3 Feb 2011

Afghan TV show allows women wearing mask to speak on taboo subjects such as domestic violence, rape and child trafficking

CBC News - Canada January 17, 2011

Mask helps abused Afghan women speak on TV

A new television show in Afghanistan is inviting women to speak on taboo subjects such as rape and domestic violence from behind the safety of a mask.

The show Niqab, translated as The Mask, is a project of Sami Mahdi, a 28-year-old Afghan who is part of a wave of producers directing new programming at Afghan women.

"In Afghanistan, it is very difficult for a woman to talk about their problems and what they are suffering in their own home," Mahdi said in an interview Monday with CBC's Q cultural affairs show.

"It is a taboo in Afghanistan for a woman to talk about domestic violence. We made an opportunity for women to come and talk about their problems on our show."

Mahdi said he spent more than a year approaching human rights groups and the women's ministry in Afghanistan, trying to make contact with women who would be willing to come and tell their stories.

The mask, a plastic mask painted white on one side and blue on the other, is important to allow the women to speak freely without fear of reprisals, he said.

"The most difficult part of the show is finding the participants for the show on television because it is dangerous, it is risky for a woman to come and talk about their history," Mahdi said.

There are thousands of painful stories in Afghanistan, including the woman who was sold to man by her father at age 14 and suffered constant beatings.

A woman wears a mask for her interview on Afghan show Niqab or The Mask. (CBC)

Mahdi believes the show can help women by showing them they are supported and is optimistic his program can change attitudes.

"We can educate people. We can teach the man, your behaviour with women in Afghanistan, this is not fair. This is against Islam, this is against the law and this is against our culture and human rights," he said.

Since 2004, when Taliban restrictions on watching television were lifted, more than 20 Afghan TV stations have gone on air.

TV has proved a powerful tool in reaching people who are predominately illiterate, according to Nelofer Pazira, a Canadian filmmaker and journalist who's working on a radio documentary about the role of media in Afghanistan for the CBC.

"I think anything that can let women tell their stories, especially about domestic violence and subjects that have been taboo, cannot help but be positive," she told Q on Monday.

Pazira notes the rise of programs such as Human Family, a chat show hosted by a woman that talks about forced marriages and other issues usually kept within the household.

There is also The Mozdah Show, described as the "Oprah" of Afghanistan, and Secrets of the House, a soap opera that has mothers putting their children to bed early to watch.

"In the last few years there is a war in the media, there is a lot of money made available by foreign agencies, by U.S.A. and others for the kind of programming that would have something to do with women," Pazira said. Some of the programs are in part an opportunity to tap into this stream of money, she said.

Pazira is not as optimistic that exposing domestic violence on television is going to lead to an end to the problem.

"Afghanistan is a tribal, conservative society. Change is not going to happen just with a TV show. There is a lot of negative cynical reaction to these programs," she said.

Pazira said some viewers dismiss these programs as westernization creeping into Afghan society. But, she added, as Afghan media are moving away from reporting just on security issues to tackling wider issues, men are also speaking out on call-in shows.

Mahdi admits he gets very negative telephone calls, including calls from people who admit to be the Taliban. But he said there is a lot of positive response from female viewers.

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  1. Afghanistan mother and daughter stoned and shot dead

    BBC News November 11, 2011

    A group of armed men have stoned and shot dead a woman and her daughter in Afghanistan's Ghazni province, security officials have told the BBC.

    The officials blamed the Taliban, who they said had accused the women of "moral deviation and adultery".

    The police said two men had been arrested in connection with the murder.

    The attack was only 300m from the governor's office in Ghazni city, which is on a list of places to be transferred to Afghan security control.

    Taliban grip
    The incident happened on Thursday in the Khawaja Hakim area of Ghazni city, where the family lived.

    The BBC's Bilal Sarwary in Kabul says it is close to the governor's office, the police chief's office and a Western-backed Provincial Reconstruction Team.

    Security officials said armed men entered the house where the young widow lived with her daughter and took them out to the yard, where they were initially stoned and then shot dead.

    "Neighbours did not help or inform the authorities on time," an official said.

    Officials said a number of religious leaders in the city had been issuing fatwas (Islamic religious edicts) asking people to report any one who was "involved in adultery".

    In October last year, a woman accused of murdering her mother-in-law was killed by the Taliban in Ghazni.

