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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 29 May 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Indian Muslim Women Rise Against Triple Talaq

New Age Islam News Bureau

29 May 2016 

Photo: A Yazidi who had been held by Islamic State militants as a slave for several months sits in a tent outside Duhok, Iraq.


 Islamic State Fighters Appear To Be Hawking Sex Slaves on the Web

 UAE Curriculums Must Lift the Veil off Female Thinkers

 Orange County Residents Gather To Support 2 Muslim Women Berated By Man at Ice Cream Store

 Kurdish Female Commander of Northern Raqqa Campaign Says Operations Continue

 A Triumph for Co-Existing: Christian Israeli-Arab Crowned First-Ever 'Miss Trans Israel'

 Human Rights Activist: What the Future Holds For Afghan Women

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Indian Muslim Women Rise Against Triple Talaq

Moushumi Das Gupta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi | May 29, 2016

In April, Shayara Bano grabbed headlines when she went to the Supreme Court seeking a ban on triple Talaq (instantaneous unilateral divorce) given by her husband through a letter. The 35-year-old from Uttarakhand also challenged the practice of polygamy and nikah halala (where a woman given triple Talaq has to marry another man and consummate the marriage if she wants to get back with her divorced husband).

The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937 allows a man to divorce his wife by uttering divorce or Talaq thrice in one sitting. He can also send a letter writing Talaq three times. India is one of the few countries that still recognises oral and triple Talaq. In recent years, this has taken an altogether new turn with men giving triple Talaq over phone, by SMS, email, on Skype, WhatsApp and Facebook.

A story similar to Shayara Bano’s unfolded in Jaipur last month when Afreen Rehman received a letter from her husband of two years, Ashar Wasi, informing her that he had given her triple Talaq.

“I was given no reason,” said the 28-year-old MBA, who moved to Indore after marriage. “I got the letter in January. I was staying with my parents then as my husband had thrown me out after torturing me for dowry… I was helpless but decided enough was enough.”

Rehman filed a plea in the Supreme Court in May to declare the divorce null and void. “My petition has been accepted. I have also demanded that Muslim personal law be codified to prevent its misinterpretation.”

These aren’t isolated cases. More and more young, educated Muslim women, mostly in their mid-20s and 30s, are defying personal law.

Sheerin Masroor, a research associate in applied chemistry at Aligarh Muslim University, married Tabish Rasheed, an assistant professor in a Gurgaon college, in 2012. When a year later she gave birth to a girl, he left her at her parents’ home. “I was doing my PhD then and he refused to support me and my daughter. In February 2016, he sent a letter saying he had divorced me in front of the qazi (cleric) who had approved it. He sent a cheque of R1.25 lakh saying it was my meher (money paid by the groom to the bride that legally belongs to her),” she said.

Masroor returned the cheque and decided to fight him in court. “I am his legally wedded wife. How can he arbitrarily decide to divorce me? What happens to me and my daughter? Don’t we have rights under the Constitution? I left good job opportunities to look after my home and daughter.”

Then there is Shabana Khatoon (name changed), a government school teacher in Patna, who filed a case against her husband for torturing and divorcing her arbitrarily. Her husband is now in jail and the divorce case is in the civil court. “If I don’t get justice there, I will go to the Supreme Court,” she said.

Muslim women have come a long way from the time Shah Bano, 62, created a storm in the ’80s by moving the Supreme Court seeking alimony. “The court gave a judgment in her favour but the then government turned it down fearing political backlash. Now, these tricks won’t work. The time has come to reform personal law,” said Shaistha Amber, president of the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board, formed in 2005 to fight for women at the receiving end of such oppressive traditions.

“For the first time in all these years, women are coming out and saying their fundamental rights are being violated,” said Balaji Srinivasan, Shayara Bano’s lawyer. “Beliefs and customs have to give way to fundamental rights. There is an urgent need to reform personal laws, on a war footing.”

That’s easier said than done, though. “There is no question of changing personal law. Triple Talaq is considered unjust but once said, the process is considered complete and cannot be changed,” said Mufti Aizaz Arshad Kazmi, a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB).

