Afghanistan Female Delegation Negotiates Face-to-Face with Taliban in Historic Oslo Meeting

OSLO, Norway - Earlier this week, it was widely reported that the first all-female delegation of Afghan women led by Parliamentarians Shukria Barakzai and Fawzia Koofi, met with Taliban representatives in Oslo, Norway to discuss women's rights, with a particular focus on the need for reform in how women are treated within Taliban controlled areas of Afghanistan. The desired outcome of these negotiations was the protection of the gains women’s rights activists had achieved.

"Afghan women defended their rights with courage," Barakzai said. Their demands at this initial meeting were about "safeguarding the democratic values achieved in the last decade."

Given the historically hardline position that the Taliban has exerted over women in Afghanistan in terms of their rights to self-determination, education, and freedom of expression; these talks were a momentous milestone in a road that is still fraught with peril and has many miles to be travelled toward achieving any future power-sharing agreement.

These groundbreaking talks happened in the midst of a country trying to reassert its identity after decades of external and internal military and religious turmoil. An environment which help to foment a level of religious conservatism which promulgated the harshest and most appalling acts of human rights abuses. With the encroachment of ISIS and its extremist’s tactics, most of which make the Taliban seem rational by contrast; ideas and dogma previously held sacrosanct are being reevaluated.

It is within this context of the Arab proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” that new alliances are emerging as Kabul and the Taliban begin to explore a peaceful end to the ongoing conflict. These current talks can be seen as an extension of negotiations hosted by Qatar a month earlier between militants and an unofficial Afghan delegation. Although, Afghan women have been members of parliament for a number of years, these progressive talks provided them with a seat at the table whereupon negotiations affecting all of the citizens of Afghanistan were being discussed.

It was reported that about a dozen women attended the negotiations, although most chose to hide their identities for fear of reprisal. Last year Barakzai was targeted by militants and narrowly escaped a suicide bomb attack with minor injuries. Despite this, she continues to push for women’s rights and praised the relative ease of these talks in part due to the election of President Ashraf Ghani, a prominent supporter of employment and education rights for all Afghan citizens, regardless of gender.

It's too early to tell how much of an impact the unofficial meetings will have, but ideally these historic negotiations will be a turning point in Taliban/women relations and will pave the way for many more similar exchanges.

Contributing Journalist: @SJJakubowski
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The Radical Feminist, Afghanistan's Sara Bahayi

afghanistans northern militia, photo courtesy of faculty of journalism moscow state university ap photo van sekretarev

afghanistans northern militia, photo courtesy of faculty of journalism moscow state university ap photo van sekretarev

AFGHANISTAN, Mazar-i-Sharif – Yesterday, U.S. citizens awoke to 'news reports' that a YouTube video of a dress that changed colors had received 25+ million hits. People spoke about it on elevators, argued their selection of colors in cafeterias, shared and watched the video on their iPhones, and an endless round of recaps flooded every local and national news outlet.

Concurrently, Americans awoke to the incredible story featured on the front page of the Washington Post about Sara Bahayi, the only female taxi cab driver in Afghanistan. This woman is the epitome of a radical feminist, but her story of courage and tenacity remained far from the topic of inane conversation.

Unlike the bra burning icons of the 60's who sought the opportunity to break through the glass ceiling in Corporate America and ascend to the vaulted ranks of male executives, or even those who just wanted to escape the ennui of their housewife status; Bahayi, 38, is one of a new breed of women who are risking their lives in pursuit of basic freedoms.

As Afghanistan's first and perhaps only female driver, Bahayi's life and those of her loved ones are in very real danger. Something that most women take for granted has become the focus of a feminist revolution in countries like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. It is easy to call yourself a feminist if you are safely ensconced in a political and social system which legislates equal rights protections, even if these protections are not always enforced.

It is quite another to seek equality in a society and culture in which women are considered chattel, a precept that is enforced by Taliban militia and other radicalized groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman, who at 15-years-old was shot in the head by an assassin and nearly died because of her efforts to lobby for the right for girls and women to get an education, is an example of the lengths to which extremists will go to reinforce their belief systems.

Bahayi has waged her quiet campaign of civil disobedience for 10-years driving a taxi through the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif. She has been threatened with grievous harm and even death, though she bravely takes the opportunity to talk to some of her male passengers to try and help them understand that driving a car even if it is a taxi, is not sacrilegious. However, most of her passengers are women who seem to feel more comfortable riding inside the car with a woman driver, and even in some cases riding in the front passenger seat.

Unlike the feature photo in which Burqa clad women are forced to ride in the open trunk of a car, Bahayi has literally taken control of destiny at the wheel of her taxi. According to the Washington Post, she earns roughly $10-20 she earns per day. As an unmarried, childless woman, she uses the money that she earns to help support 15 relatives. "She started working outside the home in the late '90s when her brother-in-law was killed by the Taliban; a male neighbor taught her to drive after Bahayi decided her high school teacher's salary was insufficient; she got her drivers license two years ago in a class of 30 students, all male, only nine of whom passed the test. When driving into Taliban-controlled areas, she sometimes disguises herself as male..."