    Ghazni has seen an upsurge in violence in recent years.

    Strategically located on the route between Kabul and Kandahar, the province was once a centre of trade.

    Ghazni city is on the list for the second tranche of areas to be transferred from Nato to Afghan control but critics say the government is struggling to secure it.


  2. Kabul Urged To Protect Sexually Abused Children

    by Dan Wisniewski Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty February 11, 2013

    A 13-year-old boy has been jailed for having sex in a park with two adult men, the latest case of a victim of a sexual crime being punished in Afghanistan.

    In October 2012, the boy was convicted of having sex with the men in a park in the western province of Herat and sentenced to a year in juvenile detention.

    As Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports, Afghan law prohibits "pederasty," commonly understood to mean sex between a man and a boy, and makes it a crime punishable by five to 15 years in prison. "Moral crimes" include not only pederasty but any sexual relations between people who are not married to each other, and have been used to punish the victim of a crime.

    "When a man has sex with a 13-year-old child, the child is a victim of rape, not a criminal offender," says Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director. "The Afghan government should never have victimized this boy a second time, but instead should have released him immediately with urgent protection and assistance."

    HRW quoted a prosecutor involved in the case as saying that the boy was prosecuted because he said he had consented to sex with several men. The men were also arrested and charged with moral crimes, but the outcomes of their cases are not known.

    As the number of street children in Afghanistan has grown, more and more children are exposed to the risk of sexual abuse. HRW has urged the Afghan government to raise the legal age of consent to protect children and to expand the law passed in 2009 on violence against women -- which defined rape as a crime for the first time -- to include men and boys.

    "Afghan lawmakers should move forward promptly in revising the penal code to provide better protection for both victims and criminal suspects," Adams says. "The revision should ensure that rape is seen as a serious crime, whether committed against men and boys or women and girls, and that victims are not treated as criminals."

    HRW also called attention to the practice of "bacha bazi," where young boys work as dancers to entertain groups of men. As women and girls are not permitted to entertain men, the boys are often dressed in women's clothing and subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation.

    "The Afghan government needs to take urgent steps to protect children from sexual assault, including boys who are abused through the practice of bacha bazi," Adams says. "Treating boys who have been raped as criminals undermines all government efforts to protect children from abuse."

    The previously taboo subject of rape and sexual abuse has slowly emerged as a topic of public debate in the deeply conservative country. Media coverage of two rape cases in the northern Takhar and Sari Pol provinces in 2010, where girls as young as 11 were gang raped, prompted Afghan President Hamid Karzai to meet with the victims and their families. He promised to crack down on rape and bring the attackers to justice.

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  3. Afghan girl forced to wear suicide bomb vest

    Channel 4 News January 7, 2014

    A 10-year-old girl, who was detained in Afghanistan for wearing explosives, says she was forced to wear a suicide jacket by her Taliban commander brother.

    Afghan soldiers spotted the girl, known as Spozhmay, wearing a suicide jacket in southern Helmand province.

    But there are conflicting reports about whether she was arrested before being able to operate the bomb or whether she handed herself in.

    "My brother Zahir and his friend Jabar forced me to wear the suicide vest," she told police.

    "They also gave me extra clothes to wear after crossing the water. They brought me near the river to cross at night, but when I saw the water and coldness I shouted and said that it is cold and I can't cross the water.

    "They moved me back home and take off the vest from my body. My father beat me, I had to run away from home in the middle of the night and spent the rest of night in a village nearby to our home called Balochan village. And early morning I surrendered myself to the police force in that area."

    Living with the Taliban
    Spozhmay also told police that she had been living with the Taliban.

    She added: "My brother killed an army soldier in Marja district. They have captured the army soldier in Lashkar Gah and killed him. I saw the killing and I was crying, I asked my brother not to do this but they didn't listen to me. My brother kept me at home for most of the time and did not allow me to go out."

    Militants in Iraq often used child bombers, some of them disabled, to bypass security checks. But the use of children and women bombers in Afghanistan has been relatively rare in the years since US-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government.

    Colonel Hamidullah Sediqi, commander of the Afghan border police force, said: "As you can see, this innocent girl, she shouldn't be doing this. No-one and no religion allows her to do this".

    Video: http://bcove.me/wiehi8wz