Amber countered that Islamic tenets were being misused and accused the AIMPLB of being insincere about the cause of women. “In Islam, women and men have equal rights. The Quran allows three months’ time for reconciliation before divorce but this is not followed. The customs we have don’t match with the tenets of the Quran.”

Kazmi also said incidents of women seeking a ban on triple Talaq in the courts were politically motivated. “These are backed by the RSS. Under the garb of triple Talaq, they want to rake up uniform civil code.”

“A majority of Muslim women don’t have an issue with such customs,” he insisted.

But a survey of 4,710 Muslim women in 10 states by Mumbai-based Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan in 2013 revealed that 92% wanted a ban on oral and unilateral Talaq.

A high-level committee set up in 2012 to assess family laws has recommended “a complete ban on oral, unilateral and triple divorce”, amendments in the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939 to make triple Talaq and polygamy void and payment of maintenance mandatory after separation or divorce. Last July, the panel submitted its report to the government, which is yet to take a call on it.



Islamic State Fighters Appear To Be Hawking Sex Slaves on the Web

Joby Warrick, The Washington Post | Updated: May 29, 2016

The woman is young, perhaps 18, with olive skin and dark bangs that droop onto her face. In the Facebook photo, she attempts to smile but doesn't look at her photographer.

The caption mentions a single biographical fact: She is for sale.

"To all the bros thinking about buying a slave, this one is $8,000," begins the May 20 Facebook posting, which was attributed to an Islamic State fighter who calls himself Abu Assad Almani. The same man posted a second image a few hours later, this one a pale young face with weepy red eyes.

"Another sabiyah [slave], also about $8, 000," the posting reads. "Yay, or nay?"

The photos were taken down within hours by Facebook, and it is unclear whether the account's owner was doing the selling himself or commenting about women being sold by other fighters. But the unusual posting underscores what experts say is an increasingly perilous existence for the hundreds of women who are thought to be held as sex slaves by the Islamic State.

As the terrorist group comes under heightened pressure in Iraq and Syria, these female captives appear to be suffering, too - sold and traded by cash-strapped fighters, subjected to shortages of food and medicine, and put at risk daily by military strikes, according to terrorism experts and human rights groups.

Social-media sites used by Islamic State fighters in recent months have included numerous accounts of the buying and selling of sex slaves, as well the promulgation of formal rules for dealing with them. The guidelines cover such topics as whether it's possible to have sex with prepubescent prisoners - yes, the Islamic State's legal experts say - and how severely a slave can be beaten.

But until the May 20 incident, there were no known instances of Islamic State fighters posting photographs of female captives being offered for sale. The photos of the two unidentified women appeared only briefly before being deleted by Facebook, but the images were captured by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington nonprofit group that monitors jihadists' social-media accounts.

"We have seen a great deal of brutality, but the content that ISIS has been disseminating over the past two years has surpassed it all for sheer evil," said Steven Stalinsky, the institute's executive director, using the common acronym for the Islamic State. "Sales of slave girls on social media is just one more example of this."

Almani, the apparent owner of the Facebook account, is thought to be a German national fighting for the Islamic State in Syria, according to Stalinsky. He has previously posted to social-media accounts under that name, in the slangy, poorly rendered English used by many European fighters who can't speak Arabic. Early postings suggest that Almani is intimately familiar with the Islamic State's activities around Raqqa, the group's de facto capital in Syria. He also regularly uses his accounts to solicit donations for the terrorist group.

In displaying the images of the women, Almani advised his Facebook friends to "get married" and "come to dawlah," or the Islamic State's territory in Iraq and Syria. Then he engaged with different commenters in an extensive discussion about whether the $8,000 asking price was a good value. Some who replied to the postings mocked the women's looks, while others scolded Almani for posting photos of women who weren't wearing the veil.

"What makes her worth that price? Does she have an exceptional skill?" one of his correspondents asks about woman in the second photo.

"Nope," he replies. "Supply and demand makes her that price."

The Islamic State's leaders have historically used U.S.-based social media such as Facebook and Twitter to attract recruits and spread propaganda, but in the past year American companies have sought to block jihadist accounts and postings whenever they are discovered.

