Monthly Archives: June 2011

(RAWA) Life for Afghan Women under the Taliban by Carol Robson.

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Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan(RAWA)

Life for Afghan Women under the Taliban

by

Carol Robson

 

RAWA is the oldest political/social organization of Afghan women struggling for peace, freedom, democracy and women’s rights in fundamentalism-blighted Afghanistan since 1977.  They are fighting for the oppressed and enchained women of Afghanistan and were struggling for democracy and women’s rights while they were under siege from medieval-minded terrorists. RAWA are always fighting for funds so they can continue their hard struggle to try to implement their projects.  These are what we in the West take for granted, education, health care, income generation, culture and public awareness.  Nevertheless, there are many people in the West that think wearing the burqa is oppression for Afghanistan women.  This is not how these women see their oppression; it goes much more deeply than that.  Oppression for these women is focused around citizenship, education and employment.

 

Meena founder of RAWA (1956-1987)

It is a good idea to see whyRAWA were founded, to try and understand their hopes and aims. RAWA were founded in 1977 to improve life for Afghan women.   Their founder was an Afghan woman called Meena, she laid the foundation of RAWAin 1977.  This organization was meant to give voice to the deprived and silenced women of Afghanistan. She started a campaign against the Russian forces and their puppet regime in 1979 and organized numerous processions and meetings in schools, colleges and Kabul Universityto mobilise public opinion.  Another great service rendered by her for the Afghan women is the launching of a bilingual magazine, Payam-e-Zan (Women’s Message) in 1981. Through this the magazine RAWA has been projecting the cause of Afghan women boldly and effectively. Payam-e-Zan constantly exposed the criminal nature of fundamentalist groups.  Meena also established schools for refugee children, a hospital and handicraft centres for refugee women inPakistan to support Afghan women financially.  Its first task was to operate schools and medical centres where women and children could access services denied them by their state.  Meena’s active social work and effective advocacy against the views of the fundamentalists and the puppet regime provoked the wrath of the Russians and the fundamentalist forces alike.  Meena was assassinated by agents of KHAD (Afghanistanbranch of KGB) and their fundamentalist accomplices in Quetta,Pakistan, on February 4, 1987.

Afghan people are not Arab.  Most Afghans are Muslim, some are Jewish and Hindu and a variety of other religions.  The Taliban suppressed both men and women and children.  The men were forced to wear a four inch beard or go to jail.  Women had to wear the burqa or veil or they could be executed.  Women couldn’t work or go to school when traditionally women were overall very much liberalised for a Muslim country.  Many women were doctors and lawyers and most did not wear a full veil.  In the Koran men and women are told to dress modestly.  In the Koran there is no mention of the veil or to what extent it should be worn.  Under the Taliban the Afghan women used the burqa in recent times to their own advantage.  It helped the women of RAWA to move around more freely without recognition.  Women, under the Taliban were still organising education for their children by running secret schools.  However, they had to be vigilant against being found and were constantly on the move.  Many of the women were often still wearing make-up while wearing the burqa, which was also forbidden.

Before the Russian invasion in 1979, women had the choice of what to wear.  Many had professional jobs, 70% of teachers were women.  They had constitutional rights as citizens.  Women had held the right to vote since the 1920s.  Even though they were mainly Muslims, many chose to dress in a western style.  However, years of war and drought did lead to a human existence that falls below the worst level of degradation imaginable.

Afghan women did see a reversal for them within citizenship.  This for them had been a move from major involvement within their own country to virtually becoming non-persons within a concept of citizenship.  They were going to have to fight for what had been taken from them.  The United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan had called for special measures “to protect women and girls from forced and under age marriages and all forms of violence”. (Annan,2002)  He called for women to be able to get back into participation of all aspects of life in Afghanistan and regain the right to employment, education and freedom of expression.

Many people in the West thought that when the Taliban were overthrown, that things would get better for the women and children ofAfghanistan.  This was not so, for the Northern Allianceand Mujahedin had been restored to power.  In the past their treatment of women had been just the same as that by the Taliban.  What many do not know is that the USAhad supported the Mujahedin in the past.  Actually, they funded and supported the Mujahedin in the fight against the Russians.  The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan added a patriotic dimension and the USA lent its support on the principle that its enemy’s enemies were its friends.  The Americans knew the Mujahedin wanted to bring women to heel, but they were willing allies against Moscow and that is all that mattered.

The extent to which the women of RAWAwould go to raise awareness of their plight, could be seen in the work of women like Taheena Faryal.  She had travelled toAustralia to try to put a human face on the suffering of the people and their gender.  This was to try and again autonomy for her gender who were suffering under a patriarchal-fundamentalist regime.  Like all RAWA spokeswomen she did not use her real name and always travelled incognito.  Even though when the Taliban had gone, there were still enough fundamentalists in Afghanistan and Pakistan that were getting money and support from the US, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia or France, which could have put Taheena’s life in jeopardy. 

