,” by Richard Bernstein (Illustrated. 325 pages. Alfred A. Knopf). In Salon:

sex_bookIn his history of the erotic obsession Western men have felt toward “the Orient,” Richard Bernstein begins with what must have been the most inflammatory example he could find: A blog titled “Sex in Shanghai: Western Scoundrel in Shanghai Tells All,” in which an individual referring to himself only as “ChinaBounder” boastfully recounted his many sexual trysts with Chinese women. A foreign teacher of English, the blogger mostly recruited his partners from among his former students, and they included at least one married woman, a doctor. ChinaBounder’s crowing provoked what Bernstein describes as a “murderously furious response” from Chinese men, who reviled him as a “white ape.” But they reserved the brunt of their anger for his lovers, accusing their countrywomen of behavior that “humiliates the hearts of Chinese men, as well as of the Chinese people.”

After a few disclaimers about the imperfect truthfulness of anonymous confessional blogs and offering his opinion that ChinaBounder’s successes would not be “easy to duplicate,” Bernstein observes that nevertheless, “there is something to what he said, something about an advantage that Western men have in the competition for the favors of young women there.” “The East, the West and Sex” is Bernstein’s history of how that advantage has played out since the days of Marco Polo. As a result of this edge, “the East” (which he defines broadly, ranging from North Africa, to India and the Middle East, to Southeast and East Asia) has for centuries represented “a domain of special erotic fascination and fulfillment for Western men.”

The subject is squirm-inducing, whether you are a Chinese man with a humiliated heart or a Western woman feeling obscurely spurned or, for that matter, even if you’re a Western man enthralled, as Bernstein himself seems to be, by the image of the quintessential Asian nymph, with her “long silky hair, smooth nut-brown skin, and a perfume of orange and spice on her breath” — and feeling kinda defensive about it. To write about the penchant of certain Western men for Asian women is to invite prurient speculation (Bernstein has a Chinese wife, in case you’re wondering — and you know you were) as well as incendiary condemnations from several fronts and on several grounds. The topic is mined with tripwires attached to a host of uncomfortable thoughts about race, power, sexuality, gender and history. More:

[Image: Salon/Mignon Khargie]

Previously in AW: Simon Winchester’s review of the book: Lands of erotic fantasy

Lands of erotic fantasy

Simon Winchester reviews “The East, The West, and Sex: A History of Erotic Encounters,” by Richard Bernstein (Illustrated. 325 pages. Alfred A. Knopf). In the New York Times:

bookAn adventurous English friend named Belinda, searching some years ago for sensual ecstasy in the East, once described finding a special salon in upcountry Thailand, where she was invited to allow herself to be restrained quite naked on a cedar table and have three young female attendants gently apply a sweet-smelling unguent to her more delicate parts. The trio silently withdrew, bidding my friend to keep still. Seconds later she heard a door slide open, then a rushing sound, and felt the air itself throbbing with movement. She was then swiftly overcome by pleasing physical sensations of an almost unbearable intensity.

She lifted her head slightly, and was just able to see why: portions of her body had become suddenly covered with thousands upon thousands of brilliantly colored captive butterflies. All of them were engaged in licking away the ointment with what felt, as she later said dreamily, like a million tiny tongues. More:

The defiant poets’ society

Christina Lamb returns to Afghanistan seven years after the fall of the Taliban and finds a country still rife with the persecution of females. In the Sunday Times:

On a stony hillside overlooking the ancient city of Herat stands the graveyard of its most illustrious citizens, where every Friday local people gather for picnics. But there is one tombstone at which many women stop and genuflect. It is that of a 25-year-old woman called Nadia Anjuman, and the flowery Persian engraving describes her as a poet who risked her life to keep writing under the Taliban. What it doesn’t say is that she was killed by her own husband.

Nadia’s death is seen by her friends and women across Afghanistan as symbolising the betrayal by the international community of all their promises to free Afghan women – given as one of the main reasons for ousting the Taliban regime 7Å years ago. “What happened to Nadia should make the world bow its head in shame,” says her friend and fellow writer Leila Razeqi. “Your prime ministers and presidents promised freedom to us Afghan women. That someone like Nadia is under the soil and her husband walks free should make you ask what is really going on here.”