Facebook in particular has garnered high marks from watchdog groups for reacting quickly to terrorists' efforts to use its pages. But at the same time, the militants also have become more agile, leaping quickly from one social-media platform to another and opening new accounts as soon as older ones are shut down.

The Facebook incident comes amid complaints from human rights groups about waning public interest in the plight of women held as prisoners by the Islamic State. The organization Human Rights Watch, citing estimates by Kurdish officials in Iraq and Syria, says the terrorist group holds about 1,800 women and girls, just from the capture of Yazidi towns in the region. After initial denials, the Islamic State last year issued statements acknowledging the use of sex slaves and defending the practice as consistent with ancient Islamic traditions, provided that the women are non-Muslims captured in battle or members of Muslim sects that the terrorist group regards as apostates.

A report last month by Human Rights Watch recounted the ordeals suffered by three dozen Iraqi and Syrian women who escaped from terrorist-held towns in recent months. Among the women were former Yazidi sex slaves who described abuses that included multiple rapes by different men as they were sold and traded.

The problems faced by such women appear to be growing worse as military and economic pressure against the Islamic State increases, the report said.

"The longer they are held by ISIS, the more horrific life becomes for Yazidi women, bought and sold, brutally raped, their children torn from them," said Skye Wheeler, women's rights emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Meanwhile, ISIS's restrictions on [non-enslaved] Sunni women cut them off from normal life and services almost entirely."

© 2016 The Washington Post

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



UAE Curriculums Must Lift the Veil off Female Thinkers

May 29, 2016          

As a young student enthusiastic about literature my school’s curriculum although included great works, it was noticeable to my young mind even then that they were mostly by male authors, poets, and philosophers. Being a young Arab girl the only rare glimpses of female works came in the form of novels by the Bronte sisters and other Western greats, and while I drank every drop of their ink I was mostly left unsatiated and ever yearning for a familiar female voice. For all the genius of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights neither their authors nor their protagonists shared much in common with this young Arab girl, although the cultural restrictions of England’s 1800s might have slightly resembled some of the aspects we as women lived through at the time, neither the political backdrop of my surroundings nor the struggles of my region were reflected in their foreign works, these women had never even felt that distinct burning that only the Arab sun can leave on one’s skin.

I experienced first hand the drought that our school curriculums suffered from when it came to the female mind. It left me searching for it on the stacked shelves of my school library and making the effort to hunt for those names that were not being introduced to me by the system. It is an ongoing search for after the many great female Arab minds that I have read I am still discovering greater ones that somehow I have still not come across. Since then the number of female Arab minds who have contributed generously to the literature, political and philosophical landscape of the region has more than doubled, yet the eager young ears today are still oblivious to these voices.

The UAE has seen impressive, one could even say unimaginable, advancements in all sectors and has cemented its position as a cultural hub for aspiring thinkers, artists and musicians from across the region and beyond. The Emirati woman has been offered opportunities that other women in neighbouring countries can only dream of, worse yet have to fight for, but it is not enough to give the opportunity without cultivating the mind. It is essential for the young generation to not only know that women can do anything they aspire to they must also understand the mindset that brought them there. Let them interpret and critique the ideas that brought about change, teach them to compare the poetry, the language and the stories and arm them with positive female examples that counter the assembly line of clichés the media has to offer.

Impressionable young students must be given true examples of the Arab woman through her own words, and when I say students I do not mean young girls alone for in order to raise a generation that truly believes in gender equality it is the young boys that have to listen first, those boys who will grow up to have female rivals at every stage of their professional careers. In order to foster greater respect for their future interactions as equals at par with each other in every way we must introduce them both to those female thinkers, those female warriors who have fought to create a distinct voice, that voice that emanates from an agony, a sense of injustice and suffocation from years of silence, that no male thinker, no matter how great, can mimic.



Orange County Residents Gather To Support 2 Muslim Women Berated By Man At Ice Cream Store

May 28, 2016

ORANGE (    Residents of Orange County gathered at an ice cream store on Saturday and not just for cups or  cones.

They came together in a show of unity to support to Muslim women who were shown on a viral video being berated by a customer — apparently mad that they were wearing their hijabs and traditional attire.

