Samstag, 7. März 2015

Photography of protest

Afghanistan has mostly disappeared from the special editions of German and international media outlets on this year's international women's day. Kurdish female fighters in Iraq or Syria, acting against the military and ideological threats of the so called Islamic State make the headlines instead, but also Europe-based women – muslim or converted - who choose to engage in the fight of the IS or other salafist movements as a way to radicalize their lives. In a way, this widely contrasts with some of the very basic rights and needs Afghan women remain deprived of. A photo exhibition entitled 'Mujeres - Women', that is currently shown in Spain as an initiative of ASDHA, a Spanish NGO engaged in Human Rights, hightlights the daily plights of these Afghan women. (a glance in the catalogue to the exhibition can be found here) Spanish Afghanistan correspondent Monica Bernabé spent years of travelling and interviewing with her male photographer collegue Gervasio Sanchez and aided by a network of Afghan Women Associations to gather an impressive number of portraits that cover the hardships females encounter. “A woman who wants to marry the man who raped her. A 14-year old girl beanten up by her husband. A young woman mutilated for abandoning the matrimonial home. A woman murdered for committing adultery.(…) ” While Bernabé/Gervasio agree to say that in some ways, conditions for women in Afghanistan have improved and that they are “no longer treated as the spoils of war as in the past when the warlords allowed their soldiers to rape them as a form of compensation and to intimidate the opposing sides”, they also point at the inefectiveness of international donor programmes and – even more – Afghan governmental policies that have not reached fundamental changes with regard to the traditions and family logics governning the fate of the majority of Afghanistan's females. The law on the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) adopted under Hamid Karzai's presidency holds one of the main arguments in this. Insinuating a major progress in the international standardisation of Human and Afghan women's rights, there is little hope, the authors argue, that the law will be seriously applied and on a visible scale by local Afghan authorities and judiciary in the rural areas the years to come. All of this leaves very little hope for the period after the withdrawal of the bulk of the NATO forces. It comes like a relief consequently when in the last chapters of the sadly beautiful catalogue we see faces of some of the young and urban female generations in stark contrast to the unbearable fates of rural Afghanistan. Though the image painted here in some of the photos about Afghan urban police women shows how modern, proud and apparently equal already they seem in comparison to their male counterparts, one should not forget that this represents a reality mostly limited to Kabul and with a few exceptions to Mazar or Herat. Already in a middle sized town like Kunduz would I find no advertising billboards on the street to recruit women for the ANP. Still, “women against the current”, as one of the hope-giving chapters in entitled, are what I have been witnessing myself again and again, even under very remote circumstances. With its sober documentation and some two hundred interviews, allowing short insights into a good number of walks of life and with its undramatic portrayals, the exhibition gives a certain idea of why a change for the better for many an Afghan women is not to come soon. The empathic iconography the photographs echo are a warm reverence to a dark chapter of Afghan reality and of human mankind. (cover picture: courtesy of the authors)

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