A disgusting commentary on women in powerful positions.
"Before you can sell the candidate...you gotta first sell her as a woman. This is the new feminist ideal. Women want to be her, men want to mate with her."
The plight of women under the Taliban regime provided the United States with a tidy moral justification for its invasion of Afghanistan—a talking point that Laura Bush took the lead in driving home. "The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women," Bush said after the 2001 invasion, adding that thanks to America, women were "no longer imprisoned in their homes." Six years later, the burka is more common than before, an "overwhelming majority" of Afghan women suffer domestic violence, according to aid group Womankind, and honor killings are on the rise. Health care is so threadbare that every 28 minutes a mother dies in childbirth—the secondhighest maternal mortality rate in the world. Girls attend school at half the rate boys do, and in 2006 at least 40 teachers were killed by the Taliban. For two years, Canadian photojournalist Lana Šlezić crisscrossed Afghanistan—from Mazar-e-Sharif in the north to Kandahar in the south—to document these largely hidden realities.
Afghanistan has more than 2 million widows, and these and
other desperately poor women often turn to prostitution,
despite the risk of being killed by their families if they
are discovered. So they remain in the shadows, beneath a
double veil of tradition and shame. This woman’s husband is
too old to work. She sold her daughter into marriage before
the girl was 10, and now she sells herself.
Malalai Kakar became a police officer before the rise of the Taliban.
It helped, she says, that her father and brother were also police
officers, and her grandfather a tribal elder. When the Taliban rose
to power, she fled to Pakistan. When she returned to work after
they were ousted, she received death threats. To "protect her honor"
and her family, the mother of six patrolled with her brother and
wore a burka in the field. But she goes uncovered now, so as to
"tell women about their rights."
Self-immolation has long been the preferred method of suicide
in Afghanistan, but "the trend is upward," says Ancil Adrian-Paul
of the women's nonprofit Medica Mondiale. Girls as young as nine
set themselves ablaze, typically with cooking oil. In Herat Province,
where last year 90 women lit themselves on fire, Zahra spent 93
days in the burn unit. Her husband beat her regularly, told her she
was worthless and should just light a match. So she did. She is, by
some accounts, lucky: More than 70 percent of victims of
self-immolation do not survive.
Inside a Kabul home, a heavy curtain is all that separates a
prostitute's work from her family life. Her 15-year-old
daughter also sells herself, but not in the house. Too many
men going in and out would alert the neighbors, and that
could prove fatal.
On the day of a young boy's circumcision, these girls don lipstick
and their very best dresses. If the odds hold, only a couple of them
will receive an education. Just one in five Afghan schools are
designated as girls' schools; coed schools are banned. A third
of Afghanistan's school districts have no girls' schools at all,
and the schools that do exist are under constant threat of attack.
The streets of Afghanistan are pocked with divots and gaping
potholes, and there is hardly any pavement to speak of. Still,
heels are the norm, and beneath their burkas many women
wear bright, beautiful dresses.
October 9, 2004, saw the first free, democratic presidential
election in Afghanistan. In the months prior, the Taliban
peppered villages and cities with "night letters" warning
women not to vote. In June 2004 a bomb exploded on a bus
full of female election workers in Jalalabad, killing three.
Still, these four women at a Kabul polling station-and 40
percent of women nationwide-asserted their new right.
But, as a Womankind report summarized, "paper rights have
not equaled rights in practice."
One winter night in 2000, Danny, who was 21 at the time, went home with a guy he met at a crowded bar in San Francisco. Random hookups weren't out of the ordinary for Danny, but this one ended badly: As he was buttoning up to go home, his new friend mentioned he was HIV positive. Usually conscientious about safe sex, Danny hadn't been, and he panicked. "I was in shock," he says. "I just couldn't believe it." He vaguely remembered reading about an emergency treatment that could prevent infection, so when he got home he called the California aids hotline. Memory served. A monthlong regimen known as post-exposure prophylaxis treatment (PEP)—usually given to health care workers who have been stuck with needles—was available at local clinics and emergency rooms to people who had recently been exposed to HIV. The side effects of debilitating nausea and fatigue were a small price to pay for its potential benefits: A study of health care workers published in the New England Journal of Medicine linked the rapid administration of the drug to an 81 percent decrease in the risk of contracting the virus.