CBS2’s Laurie Perez was there when the women said thank you and their supporters told anyone who would listen that what the man did should not be happening in America.

Video of the hate-filled encounter inside an Orange County ice cream shop has been shared and liked on Twitter more than 50,000 times since it was posted Monday.

Malaak Ammari used her cellphone to record the encounter as a fellow customer took aim at her and Nura Takkish — who were just sitting, eating ice cream and minding their own business when the man went off.

“I don’t want them in my country, that’s what I don’t want,” he ranted.

“I was fearful in the moment,” said Ammari.

They saw the man’s outburst as an sudden act of Islamophobia but what the video also showed was the just as swift response by the shop’s workers to kick the guy out.

“If you can’t be nice, we don’t want you!.” Jessie Noah, the worker, is heard saying.

An instant act of kindness that brought Ammari and Takkish and hundreds of American Muslims back to Andrew’s Ice Cream and Dessert Saturday for something sweet and then, even sweeter – a ceremony of thanks – for shop owners Greg and Cynthia Ramsay and worker Jessie Noah.

“It showed me that more than anything people are more positive, more accepting, more tolerant than ever,” said Takkish.

“They would stand up for anyone and that’s what a true American does,” said Ammari.

Maybe it was fate the encounter happened here — at an ice cream shop decorated with posters of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy  and positive messages of race and tolerance.

“I would have done it for anyone, it didn’t matter their beliefs, I would have done that for anyone.” said Noah.

You could call today a victory, some might say for lovers of ice cream — and freedom. Workers here say it was all in a day’s work.

“It should be an everyday occurrence that happens in America all the time, it shouldn’t be something that’s any big deal. It’s how America should be we should all be that way,” said Cynthia Ramsey.



Kurdish Female commander of Northern Raqqa campaign says operations continue

May 29, 2016

AYN AL ISSA – Rojda Felat, the commander of the Northern Raqqa campaign told ARA News that the operations against ISIS extremists are continuing for the fourth day. This despite rumours that operations have stopped.

“Since the beginning of the campaign we have captured six villages and four farms [from ISIS],” she said.

In an exclusive interview with ARA News, the Kurdish female commander denied reports that the operations were halted and blamed the heavy mined areas.

“The border line of our areas is mined, so demining this area takes time,” she said.

Furthermore, local fighters told ARA News that the Islamic state is using human shields and prevent civilians from leaving Raqqa.

Felat said that so far the operation is only taking place for taking northern Raqqa.

“It depends on the situation and the strategic changes on the ground,” she added.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by the female commander Felat launched an operation on 24 May to liberate the northern countryside of Raqqa form ISIS.

She told ARA News that this has no affect on the cooperation between Kurds and the more conservative tribal Arbas in the SDF.

“This culture is broken because many women join the SDF, including Arabs, Kurds, and Syriacs,” she added.

“We in the SDF have no difference between men and women,” she said.

Nevertheless, while many Arab men are joining the SDF-forces, the number of Arab women joining the SDF is quite limited. So far mostly female Kurds join the battle against the Islamic State.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg



A triumph for co-existing: Christian Israeli-Arab crowned first-ever 'Miss Trans Israel'

Published May 29th, 2016

21-year-old Ta’alin Abu Hanna, a Christian-Arab and ballet dancer from Nazareth, wins first ever pageant of its kind in Israel.

Talin abu Hanna, 21, a Christian Arab-Israeli from Northern Israel, reacts upon winning Israel's first Miss Trans beauty pageant at Habima national theater in Tel Aviv. (AFP)

Somewhere in a Haredi neighborhood of Jerusalem in May 1998, a 10-year-old girl opened the newspaper and learned she was no longer alone.

Aylin Ben-Zaken saw the news that that Israeli transgender singer Dana International had just won the Eurovision, changing her world forever.

“I saw her and I realized that there’s another one like me out there, that I’m not alone.”

“Where were you when you heard Dana International won the Eurovision” isn’t a typical question for a beauty pageant contestant, but this was no typical pageant.