Faryal is a product of RAWA and she had grown with RAWA’s overtly political goals.  For RAWA this is a dangerous business.  In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the governments had denied them legal recognition.  Fundamentalists and their supporters had routinely attacked their demonstrations.  Nevertheless, by 1997 RAWA had more than 100,000 active members yet it still had not registered on the Western scene.  However, that all changed when RAWA established its very own website.  From three or four hits a day and this described by Faryal was “exciting at the time” by 2002 they ran seven mirror sites to accommodate traffic from around the world.  This development rocketed RAWA into the consciousness of politicians, other feminists and people around the globe.

http://www.rawa.org/index.php

I don’t think we can ever apprehend or understand the suffering for those Afghan women and their families.  If it were not for RAWA we would not know of the suffering these women and their families had to endure.  How can we in the West ever understand what is like to have to sell your daughter for as little as a 100kg sack of flour.  For, this is what the proud Afghans had been reduced to in a desperate struggle to keep body and soul together.  It is hard to apprehend how a woman who has nurtured their child can give her up, or was it simply pressure laid on these women from the men of the villages that made them do this?

Should we think that the girls’ that were being bartered into marriage gave a contrived solace by the families to calm the conscience and to shore up the tatters of their dignity.  The cruel reality is that many of the helpless girls would pass through many hands facing a fate worse than death.  Those unnoticed villains of this despicable story were those benefiting from the bargain prices, purchasing these little girls with the free-of-cost food which had been supplied by Western relief agencies.  So again are the West indirectly to blame in the way that food supplies are distributed, for this was contributing to the trafficking of young blameless girls?

In time these girls were at a greater risk of becoming infected with HIV/AIDS through them being sold as brides, also the fact that they may have been passed between several men.  Many of them and some were only ten years of age could now be looking at a disease infected shorter life.  These young girls were to become women very quickly, losing what was left of their childhood. 

Statement from theRAWAwebsite ‘about us’ page:

“Today RAWA’s mission for women’s rights is far from over and we have to work hard for establishment of an independent, free, democratic and secular Afghanistan. We need the solidarity and support of all people around the world”  http://www.rawa.org/rawa.html

© 2011 Carol Robson

Alzheimer’s disease, an explanation through the Media by Carol Robson

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Alzheimer’s disease, an explanation through the Media

by

Carol Robson

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and its relationship with the media, how it is talked about from the aspect of news reporting, like BBC News, the internet and the film Iris.  In respect of this how the BBC News and the internet report, or how especially in the case of the internet; life-stories are composed and put on the web for others to read.  Therefore, I believe we are looking at two separate mediums, except it might be pertinent to look at both together.  Finally, I’ve written a review of the true story film Iris; which is about Iris Murdoch the writer who suffered with Alzheimer’s during the last four years of her life.  The film is based on the memoirs of her husband and carer John Bayley.

There are lots of explanations of what AD is and the causal effect it has on life for the sufferer and their carer which can be accessed through the internet.

Dementia is an umbrella term of which Alzheimer’s disease is one of the nine described by the Alzheimer’s Society.

1. Alzheimer’s:

This is the most common cause of dementia. During the course of the disease, the chemistry and structure of the brain changes, leading to the death of brain cells.

2. Vascular Dementia:

If the oxygen supply to the brain fails, brain cells may die. The symptoms of vascular dementia can occur either suddenly, following a stroke, or over time, through a series of small strokes.

3. Dementia with Lewy bodies:

This form of dementia gets its name from tiny spherical structures that develop inside nerve cells. Their presence in the brain leads to the degeneration of brain tissue.

4. Fronto-temperal dementia:

In fronto-temporal dementia, damage is usually focused in the front part of the brain. Personality and behaviour are initially more affected than memory.

5. Korsakoff’s syndrome:

Korsakoff’s syndrome is a brain disorder that is usually associated with heavy drinking over a long period. Although it is not strictly speaking a dementia, people with the condition experience loss of short term memory.

6. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease:

Prions are infectious agents that attack the central nervous system and then invade the brain, causing dementia. The best-known prion disease is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD.

7. HIV-related cognitive impairment:

People with HIV and AIDS sometimes develop cognitive impairment, particularly in the later stages of their illness.

8. Mild cognitive impairment:

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a relatively recent term, used to describe people who have some problems with their memory but do not actually have dementia.

9. Rarer causes of dementia:

There are many other rarer causes of dementia, including progressive supranuclear palsy and Binswanger’s disease. People with multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease can also be at an increased risk of developing dementia.