Danny went to a city clinic, where after a consultation, he was given a prescription for two antiretroviral drugs—the same kind that HIV-positive patients have taken since the '80s. As preventative medicine, the drugs work with a one-two punch: The first intercepts the virus' initial attachment to DNA, and the second stops infected cells from spreading the virus.
Danny was lucky that California is one of the few states (along with New York, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Rhode Island) where policies ensure that the general public—not just hospital workers who have been exposed on the job—can access the drugs. Elsewhere, the decision is up to individual hospitals, clinics, and doctors. Surveying all 50 state health departments and more than 50 ERs nationwide, I encountered STI clinicians and workers at AIDS hotlines and Planned Parenthoods who did not know PEP could be prescribed to the public. An Alabama health department official told me, "It's not available." A nurse at a North Dakota clinic said he all but encouraged patients to fly to San Francisco.
Since the virus must be intercepted before it attaches to cells and reaches the lymph nodes, it is crucial that PEP be administered immediately—each passing hour means decreased effectiveness.
"It needs to be treated like a gunshot wound or a stabbing," says Antonio Urbina, a medical director at St. Vincent Catholic Medical Center's HIV clinic in New York City. Yet of the largest hospitals in each state, only a quarter offer PEP in their emergency rooms. In a 2005-06 CDC survey taken at gay pride parades around the country, less than 20 percent of HIV-negative respondents knew about PEP. "When I tell people that I used it, they say they've never heard of it," says Danny. "You see signs about crystal meth or syphilis, but even in the gay publications, you never see ads for PEP."
PEP is FDA approved, commercially available, and even often covered by insurance (though for the uninsured the drugs run upward of $1,000). In 2005, the CDC recommended that PEP be administered to all patients on a case-by-case basis within 72 hours of a high-risk exposure, followed up by testing and counseling. But for reasons that are more political than scientific, there is no federal funding for the treatment. Some public health officials claim that public availability of PEP will encourage risky behavior—the same argument used against RU-486, abortions, and condom distribution. Robert Janssen, director of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the CDC, explains, "Biomedical interventions raise concerns that people would feel, 'Oh, I have these pills, they will keep me from getting it.'"
Yet 73 percent of non-hospital-worker PEP recipients in a San Francisco study decreased high-risk sex over the following year. And since PEP drugs are so toxic, most doctors would be careful about over-prescribing. "I'm concerned with two things," says Urbina. "Is the person that exposed them either HIV positive or at high risk for HIV, and is there potential contact with infectious body fluid? If both are yes, in my equation, you give PEP." Peter Leone, medical director of North Carolina's HIV department, who hasn't received the necessary support to institute a public PEP program in his state, believes the benefits of PEP outweigh the risks. "Nationally, there is a 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy," he says. "We're okay to say it's a good idea, as long as we don't know about it and don't do anything to support it. We don't deny care to smokers or people who didn't buckle their seat belts. It says a lot about the political climate around sexuality and homophobia." For the 40,000 people infected with HIV in the United States each year, the knowledge of a lost opportunity for prevention is devastating. In Britain, an HIV-positive couple has filed suit against the government for withholding lifesaving information.
Two months after he finished his treatment, Danny tested negative for HIV—whether because he hadn't contracted the virus from the encounter or because the PEP worked, he'll never know. Since a randomized clinical trial is unethical, researchers have to rely on observational and tangential research. "At least if you test positive after PEP, you'll know you did everything you could," says Danny. He keeps his medication label as a token of how a little bottle may have saved his life.