The first ever “Miss Trans Israel Pageant” packed an auditorium at the Bima National Theater in Tel Aviv on Friday, to mark the beginning of the 2016 Pride Events in Tel Aviv. The winner of the event – 21-year-old Ta’alin Abu Hanna, a Christian Arab from Nazareth, will represent Israel at the Miss TransStar International pageant in Barcelona in September.

The 11 contestants are from across Israel, and include both Jews and Christian and Muslim Arabs, and one Russian-Israeli. Three are from Beersheba, two from Haifa, one from Nazareth, and the rest are from Jerusalem or the Tel Aviv area. According to their bios, most work as dancers or designers, but there is also a telemarketer and a confectioner among their ranks.

The winner will receive a $15,000 package of plastic surgery treatments from the Kamol Cosmetic Hospital in Bangkok, including airfare and a hotel stay during recovery.

Organizers said that inspiration also came from the story of transgender Canadian model and TV personality Jenna Talackova, who in 2012 won a legal battle to compete in Miss Universe Canada. The Miss Universe organization – and owner Donald Trump – allowed Talackova to compete in the pageant.

At the Bima on Friday, it looked a big budget affair, but not over-the-top, with a short swimwear section, two formal wear sections and question and answer portion. The girls surely wanted to win, but the vibe was happy, not cynical and all the personal introduction videos were full of beaming Trans women talking about being happy with themselves, confident, and leaving the closet behind. One contestant, first runner up Elian Nasiel, a 20-year-old Bat Yam makeup artist wearing what looked like some skyscraper Louboutin heels, typified the tone during the question and answer section, when she said her hope for the pageant is that “people will see us, hear us, and understand we’re equal to everyone else.”

You can’t talk about Gay Pride Week or gay rights in Israel these days without someone mentioning “Pinkwashing”. The term is a portmanteau meant to describe the way advocates for Israel allegedly try to divert attention from the country’s controversial politics or military actions by touting the gay scene in Tel Aviv and the country’s acceptance of LGBT people. The comparison is typically made between Israel and other countries in the Middle East, where LGBT rights are not on the agenda, or where homosexuality is a crime punishable in some cases by death. The argument is that all this talk about gay rights in Israel; it’s all a diversionary tactic, smoke and mirrors in service of the state.

Yisraela Stephani Lev, “The Queen Mother of the Israeli Transgender Community”, aint having none of it.

“Listen, there isn’t propaganda here. We live in Tel Aviv, in Israel, the only sane country in the region where people can live as gays or transgender and no one is going to throw them off the rooftop or slaughter them. This is just the reality here. It’s not some sort of brainwashing or pinkwashing or whatever.”

The 55-year-old Tel Aviv native is a veteran of the LGBT scene, with 22 years of activism under her designer belt. She says that acceptance in Israel has come a long way in those two decades, though she admits that this assessment applies to Tel Aviv far more than conservative towns in the country’s periphery.

Yisraela said the idea of having a Miss Trans Israel pageant had been discussed in the community for years, but that only last year when she set up a page on Facebook did it take flight. She said hundreds of trans women contacted her “from Dan to Eilat, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Bedouin”, and that they held three auditions beginning this March to select the final 12 contestants, which include both post and pre-operative trans women. What are they looking for in a contestant? She says it’s not just external beauty, but also “a sort of co-existence and diversity” on the stage that will bring people from every sector of Israeli society together. The beauty pageant contestant talking about world peace is a well-worn cliché, but Yisraela doesn’t hesitate one bit to say “we are looking for co-existence, because this is the beginning of peace.”

Asked if they may be supporting narrow classifications of beauty, she said “to look like a woman can mean many different things” and that the most important thing, for a community whose members deal with gender dysphoria, is “to match the inner beauty with the outer beauty. At the end of the day, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Well before the night began, Miss Trans Israel winner Ta’alin Abu Hanna already appeared to be a favorite to take the crown. She has the look, the poise, and even the walk of a pageant winner. She also has the confidence of someone who has spent a great deal of time on stage, and has trod a difficult path to get where she is today.

Flanked by cameras from the foreign press backstage she spoke in Hebrew about her hopes that the pageant will help bring “more openness towards trans people in Israel and maybe the world. And will help people know who we are.”

