Sunday, March 24

Saffron project

A pilot project for distributing saffron seeds has been successful throughout Helmand Province and agriculture officials expect cultivation to continue and the small flower to eventually become a common crop.

Agriculture Director Abdullah Ahmadzai also reported that the new program will train 40 farmers in growing techniques. The director explained the climate in Helmand  is favorable for the crop that needs less water, in a report for Pajhwok Afghan News by Shams Jalal.

One concern among farmers - as detailed in Fear of Beauty - is competition among farmers and villages and finding enough markets for the expensive golden spice.

And to read authentic news coming from Afghanistan, both good and bad, but refreshingly local, then head to Pajhwok Afghan News.

Photo courtesy of  Gut Gimritz (Germany) and Wikimedia Commons.  

Saturday, March 23

Trade and peace

It's tough to kill the entrepreneurial spirit, though the Taliban in Afghanistan sure gave it a good try before 2001. Project Artemis, hosted by the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, hosts Afghan women for an intensive two-week business skills course.

Matthew Hilburn, reporting for Voice of America, describes a woman who ran a secret honey-making business during the Taliban era. Women entering the program run businesses for embroidery and saffron. Hilburn writes: "While Afghan businesswomen still have many hurdles to overcome - they still may need to rely on men for many external dealings such as negotiations and making deliveries - Artemis is making progress toward changing how women are viewed by society at large.

Artemis pairs the entrepreneurs with mentors. Check out the stories on their site - again, they are inspiring. The project operates in other countries, too, including Peru, Jordan and Pakistan.

Secrecy and saffron are part of the plot of Fear of Beauty. Trade, business, a sense of purpose provide security and stability for communities.

Photo of Afghan woman weaving carpet courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and US Marine Corps.  

Thursday, March 21

Rule of law

The only recourse against bullies is the rule of law, according to professionals in the West. But sometimes the bullies oversee judicial systems. So naturally a problem emerges when wronged individuals do not have access to fair courts. 

 The United States Institute of Peace writes about Afghanistan:

"An estimated 80 percent of all criminal and civil disputes in Afghanistan are resolved outside the formal legal system through various community forums known as shurasjirgas, and jalasas. Disputants often prefer to have their cases resolved by community dispute resolution mechanisms that are popularly viewed by most Afghans as more accessible, less costly, more legitimate, and less corrupt than government courts. Many Afghans find the latter more in tune with cultural values promoting consensus and reconciliation, rather than punitive retribution alone."

Unfortunately, half the population - women - are excluded from overseeing these proceedings and the decisions rendered. Women still prefer the traditional forms of resolution.

The institute also takes pains to point out that individual interpretations can vary. One adjudicator may emphasize forgiveness and another emphasizes compensation or punishment. Evidence can be found in acceptable documents  to support a range of alternative narratives:  "USIP seeks to establish an understanding of the Afghan-Islamic normative values of Islamic jurisprudence. USIP is also expanding its programming to examine land dispute resolution and promote efforts to improve community legal awareness of rights and criminal law by engaging youth and media."

The rule of law is essential for Afghanistan to achieve security and stability. The US Department of State also lists other programs on the rule of law.

Photo of Kunar Judge Ansarullah Mawlawizada updates supreme court judges on Afghan law in 2010, courtesy of US Army Spc. Richard Daniels and Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, March 17

Dry areas

 Researchers with the Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas studied gender roles in rural Afghanistan and found that women participate less than men do. Women are more likely to participate in livestock-related activities than raising crops.

Srinivas Tavva and five other researchers conducted interviews on participation in seven villages from Nangarhar Province and seven in Baghlan Province. "Age, social stigmas, poverty and shortage of labour influence the gender division of labour, decision-making ability and participation in Afghanistan's farm and non-farm activities."

We must wonder if this is especially true of dry areas. "Dry areas cover 41% of the world’s land area and are home to one-third of the global population," notes the ICARDA site. "About 16% of this population lives in chronic poverty, particularly in marginal rainfed areas. The dry areas are challenged by rapid population growth, frequent droughts, high climatic variability, land degradation and desertification, and widespread poverty."

In Fear of Beauty and its imaginary village with a more temperate climate, women did most of the work tending diverse crops and boys tended sheep and goats. As we have noted before, there are not many thrillers that focus on farming. The plot would have been impossible without women's participation in everyday farming tasks. As shown by the photo from USAID, the scenario of women doing farmwork is feasible. And the photo, with no location noted, does not appear to be a dry area.

And Olivier De Schutter confirms the feasibility of Laashekoh, too, with an opinion essay, "The Feminization of Farming," in The New York Times. The UN special rapporteur on the right to food explains that more men are migrating from rural to urban areas, leaving women behind to run farming operations, too often as unpaid work. The essay also points to work being done in Bangladesh, as represented by Mita, the aid worker in Fear of Beauty. The novel strives to represent globalization's many conflicts in a tiny and imaginary village of Afghanistan.

De Schutter concludes: "Recognizing the burden that the feminization of global farming places on women requires us to overturn longstanding gender norms that have kept women down even as they feed more and more of the world."

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and USAID.

Saturday, March 16

Why Afghanistan?

So many ask why in the world did I choose to set a mystery in Afghanistan, and I explain this weekend at Poe's Deadly Daughters.

"The old advice is write what you know, but I’d say write what you care about, especially when you’re surprised by how much you care. Afghanistan tugged at my imagination long before the US invaded in late 2001. Before news emerged of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist-training camps or the Taliban government blew up the giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan."

It was hard to imagine that the country could so quickly shift from one renowned for its hospitality to one known for religious extremism, fear of history and regular bullying of women and children. "For this avid reader, illiteracy and bullying are the stuff of nightmares," and Afghanistan allowed me to explore how communities, particularly women, might respond.

I'm also looking forward to talking with David Alpern 1 pm today about Afghanistan. "Each week, FOR YOUR EARS ONLY broadcasts to stations coast-to-coast and to U.S. military personnel in 177 nations via the Pentagon's American Forces Radio Network."

Photo of Afghanistan contrasts, courtesy of US Air Force Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse and Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, March 15

Perfect society?

The Afghan women will be all right.

A post from Patheos by eren both assures and chides US, Canadian and other pundits fretting about the future of Afghan women even as Western troops withdraw. The post bashes the colonial notion of noble savage, the notion that Afghan's women voters will vigorously pursue democracy.

"I think it is quite important to recognize that reconstruction is a process where gender relations will be shifted, changed and re-arranged," eren notes. "Yes, there is a lot to do. Afghanistan remains the most dangerous country for women today and education for both men and women may be the only way to end prevailing domestic violence."

In all the shifting, individuals must define happiness on their own ... eren goes on to suggest that the time has come "to hand the country back to its people, with no expectations of 'perfect Afghani women' and no further money for weapons."

Globalization is tricky and exposes the dangers of stereotyping. The ideal society varies among women, among communities, so much so that the shaping and reshaping is constant and yet one ideal can never be achieved.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Petty Officer 2nd Class Ernesto Hernandez Fonte during NATO training mission.

Wednesday, March 13


Atiq Rahimai wrote the book and directed the film, and Tracy McNicoll writes about the director of The Patient Stone for Newsweek:

"I was tired of always seeing the same discourse on Afghan women, as submissive, as victims," Rahimai says.... "When I go to Afghanistan, I meet women of extraordinary might. they have a presence, socially, politically, culturally speaking.... Even in Parliament, it is the women who call out all the war criminals."

Women must evade the control from others to avoid being victims. That often requires keeping secrets and hiding achievements.

The film will come to the United States this summer.