(Full descriptions, fact sheets and information can be found at the Alzheimer’s Society website:  http://www.alzheimers.co.uk/)

The above is just one example of how someone who is desperate to find sources of information and support can be helped, actually knowing a source like the above can save time lost in searching and dissemination of appropriate suitable information

Although the BBC do appear to make a point of reporting when a celebrity reveals they have AD, similarly to the late 1990s with the story around the writer Iris Murdoch.  However, the BBC have excellent articles on their BBC News Health page; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health/ their more recent article talks about; ‘scientists have identified 5 more genes that increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12937131

There does however appear to be lots of information on the internet about AD.  If you Google Alzheimer’s disease you receive nearly 16 million results which obviously contain articles which are repetitious, time consuming and sometimes hard to disseminate.  However, usually the first page results are all that anyone needs.  You get explanations, associations through to societies and as always a Wikipedia, these results will be both UK and USA based.  Here in the UK we have the previously mentioned Alzheimer’s Society; http://www.alzheimers.co.uk/

There also many sites where people and families tell their stories.  I have found many of these are American based and I guess people reading them can relate to the stories in many different ways.  I also feel that in a way the people that write about their experiences, especially of caring for a loved one with dementia find it very cathartic.

The film ‘Iris’ is basically a love story that is related through the memories of an AD sufferer.  Iris Murdoch was a respected writer who had AD in the last four years of her life.  She was someone who challenged the boundaries as a writer and this is reflected in the film, that she was someone who had a talent for life and this shows through during her illness, particularly in the use of humour that can reflect the sadness and darkness of AD.

The opening shot of the film shows her swimming in the river as the older Iris suffering AD and then it changes to her swimming there as a young woman, the reflection of her memories.  It also starts with her writing as the older Iris and flashes back in time with a memory.  This is how the format of the film unfolds.  In this, they are doing what often happens with AD sufferers.  Their memories of the past are so vivid and at times they believe that they are in that time period.  This is something that the film does very well and the makers do have poetic licence to do this.  Most of Iris’s memories involve her relationship with her husband John Bayley, therefore, it might be seen that her memories of her life with her husband are better than her relationship with him as an AD sufferer and him as her carer.

The language is also relative to how people cope, like his simple use of ‘Mae West’ for a vest, it was his way of coping in his own sense of humour.  Iris is shown that in the early days of her AD she immersed herself in her writing as if there is an acknowledgement of her having a problem and trying to keep this slow decline at bay.  The problem is that for many AD sufferers, it is the realisation of what is happening to them and because it is dementia at its worst.

The film shows the disorder that the household can fall into, however, it also shows the disorder of the relationship between sufferer and carer and as in most cases this a husband/wife relationship.  Seeing this in the film can educate the many people who know nothing of the chaos that comes out of the relationship between sufferer and carer.  It also puts substance for the many that have gone through or who are going through this chaos, however, it was also her husband’s eccentricity, in that he was so relaxed over the mess and chaos.  This was noted by a woman whose husband suffered from AD and this was diagnosed quite early in his condition.  She went to see the film on her own and wrote in a review:

“I didn’t recognise a lot in the film, but that’s partly because they didn’t

pick up that anything was wrong with Iris until further down the line and

they were a couple who lived in happy eccentricity anyway.  But I am

like John Bayley in that I’m fairly relaxed about the mess.  It must be

much harder to cope if you try to keep up appearances.(BBC News. 2002)

The part in the film reflecting Iris’s thoughts as she had the brain scan, then showing the image of the head and brain where this disease afflicts was a clever use for explanation.  Also the way for Iris to keep talking, her words still keep coming, or if she does not manage to do this, she fears then the descent into darkness.  When she had the word test you see the fear of not knowing showing in her face, however, refusing to be frightened.  The film captures the decline into AD even though at its worst her power of imagination was still there.  This relates that Ad sufferers might be written off by some, however the brain is still a powerful entity and can still organise a brief glimpse of the old personality.  Iris knew she had to reach out to her husband, however, not really knowing why.  When the relationship became strained her husband said what a lot of carers husband/wife/partners would relate to; “I cannot be alone when I am with you and I cannot live with you”.

I think the film does romanticise the illness with its reflections of the younger Iris, however, it does show in great depth the mental anguish and heartbreak that AD brings.

In conclusion, after looking at my sources in relation to AD, this is a disease that brings a sense of foreboding for many as soon as it is mentioned.  This is a belief that the personality of the sufferer starts to disappear, this may be true to a certain extent. However, it may be fair to say that the true inner personality of the sufferer does not disappear, that sometimes it is in a different time and setting.  Socialisation goes a long way in how the AD sufferer and their carer are seen and treated.  Through the modern age of instant news and the internet, support and information is at hand for a disease which has strived to be more understood.  However, this has only been made possible by the people who care, the husbands, wives, partners and families of people who have AD and those people who are no longer with us.  Alzheimer’s has been around for hundreds of years; however, it is in recent years that it has become the focus from a modern age viewpoint.

‘My Thoughts as I Lose It’ poem by Carol Robson.

https://chakracaz.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/my-thoughts-as-i-lose-it-by-carol-robson/

Now published in Verita Magazine under the heading Losing my mind:

http://www.veritamag.com/2011/06/04/losing-your-mind/