There was also a tender moment, when she was asked about her family. Her mother – “the love of my life”, supports her and wanted to come, but is abroad at the moment. Her father though, is a different story.

“My father doesn’t quite accept me; we’ve had a falling out. I want him to find the courage to love his daughter who is happier than ever.” Speaking directly into the camera she says “I want him to know I’m happy and to be happy for me.”

The long path to happiness also often bends towards acceptance, such as in the case of Aylin Ben Zaken, who was crowned Miss Photogenic at the pageant Friday night. Aylin, 27, grew up with three brothers and three sisters in a Haredi household in the Mekor Baruch neighborhood of Jerusalem, where she said she “was always put in a corner.”

At 15 she ran away from home and lived on the street in Tel Aviv for two weeks until she found a place to stay. She ended up finishing high school and did her national service helping at-risk youth. Today, 12 years after leaving home, she says she’s accepted fully by her family, which has in recent years also become more secular. Aylin’s hair is straightened and died a sort of honey blonde, and along with her glossy lips she’s got a look that doesn’t quite scream Mekor Baruch. Still, she said that when she goes home for Shabbat she doesn’t try to hide anything about herself, though she does make sure to wear the modest dress expected of women in her old neighborhood.

She said that in Israel things have become easier in recent years for transgendered people, but that “people still don’t take it too seriously. Straight men see us as a sexual fantasy, not as a woman to take seriously and have a family with. They don’t have the courage yet.”

Aylin said she doesn’t believe that the beauty pageant objectifies them as women, or turns them into sex objects, and that when it comes to winning, it’s not everything.

“It’s enough for me to look in the mirror and say, wow, I love how I look, I look beautiful.”

Less than a week after Hapoel Be’ersheba FC won their first title in 40 years, Almog Yehuda stood backstage mid-day on Friday waiting for her shot to bring another championship to the capital of the Negev.

The 24-year-old native of the Ramot neighborhood said for her there was never much confusion, and that from the day she was born she knew that she was a girl. She spoke of how she’d run past the race cars and make a beeline for the Barbies when her father took her to the toy store, and that deep down, “in my soul and my blood”, she knew who she really was.

Almog – who said she was too embarrassed to give her birth name –began her transition at age 18, when she received hormones, which were subsidized by the state as part of her health care package. At 20, she flew to Thailand to have gender reconstructive surgery, with the full support of her family.

Perhaps it’s counter-intuitive for an Israeli family from the periphery, but Almog said her family supported her fully, both financially and emotionally with her transition. She also said that in some ways, Be’ersheba is more liberal than Tel Aviv.

“It wasn’t hard for me in Beersheba. Beersheba is a lot more liberal - in Tel Aviv, straight men see you as a gimmick, or a one-night stand fantasy. In Beersheba people see it as more serious, it’s a different population and they treat it with more respect.”

Almog is petite with soft features, and lacks the statuesque, runway ready look of some other contestants. To put it differently, she could be any girl in Be’ersheba, and it appears she lacks the killer instinct of a stereotypical pageant winner.

“As far as I see it, every girl here has already won. It’s not about the victory; it’s about the adventure, and the path we took to get here.”



Human Rights Activist: What the Future Holds For Afghan Women

May 29, 2016

Al Jazeera speaks to Noorjahan Akbar, a human rights activist, about the immense challenges facing Afghan women

Liz Gooch is a journalist covering Southeast Asia.

Afghanistan's women have made significant gains in recent years, with more girls attending school and more women working outside the home.

But fear still overshadows the lives of many.

A resurgent Taliban recently provoked outrage by publicly executing two women, but as this 101 East documentary shows, the greatest threat many women face comes from loved ones at home.

Activist Noorjahan Akbar talks about the challenges in overcoming conservative attitudes in the face of rising "anti-woman propaganda".

Al Jazeera: How would you describe the current state of women's rights in Afghanistan?

Noorjahan Akbar: Like the current state of the country, the current state of Afghan women is tumultuous and unstable. While - since the US-led intervention - Afghan women have made a considerable amount of progress, with [today's] increased insecurity, economic inequality, and radicalism, we are afraid that our accomplishments will be threatened, and the few civil rights and individual freedoms we have will be taken away from us.