Bahayi has waged a quiet revolution and it is nice to read that her inspirational story was brought to international attention. Reportedly she is in negotiations to open a dealership. Because of the complexity of property ownership in Afghanistan's patriarchal society, she will require the initial investment and auspices of male partners to launch her business. However, she has stated that once the business is established, she hopes to transform it into Afghanistan's first female-owned car dealership. Watch her tell her story in her own language.

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Malala Yousafzai, Two Years After Attempted Assasination

Malala Yousafzai, Oval Office 11 October 2013, Photo Courtesy of White House

Malala Yousafzai, Oval Office 11 October 2013, Photo Courtesy of White House

UNITED STATES - On October of 2012, 14-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot for speaking up about women's rights to education. As an inside correspondent with BBC, subject of two documentaries and frequent guest in newsrooms, Yousafazai was becoming the poster child of youth activism and women's rights. A Taliban gunman attempted to silence her and to set an example. She was hospitalized for three months.

The attack failed to curb her passion for political activism and, with international support, she continued her crusade for education soon after her recovery. Instead of silencing her and the movement, the attack raised global awareness with spokespeople from the US, the UK and Canada showing their outrage and support.

The next time she spoke publicly was on 12 July 2013 -- her birthday. She celebrated at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City where she spoke to a global audience about the role youth can play in ensuring worldwide education. She supported the Global Education First Initiative, which aims to have all school-age children, particularly girls, in school by year 2015. The day became known as Malala Day.

Another namesake is the Malala Fund, which has raised $7 million to spend on education projects in remote areas of Pakistan.

The most recent effort is the We Are Silent Campaign, to be held on April 17. She encourages the world to take a 24-hour vow of silence in honor of 31 million girls worldwide who are denied an education.

Since the shooting, Time magazine featured her in 2013 as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. She made history as the youngest nominee for the (2013) Nobel Peace Prize, and was nominated again in 2014. With help from journalist Christina Lamb she's written a memoir entitled "I am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up For Education and was Shot by the Taliban." She's gone to Buckingham Palace and the White House and plans to continue her career in political activism.

Scant Support in Taipei for Liu Xiaobo Release

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Sam Hargadine, ContributorLast Modified: 11:51 a.m. EDT, 1 March 2013

CHINA - The Taipei Times reported Thursday that several human rights activists from Mainland China have forFree Liu Xiaobo Poster, Photo by Tim72mally petitioned the Taiwanese President to assist in the release of Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel laureate.

Liu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for his work criticizing one party rule in China. He was unable to collect his prize due to his current eleven-year prison sentence.

In Taipei, exiled Chinese are pressuring the island’s democratically elected President, Ma Ying-jeou, who they say ought to file grievance with Beijing over the treatment of Liu.

Wang Dan, a petitioner, stated: “As a nation that stands behind universal values of human rights, I hope that Taiwanese will not forget their obligations to help promote human rights protection around the world, including in China.”

Wang later asserted that it would be unwise for the Taiwanese people to ignore Liu Xiaobo’s plight because it could harm cross-strait exchanges if China “remains a superpower in human rights violations.”

The opposition party in Taiwan, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), emphasizes differences with the mainland and flirts with the idea of declaring independence from China. They have taken to the petition and are also pressuring the current President to make an official statement of support for Liu.

Despite this, President Ma is unlikely to act. He did not formally receive the petitioners when they delivered their appeal to the Presidential Office. Additionally, Ma’s democratic mandate largely rests on Taiwan’s desire for peaceful and profitable relations with the mainland. Antagonizing Beijing on this subject will do little to help that aim.

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Kofi Annan Resigns as Syrian Envoy in Disgust

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 00:04 AM EDT, 3 August 2012

SWITZERLAND. Global Humanitarian Forum Campaign for Climate Justice: Kofi AnnanGENEVA, Switzerland – Human Rights groups, the U.N. Security Council, as well as the U.S., Israel, Russia, and China have been closely following the civil war in Syria. After the recent attack by a suicide bomber who targeted the National Security headquarters in central Damascus killing Syria’s Defense Minister General Daoud Rajha and President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, observers prognosticated the imminent demise of the Assad government. (Source: The Journal.ie)

Instead of the desired effect of forcing Assad to abdicate, he has retreated to an undisclosed location and continues to wage a brutal war to repress the rebels who are intent on forcing him from power. Emboldened by the continued support of Russia and China who have consistently blocked U.N. Security Council efforts to initiate sanctions or military intervention, Assad continues to hold power.

Kofi Annan was asked to negotiate an end to 17 months of executions, torture, repression as well as a plethora of human rights violations. It would turn out to be an untenable task, but he accepted the challenge with dignity and professionalism. A negotiated peace agreement would have been the optimal resolution because an abrupt departure of the Assad regime would be disastrous for the region.

At issue among other things are the security of chemical weapons and the uncertainty of the type of governance the Sunnis majority would implement should they rise to power. A non-negotiated transition of power will almost certainly upset the delicate balance of power in the region. This morning a talk show host observed that this is a case where the ‘enemy of my enemy does not is not necessarily mean they will remain friends once they have achieved their goal.”

