Ms. Magazine

spring 2003
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this is what a feminist looks like

The Feminist To-Do List by Gloria Steinem
Ms. Poll Feminist Tide Sweeps In as the 21st Century Begins by Lorraine Dusky
Affirmative Action on Trial by Teresa Stern
Women on Death Row by Claudia Dreifus
In the Thick of Life at 70 by Jessica Chornesky

Special Action Alert
Women Take Action Worldwide
Listing: Coalitions and Groups
National Council of Women's Organizations Statement on War with Iraq
NCWO Partial Members List
Why Peace is (More Than Ever) a Feminist Issue
by Grace Paley

Writing of War and Its Consequences
Ghosts of Home by Patricia Sarrafian Ward
Tales from an Ordinary Iranian Girlhood by Marjane Satrapi
Snow in Summer: LA, CA, 1963 by Helen Zelon

Pat Summitt's 800th Victory
Augusta Golf Club's Red Face
National Map of Priest Abuse
Women Warriors
Lesbians with Strollers
Kopp Trial
Trouble in Herat, Afghanistan
Reproductive Rights in Poland
Health Clinics in Guatemala
Congolese Women for Peace
Global Good News Round-Up
The Opposite of a Nuclear Bomb

Lower Breast Cancer Risks by Liz Galst
The Making of an Activist by Gloria Feldt
Nature Conservancy Gains by Rachel Rabkin
Harvard Stumbles on Rape Rules by Lorraine Dusky
The Bush Overhaul of Federal Courts by Stephanie B. Goldberg
My Friend Yeshi by Alice Walker

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Alissa J. Rubin, Balkans bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, did three reporting tours in Afghanistan in 2002.

Trouble in Herat
Women's Rights Assailed Anew
By Alissa J. Rubin

Under Guard. Women prisoners being led to court in Herat, where a deeply conservative version of sharia, or Islamic law, holds sway. Photo by Kamran Jebreili/AP.

It's clear what needs to be done to combat threats to women's freedom in Afghanistan. Despite promises by international players and pleas from Afghan officials, the expansion of international peacekeepers beyond Kabul remains unfulfilled. And the accompanying violence around the country is probably the single biggest obstacle to getting international authorities to pay sufficient attention to women's rights in Afghanistan.

Even if peacekeepers were deployed to six or eight more Afghan cities, their first priority would be quelling violence between warring factions and protecting foreigners, including aid workers, according to news reports. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, the outgoing commander of the International Security Assistance Force, Maj. Gen. Hilmi Akin Zorlu of Turkey, noted that while "security in Kabul improves with each passing day," his soldiers are still focused on interrupting potential attacks against foreigners and confiscating heavy weapons and ammunition hidden around the city. Such efforts would take up even more time in areas outside of Kabul, which have been the exclusive purview of warlords since the Taliban was ousted.

In such a violence-saturated environment, human rights have taken a back seat, according to a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, which focuses particularly on abuses to women in the western city of Herat.

For Herati women and girls, "every decision, every day presents dangers or challenges from the government: where they can go, how they can get there, whom they can go with and how they can dress," said Zama Coursen-Neff, a counsel to Human Rights Watch.

On January 10, new rules were issued in Herat, banning male teachers from instructing women and girls in private classes and calling for strict gender segregation in all schools. Since there are too few female teachers to meet the needs of women and girls, the practical effect is to restrict their access to education altogether.

Herat's problems are particularly disconcerting because the city has long been one of Afghanistan's most cosmopolitan. A commercial center connecting the tribal desert mountain areas of central Afghanistan to the more modern culture of neighboring Iran, Herat was widely viewed as one of the more liberal places in the country.

Now, however, the city and surrounding province is ruled by Ismail Khan, who while keeping the peace in his region, is encouraging some of the country's most punitive policies toward women, even stricter than the most conservative Muslim practices in Iran.

If Herati women are seen in public with a man who is not a relative they can be hauled into the local hospital and examined for signs of sexual intercourse. Doctors have talked anonymously both to HRW and to journalists about the practice.

Outside the home women must wear a burqa or chador (the latter leaves the face exposed) and without it they face harassment from the police and from squads of young boys whom Khan has admonished to be on the lookout for such misbehavior.


Copyright Ms. Magazine 2009