I first came across Nadia Anjuman on a bitterly cold morning in November 2001, in the exuberant first few days after the fall of the Taliban, when everyone was shaving off beards, casting off burqas and flattening Coke cans with hammers to fashion satellite dishes to watch TV – for so long banned. I was walking along Cinema Street in Herat when a sign caught my eye. It said Herat Literary Society, and beyond was a path leading to a small white bungalow.


In poverty and strife, Afghan women test limits

In the Afghan province of Bamian, women are uprooting traditional gender roles by taking up leadership positions. Carlotta Gall in the New York Times:

Moises Saman for The New York Times

Zeinab Husseini, 19, sits in the drivers seat of her vehicle accompanied by her husband. Photo: Moises Saman for The New York Times

Far away from the Taliban insurgency, in this most peaceful corner of Afghanistan, a quiet revolution is gaining pace. Women are driving cars – a rarity in Afghanistan – working in public offices and police stations, and sitting on local councils. There is even a female governor, the first and only one in Afghanistan.

In many ways this province, Bamian, is unique. A half-dozen years of relative peace in this part of the country since the fall of the Taliban and a lessening of lawlessness and disorder have allowed women to push the boundaries here.


Reports link Karzai’s brother to Afghanistan heroin trade

James Risen in the New York Times:

Ahmed Wali Karzai, President Hamid Karzai’s brother, in 2001. NYTimes

Ahmed Wali Karzai, President Hamid Karzai’s brother, in 2001. NYTimes

When Afghan security forces found an enormous cache of heroin hidden beneath concrete blocks in a tractor-trailer outside Kandahar in 2004, the local Afghan commander quickly impounded the truck and notified his boss.

Before long, the commander, Habibullah Jan, received a telephone call from Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of President Hamid Karzai, asking him to release the vehicle and the drugs, Mr. Jan later told American investigators, according to notes from the debriefing obtained by The New York Times. He said he complied after getting a phone call from an aide to President Karzai directing him to release the truck.


Women who took on the Taliban – and lost

Three years ago, Kim Sengupta of The Independent interviewed five women who wanted to build a new Afghanistan. Today, three are dead and a fourth has fled.

Safia Amajan, who fought for education for women. Murdered in Kandahar. AFP / The Independent

Safia Amajan, who fought for education for women. Murdered in Kandahar. AFP / The Independent

In the case of Malalai Kakar, the most prominent policewoman in Afghanistan, an additional “crime” which sealed her fate was that she was a determined and effective campaigner for women’s rights. Commander Kakar, 40, knew her work made her a Taliban target. She led a unit of 10 policewomen specialising in domestic violence cases. She was uncompromising with suspected abusers, men who in the past had relied on male police officers to turn a blind eye.

“I’ve been accused of being rough with husbands who beat up their wives” she said. “But I’m angry, we try to apply the law in the right way and the constitution is supposed to protect women’s rights.”

Kakar liked to cook breakfast for her husband and six children before going to work, she told me. She would spend a long time saying her farewell because, she said, she could never be sure what would happen. Her 15-year-old son was with her when she was killed last weekend. She carried a pistol under the burqa she wore to work, so as not to be recognised, before changing into uniform. But she had no chance to defend herself, or him, against the two motorcycle assassins.


Behind the veil

Photographer Leslie Knott travelled to Afghanistan with Oxfam and handed out cameras to women who had never taken pictures before. The results offer an unique insight into their lives. From The Independent:

“My friend does not attend school. Instead she works with her mother collecting water and cleaning the house. I think that if she went to school she would have a better chance of learning to read and write.”
- Parwin, Jalalabad

Click here for more pictures:

Afghans speak out against sexual violence

Nushin Arbabzadah in The Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’:

“The moment I saw the blood-stained sandal, I knew that my child was dead,” said Abdul Khalid. Khalid, from Takhar province in northern Afghanistan, was talking about the day he discovered his eight-year-old daughter’s body. The girl had been kidnapped, raped and then killed. It turned out later that she was only one of the many child rape victims in the northern provinces of Afghanistan. There were others, children like the 12-year-old daughter of a man called Nurollah. Nurollah is from Sar-e Pul, also in the north. He says he knows the rapist, the son of an MP, and he wants justice for his child. He went all the way to Kabul in search of justice but they told him at the police station: “No one is going to listen to your story. Go home.”

In the past, this would have been the end of the story. Nurollah would have gone home and his story would have remained a private tale of injustice, a family secret disconnected from the wider Afghan society. Bad luck, basically. But we’re talking about Afghanistan in 2008.