Parvin Ardalan was blocked from travelling abroad to receive an award
Four more women in Iran have been sentenced to jail - six months behind bars - for campaigning for women's rights.
They were accused of "spreading propaganda" against the Islamic system here - specifically for taking part in the Million Signatures Campaign for equal rights for women.
One of those sentenced, Parvin Ardalan, was awarded the Olof Palme Prize this year - on her way to collect the honour, her passport was seized at Imam Khomeini International Airport in Teheran, and she was unable to travel.
She had to accept the award by video-link.
An estimated 50 women have been detained since the signatures campaign began.
Women in Iran have severely restricted freedom of choice, and no equality with men.
A married woman must obtain her husband's permission before taking a job outside their home.
A man may have up to four wives. A woman may not have up to four husbands.
Women must observe the Islamic dress code - showing as little hair as possible, and their arms, their legs and their feet must be covered.
God forbid that the Majlis should add another problem to the existing problems of women
Ayatollah Yusef Sanai
There is no protection against so-called honour killings for women who are raped; a husband - or a father - who kills the rape victim cannot be prosecuted and sent to jail for murder.
"This is inhuman," a law professor at Tehran University, Rosa Gharachorloo, told me.
Most of the people I have spoken to here agree: they believe rape victims should be comforted, not killed.
Women can be stopped and inspected by Gasht-e-Ershad, Ministry of Islamic Guidance patrols.
They have vehicles that look like police cars. They are often seen outside main metro stations in Teheran, checking women for hair or dress infringements.
They also go to parks, to ensure that couples sitting or walking together are married, engaged or related.
Feminists in Iran celebrated a significant victory for their cause at the end of August.
In the Majlis - the Iranian parliament - legislation that might have encouraged polygamy was sent back to committee for more discussion.
Article 23 of the Family Support Bill would have allowed men to marry a second wife without the permission of the first.
Patrols check women are keeping to strict dress codes
Although polygamy is legal in Iran, it is not widely practised and, Rosa Gharaachorloo told me, not generally accepted in Iranian culture.
So, opposition to the bill was on principle, not because it is a widespread phenomenon.
The same is the case with honour killings - they are not common here, but women's rights campaigners believe rape victims should nevertheless be protected by law.
The polygamy article may have been shelved indefinitely - the campaign against it revealed an improbable alliance of opponents.
As well as feminists, the speaker of the Majlis expressed his reservations.
And Ayatollah Yusef Sanai, a leading source of what is known as "emulation" of the Prophet and his teachings, wrote on his website that a second marriage without the permission of the first wife is "harram, a sin, a religious offence... contrary to the concept of justice prescribed by the Koran".
He went on: "I pray that such a decision that is oppressive to women will not be made into law... God forbid that the Majlis should add another problem to the existing problems of women."
Women's rights campaigners welcomed that strong and unexpected acknowledgment of their complaints.
LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. — For now, the rule is simple: Hug your running mate, kiss your wife.
When Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, came out on stage to congratulate his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, after her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul last week, he gave her a hug, not a handshake. Ms. Palin got another hug at a rally here outside Kansas City on Monday.
The same McCain-Palin embrace — businesslike, to the point — was on display at a rally over the weekend in Colorado Springs, but this time Mr. McCain’s wife, Cindy, was on stage. Moving quickly after his clasp of his running mate, Mr. McCain took a short side-step and planted a peck on his wife’s cheek.
It has been nearly a quarter century since Walter F. Mondale almost never touched Geraldine A. Ferraro in public when they shared the Democratic presidential ticket in 1984, and it is safe to say that times have changed. Back then, Mr. Mondale had a strict “hands off” policy and did not even put his palm on Ms. Ferraro’s back when the two stood side-by-side and waved with uplifted arms.
Anything more, and “people were afraid that it would look like, ‘Oh, my God, they’re dating,’ ” Ms. Ferraro recalled in a brief telephone interview on Monday, of what now seems like a political Victorian age.