Since 2009, the number of Afghan women working has increased, but a large number of female activists and journalists have left the country due to fear of violence.

When I talk about the threat of violence, I don't just mean the Taliban - even though they are largely responsible for targeting and killing female teachers, police officers, journalists, and activists.

On a daily basis, Afghan women face harassment in public spaces. In fact, nine out of 10 women say they have faced harassment at some point on the way to work or school, and out of those, 14 percent say they stopped going to school because of it. Eighty-seven percent of Afghan women have faced verbal, sexual or physical violence at home.

The vast majority of cases of violence against women, even the public targeted assassinations, are not met with any legal consequences.

Despite all this, Afghan women are teachers, ministers, parliamentarians, musicians, writers, journalists, photographers, vaccinators and more, and we are working hard to make things better for ourselves and the country.

But in order for us to really participate in rebuilding Afghanistan, our security should be a priority for our government. When our bodies are fair game, when it is always open season on women, when we are fearful of losing our lives on a daily basis, how can we move the country forward?

Al Jazeera: The Taliban recently publicly executed two women - one of them in an apparent honour killing - in northern Afghanistan, according to news reports. Are you concerned that this could signal a downward spiral for Afghan women?

Akbar: The harsh reality is that even though this case caught the eye of the international press, these 'honour' killings are not out of the ordinary. Whether by the Taliban or family members, Afghan women are killed regularly for the simple fact of being born female or choosing their own husbands. However, what these specific public executions tell me is that the rule of law has further deteriorated in Afghanistan and that is not good for anyone.

Al Jazeera: Many Afghan women suffer domestic violence at the hands of their family. How difficult is it to change attitudes towards women?

Akbar: It is extremely difficult to change attitudes towards women and decrease gender-based violence anywhere in the world, but in Afghanistan it is hard also because radicalism, Talibanism and gender-based violence at home are all related and perpetuate one another.

Especially in the last few years, there has been an increase in radical anti-woman propaganda in the big cities. Local mosques that were once moderate and somewhat accepting of women's rights, now spend entire sermons on how women shouldn't be allowed to work, study, or even speak in public.

In addition to using public executions to make a show of women's punishment and terrorise women into silence and into the margins, today's radicals use televisions, social media, sermons, and even schools to perpetuate and sanctify violence.

Al Jazeera: Impressive gains have been made in the number of girls attending school in Afghanistan. Is there a danger that these rights could be eroded?

Akbar: Yes, and we are seeing the erosion right now. In 2014, 163 schools were attacked in Afghanistan.

The majority of these schools were girls' schools. This year, these attacks have increased. In January, a girls' school was torched in Kabul - something that hasn't happened in the capital city since the Taliban took power in 1996.

In February, the Ministry of Education said 700 schools were closed due to insecurity depriving thousands of girls and boys of an education. Just this week, 20 school girls were poisoned in Ghor province.

These attacks are terrifying, not just for those who have faced the violence themselves, but for the country as a whole.

Al Jazeera: International organisations have raised concerns that women's rights activists are being deliberately targeted. How difficult is it for activists to stand up and demand change?

Akbar: I don't know any human rights activist working for gender equality who feels safe in Afghanistan.

We have seen our sisters killed and asked for justice only to be threatened and sidelined more. We have called for the prosecution of those who killed Malalai Kakar, Hanifa Safi, Safia Ahmed Jan, Zakia Zaki and many more journalists and activists killed for being outspoken women and we have been told to shut up.

We are told on a daily basis that we shouldn't talk about the issues we face, the rape threats we get, the violence women around us face because it will bring shame to our country.

The reality is that the fact that these injustices exist is a matter of shame - not people demanding an end for it.

Al Jazeera: Afghan women still face numerous challenges in their daily lives. Are you optimistic about the future?

Akbar: Yes. I am optimistic because I see the passion with which young women are working for change inside the country and because I know that despite the heartache, the threats and the disappointments this fight are worth it.

Being pessimistic will not help us. It will only discourage us from working. I prefer not giving up. Afghanistan belongs to me and my peers as much as it belongs to the radicals advocating for violence, and we will not surrender the country to them - not without a fight at least.




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