[Nushin Arbabzadah was brought up in Kabul during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. She has degrees in German and Spanish literature from the University of Hamburg and in Middle Eastern studies from Cambridge University, where she was a William Gates scholar.]


Inside the world of UK Muslim women

A major survey – carried out by Muslim women’s magazine Sisters and Ummah Foods, a halal food business – shows most want to marry their soulmates and enjoy high street fashion, while keeping a delicate balance with their Islamic values. From The Observer:

She wants to marry her soulmate, shops in Primark, TK Maxx and Topshop, and dreams of starting her own business. Meet the typical Muslim woman in Britain today.

A thousand women throughout the country have responded to the biggest lifestyle study of Muslim women undertaken in the UK. It appears to show that Muslim women have established a delicate balance between a desire to live a contemporary lifestyle and tap into consumer trends while sticking to values underpinning the Islamic guide to life.

The survey shows that 58 per cent of Muslim women do not think the racial background of a partner matters, although two-thirds believe it is very important for their man to be knowledgeable about Islam.


Click here for Sisters Magazine

Barefoot women light up India

A group of poor women in Hyderabad have become solar power engineers. From Asia Sentinel:

Four dark-skinned women in multi-hued saris hunch over a solar power-generating circuit at the National Institute for Rural Development (NIRD) in Hyderabad, fleshing out details about solar lamps and panels for Indian villages. Chennamma, Yelamma, Kalavati and Zayda, all illiterate women in their 30s who previously worked as stone crushers in South India’s quarries, have left the furnace-like heat of their previous jobs to use the sun to a better purpose. This is the Women Barefoot Solar Engineers Association of Hyderabad.

Exploitive employers, 10 hours of backbreaking labor and a long wait in queues to collect a wage of a dollar a day pretty much summed up these women’s bleak existence in the quarries. But today, after the institute’s Rural Technology Park helped train them as solar engineers, the women manufacture and maintain solar lamps and travel across India’s vast rural landscape to install solar power generators.


The Islamic republic of Harvard?

In The New Republic blog, Harvard undergrad Sahil K. Mahtani asks how far universities must bend to accommodate religious observance

The symbolism could not be more striking: Harvard College, an institution founded for men by men has, for the first time in its history, banned men. For six hours every week, only women will be allowed in one of the university’s three major gyms–a new policy implemented in response to a request by female Muslim students, who were uncomfortable exercising around men.

Since announcing the new policy, the university has been besieged by vitriolic criticism, with some commentators characterizing the decision as “appeasement” and “capitulation” to the demands of “radical Islam.” One blogger, in a post entitled “Slouching toward Constantinople,” compared the decision to the Turkish conquest of that city in 1453. One commentator called it Harvard’s “Islamofascist gym.” Even Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan lamented the onslaught of “Sharia at Harvard.”


Previously on AW:
Women only hours at Harvard gym

In Afghanistan, a woman ‘pop idol’ angers traditionalists

Jason Straziuso from Kabul in The Independent, UK:

In a first for post-Taliban Afghanistan, a woman from the conservative Pashtun belt is one of the top three contenders in the country’s version of Pop Idol. Conservatives decry the fact that an Afghan woman has found success singing on television, but Lima Sahar brushes off her critics, saying there can be no progress without upsetting the status quo. “No pain, no gain,” she said yesterday.

Afghanistan’s cleric’s council has protested to President Hamid Karzai over Afghan Star and Indian dramas shown on Tolo TV, the country’s most popular station. Ali Ahmad Jebra-ali, a council member, said: “In the situation we have in Afghanistan right now, we don’t need a woman singer. We don’t need Afghan Star. We are in need of a good economy, good education. If Lima Sahar wins Afghan Star, how can she help the poor? This is not the way to help the Afghan people.”


Women-only hours at Harvard gym sets off a storm

Harvard University has banned men from one of its gyms for a few hours a week to accommodate Muslim women who say it offends ‘their sense of modesty to exercise in front of the opposite sex’.


To read the CNN report and related stories click here.

Writer Ali Eteraz is opposed to the move. Here’s why: 

Among the many gyms at Harvard University, there is now one which for six out of the seventy hours its open, becomes “women’s only” in order to make it easy for conservative Muslim women to work out. Andrew Sullivan opposes it, calling it Sharia at Harvard. Mathew Yglesias isn’t particularly threatened.