Hence the reticent of the U.S. to provide the rebels with weaponry despite their request for assistance and the obvious benefits that these arms could provide in terms of achieving the aim of deposing Assad. Into this quagmire Mr. Annan, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former U.N. secretary-general waded and despite his best efforts he became stuck.

On one side he had to contend with permanent Security Council members, whose actions belied their words. They talked about the need to address the gross human rights violations occurring in Syria and the necessity of protecting its civilian citizens, while on the other they carefully weighed economic, political, and strategic considerations which subsequently trumped the former.

According to Reuters, when Mr. Annan announced his resignation as Syria's peace envoy on Thursday, in a rare display of emotion, he explained how he was stymied in his efforts to bring the parties together to achieve even a temporary cease-fire. His inability to successfully bridge the gap between Assad and the rebels was complicated by “world powers, as well as the Syrian government's intransigence, the growing militancy of Syrian rebels and a divided Security Council that failed to forcefully back his effort.

Since he took  the position six months ago, Russia and China have twice used their veto power to block strong Western- and Arab-backed action against President Bashar Assad's regime.”

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Oswaldo Payá, Cuban Activist Dies Suspiciously

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 00:12 AM EDT, 24 July 2012

Oswaldo Paya, Photo by Kozusnik.euHAVANA, Cuba – Oswaldo Payá, 60, a prominent Cuban dissident and pro-democracy campaigner died when his car was struck on Sunday, 22 July 2012. Of the three passengers accompanying him, two were uninjured, but Harold Cepero, 31, a fellow activists also perished.

Payá, a practicing Catholic, was the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement and organizer of the Varela Project, a citizen petition movement for greater rights guarantees in Cuba, which resulted in the brutal suppression and arrest of hundreds of pro-democracy activists in 2003.

Payá was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, and worked tirelessly in defense of human rights, particularly the right to free assembly, freedom of speech, and achieving equal representation in the government.

Despite great risk to himself and his family, Payá devoted his efforts toward effecting change from within Cuba and conscientiously chose not to align himself with the powerful U.S. based Cuban community nor accept any external financial support from anti-Castro organizations. Regardless, the Cuban government maintained that Payá was a subversive United States agent tasked with the job of undermining the country's revolution.

At a recent conference honoring Cuban dissidents and activists Payá reiterated his goal for ‘peacefully defending and promoting the rights of all Cubans; for fearlessly denouncing violations of these rights; and for writing and speaking the truth, which in Cuba is itself imprisoned.’

Throughout his political career he has received numerous death threats, but family members stated that recently these have increased in frequency.  “His death follows the death last October of Laura Pollan, the leader of the Ladies in White, also under suspicious circumstances. (Source: PR Newswire)

Payá’s funeral was held in San Salvador Catholic Church and was attended by family, friends, and fellow Cuban human rights activists. Distraught relatives alleged to the press that Payá was murdered by being driven off of the road, a charge with the government vehemently denies.

The government countered these assertions by issuing an official statement blaming Payá for losing control of his vehicle while traveling on a road in eastern Granma province just before hitting a tree. They subsequently issued a statement that an investigation into the incident would be initiated.

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Nelson Mandela Doing Well After Procedure

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 23:25 PM EDT, 25 February 2012

Nelson Mandela, 2008JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Nelson Mandela, the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize winner and former South African President has been hospitalized. The 93-year old is undergoing test to identify the cause of an undisclosed stomach ailment.

In a statement, President Jacob Zuma said that Mandela isn’t in any immediate danger, but asked that the press respect his privacy. Mandela has “had was had a long-standing abdominal complaint and doctors feel it needs proper specialist medical attention.”

Mandela became South Africa’s first president of color to be elected in a fully representative democratic election. Then President F. W. de Klerk bowed to international pressure and freed the anti-apartheid leader on 11 February 1990 after he had served 27 years of a life sentence.

Mandela subsequently led his party, Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) in the first multi-party negotiations that resulted in the country’s first multi-racial elections. South Africans duly elected Mandela as president, a position which he held from 1994 to 1999.

Mandela continues to be active in numerous causes including the eradication of AIDS, the disease to which his son succumbed in 2005. He is also one of the founding members of a group of world leaders known as, The Elders. This group is comprised of prominent people of diverse backgrounds and heritage who are dedicated to addressing humanitarian issues from around the world.

The current Chairman of The Elders, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 80, is another prominent South African and Noble Laureate. We recently wrote about his visit to India with other Elders to spearhead a global movement called “Girls Not Brides” which is aimed at ending child marriages.

By contrast, Mandela's public appearances have become increasingly rare which may be a consequence of his health issues. According to the Associated Press, he was last publicly seen at the closing ceremonies of the 2010 World Cup, and met privately with First Lady Michelle Obama when she traveled to South Africa in 2011.

Mandela underwent some “planned, diagnostic tests” and is expected to be released from hospital on Sunday or Monday. Though the results of the tests were not released to the public, the doctors believe that the abdominal distress is consistent with someone of Mandela’s age." In an effort to calm the public Zuma concluded by saying, “We are happy that he is not in any danger.”