But the second mixed-sex major-party presidential ticket in American history has nonetheless raised 21st-century questions about etiquette, body language and who hugs first. (Mr. McCain was right to initiate the hugging as Ms. Palin’s hierarchical superior, an etiquette expert said.)
Already, there has been one noticeable shift in protocol: Mr. McCain now introduces his wife first, not Ms. Palin, when both are on stage. But it was not always that way: at his first postconvention rally with Ms. Palin, in Cedarburg, Wis., last Friday, Mr. McCain began by lavishly praising Ms. Palin, who had just rocked the Republican convention. “Isn’t this the most marvelous running mate in the history of this nation?” Mr. McCain asked the roaring crowd, as Mrs. McCain stood quietly by.
It was only after two full minutes of Palin accolades that Mr. McCain finally mentioned his wife and her own speech to the convention. “And I love the job that Cindy did last night,” Mr. McCain said, then swiftly moved to his own remarks.
By the end of the day, in a switch that has stuck, Mrs. McCain started getting top billing: “Could I first introduce to you the woman who gave a great speech last night, the best speech of all, Cindy McCain?” Mr. McCain shouted out to a raucous crowd in Sterling Heights, Mich.
Mr. McCain’s closest adviser, Mark Salter, insisted that there had been no behind-the-scenes stage direction — “Nobody said, ‘Cindy first’ ” — and that no one in the campaign had discussed hugging etiquette or protocol between Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin. “They’re going to behave like normal human beings,” he said. “Nobody ever told him, ‘Just shake hands.’ ”
Nonetheless, etiquette experts weighed in on the hugs, some more approvingly than others.
“He’s hugging her to show the world that he’s all for her, and protecting her, but she doesn’t need that,” said Letitia Baldrige, the manners authority and former White House social secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy.
As a general rule, Ms. Baldrige recommends a warm, firm handshake between male and female corporate executives and finds embarrassing “all this fake hugging that goes on when people greet each other on television.”
But for Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin, Ms. Baldrige said, “it’s O.K., because we accept anything now.”
Ann Marie Sabath, the founder of At Ease Inc., a business etiquette training firm, deemed the hugging “perfectly fine” and said that once Mr. McCain, the top rooster in the pecking order, started the hugging, Ms. Palin was welcome to initiate a hug with him. “It’s a form of professional endearment,” she said. “Getting closer than two arms’ length when you know the other person says, ‘I respect you, we have a comfort level, we have a professional bond.’ ”
Christine Todd Whitman, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Bush who 15 years ago was the first woman elected as New Jersey’s governor, said that she, for one, had embraced many of her male counterparts, as long as she knew them well. “I gave them lots of hugs and kisses, depending on the governor,” she said. (Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania was one, John Engler of Michigan was another.)
Comfort level is a major factor in hugging protocol. When Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton made their first joint appearance after their bitter fight for the Democratic nomination, in Unity, N.H., in June, Mr. Obama placed his hand on Mrs. Clinton’s shoulder but held back from a full hug. Still, the two did share a few whispers, and Mr. Obama placed his hand squarely on Mrs. Clinton’s back when the two stood for the classic side-by-side political wave.
So far, the McCain-Palin hugs have been brief and a little stiff, in part because Mr. McCain cannot raise his arms up high because of injuries sustained as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. But Ms. Palin, too, appears to keep a distance.
She “seems to be cognizant that she is wandering into the danger zone,” Christopher Buckley, the novelist and longtime satirist of the ways of Washington, said in an e-mail message, “with the result that as she hugs him, she leans away from him so as to insert some chaste space between them.”
Mr. Buckley added, “As the nuns used to say before school dances, ‘Leave room for the Holy Ghost.’ ”
A collection of current media stories and events related to issues of sexual assault, sexual harassment, partner violence, and more.