First of all, Volokh doesn’t think it violates Massachusetts anti-discrimination law. Muslims are going to say: well that seals it. Its legal, we can do it. Sure, but just because something is legal doesn’t mean its right: it is legal to sentence a drug-addict to a longer term than a murderer. Legal? Yes. Is the law wrong? Yes. Therefore, do not wave “the law” in my face.

I oppose this measure to the extent that it engages in religious favoritism, because the intention of the rule is to benefit Muslim women.


Also read Retributions for another view: 

Is this a fair decision? There are couple of important theme to consider here. First, Harvard and America are increasingly multi-cultural societies; reasonable accommodations should be made taking into account cultural/religious differences. Second, as the world’s best known university, Harvard sets the standards: has an appropriate message been given? Third, has the issue been highlighted only because Muslims are involved?Okay, let’s deal with them one by one.

In a test of Harvard‘s famed open-mindedness, the university has banned men from one of its gyms for a few hours a week to accommodate Muslim women who say it offends their sense of modesty to exercise in front of the opposite sex.


Lifting the veil using a ‘bluetooth burqa’

A Berlin-based artist has invented a digitally-enabled robe that will send an image of a woman’s face — or anything else — via Bluetooth. From Der Spiegel:


A burqa may not be the flirtiest garment ever invented for women. The highly modest head-to-toe robe even shrouds the eyes, so for centuries it’s been difficult for women wearing them to send suggestive signals to men. But now a German designer has debuted a digitally-enabled burqa that can broadcast a photo of the wearer to nearby mobile phones. Markus Kison calls it the “CharmingBurka,” and says it isn’t forbidden by Islamic law.

A model demonstrated a prototype of Kison’s garment at the Seamless 2008 design and fashion show in Boston, a high-tech fashion event run with support from the Masschusetts Institute of Technology.

More: (via 3quarksdaily)

MIT’s Media Lab website has a full-length video of Seamless 2008, a fashion event featuring innovative and experimental works in computational apparel design, interactive clothing, and technology-based fashion.

Mr Yunus goes to New York

Emily Parker in The Wall Street Journal on Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank’s new venture in the land of the subprime mortgage crisis. Via Mint:

muhammadyunus.jpgIn a Jackson Heights shop for colourful saris and glittering bracelets, several women have gathered to meet their banker. They laugh and chat in Bengali. Sultana, a 39-year-old woman wearing a headscarf, hands him $128 in cash. She is making her first repayment of the $3,000, six-month loan she’ll use to help with her husband’s candy store.

Welcome to Grameen America, Muhammad Yunus’ brand new microfinance venture. Yunus, along with his Bangladesh-originated Grameen Bank, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for battling poverty by lending out small sums of money to the poor. The loans are mainly for income-generating activities-from making baskets to raising chickens. Since its establishment in 1983, Grameen has given out billions of dollars in loans, helping to pull families out of poverty and inspiring similar operations all over the world.

Yunus has now brought Grameen to this borough of New York City.


With India’s new affluence comes the divorce generation

Anand Giridharadas from Mumbai in the International Herald Tribune:

divorce.gifThe Great Indian Wedding is succumbing to the Great Indian Divorce.

Few societies on earth take marriage more seriously than this one. Marriage comes early, sometimes even in youth, and is cemented by illegal dowries. Opulent weddings swallow life savings. So venerated is marriage that when bruised, beaten wives flee to their parents’ homes for sanctuary, they are often turned back, implored to make it work.

But now, in courtroom battles across the subcontinent, in cases brought by slum dwellers and outsourcing workers and millionaires alike, Indians are fighting in growing numbers to divorce. And as words like “alimony,” “stepchild” and “pre-nup” start to roll off Indian tongues, many observers bemoan a profound metamorphosis of values in a nation trotting toward new affluence.


Outside home, Indian women unsafe; inside, she needs luck

A woman president. A woman who heads the country’s oldest political party. And yet, women in India have a bad deal. A study on violence against women by Yogendra Yadav and Sanjay Kumar published in The Indian Express

You don’t need a survey to find out that women feel insecure in this country. You just need to take a walk in the evening. You don’t need numbers to see that domestic violence against women is widespread. You just need to look into their eyes, perhaps yours. Yet this realisation is not enough to devise a strategy to combat this violence. You need to understand the anatomy of violence — where, how and why of violence against women — to begin to think about countering this violence.