Fwd: Women alone see straits worsen

From: Wade Smith (wade_smith@harvard.edu)
Date: Mon Jan 14 2002 - 20:59:42 GMT

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    As an american, and as one born to this egalitarian and free
    society, regardless of how and where and when such qualities are
    diminished, even here, to me this following article declares
    what Islam, if not what it is, what it has become. The fact that
    the Taliban helped to stop the flow of heroin onto these shores
    was possibly a redeeming feature, but, it was so ancillary a
    part of their basic human viewpoint, that even that solitary
    benefit of their regime will not be missed, and pales next to
    their riddance. But the basic treatment of women, and the 'laws'
    of Islam, are repugnant to me, and I don't think it's just
    because I'm an american, or a parent, but because I think I've
    developed a view of secular humanism in the absence and
    examination of religions, and laws, like these, and I think such
    a view can be arrived at regardless of where one is, as long as
    one is given the freedom to think.

    Which freedom is, admittedly, rare.

    - Wade


    Women alone see straits worsen

    'Keeps' in Pakistan struggle to survive

    By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff, Globe Correspondent, 1/14/2002


    ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Their two brothers were taken away in the
    middle of the night, soon after the Taliban came to their Afghan
    city and knocked on the door to ask, ''Are there any men here?''

    A year later, an unknown gunman killed their father, who had
    supported his children on a modest tea-and- kebab restaurant in

    So the family was left with only women - a mother and two
    daughters - who were forbidden under Taliban laws to work or
    even leave the house without a male relative as an escort.

    ''When my father died, my mother wanted to keep the restaurant,
    but we sold it,'' said 19-year-old Rahima. ''Under the Taliban,
    it is impossible for a woman to run a restaurant.''

    Rahima and her older sister are victims of the cruelest Catch-22
    of the former Taliban rule: Unable to support themselves in
    Afghanistan, they fled to Pakistan, where they now earn their
    living as ''keeps,'' women who have sex with four or five
    regular customers each month in exchange for money to pay rent
    or the electric bill.

    ''In America, I think it is possible to live without a man,''
    said Rahima in halting English. ''But here, even in Pakistan,
    you need a father, a husband, or a brother. We don't have any
    man. ... It makes our life so difficult.''

    Rahima's mother works two or three days per month bringing
    second-hand clothes to Islamabad from Peshawar, but she can't
    afford the family's $40 monthly rent and the $100 she needs each
    month for her kidney medicine.

    So the two sisters collect money from men in exchange for their
    ''friendship'' in rates ranging from $20 to $200. Clad in a
    red-plaid shirt and black stretch pants, Rahima with her
    sparrow-thin frame brings in twice as much as her somber,
    round-faced sister Sohaila, who dons a black traditional veil
    and looks far older than her 27 years. Both women asked that
    only their first names be used. They've changed their names
    since leaving Afghanistan.

    Behind the pale blue curtain that divides the three-room flat
    the three women share with two other families of refugee women,
    Rahima leaned against a chair and fingered a heart-shaped
    gold-plated necklace. She told her problems to a young Pakistani
    salesman, who translated for a visitor.

    ''All of the neighbors, they know about us. They know we don't
    have any man,'' she said. ''People knock on our door all the
    time and force us to do wrong things. Men bother us when we walk
    down the street.''

    The married salesman who helped translate confessed that he,
    too, is a regular customer.

    ''They are very selective,'' he said, adding that the sisters
    count a Saudi doctor among their patrons. ''But I am their
    friend, so they do not charge me the same as rich man. When I
    have about 1,000 rupees [about $16], I can go with Sohaila. When
    I have 3,000 [$48], I can go with Rahima.''

    In this part of the world, where ''honor killings'' of
    flirtatious or adulterous women by their husbands, fathers, or
    brothers are still widely accepted as justice, Rahima's
    profession marks a tragic irony that was part of the Taliban's
    Draconian rule that left women like her with few options.

    Rahima said she ultimately fled Kabul with her mother, sister,
    and a young female neighbor after middle-aged Taliban soldiers
    visited their home to demand that the girls marry them.

    ''I wanted to marry,'' said Sadia, the neighbor. ''But we didn't
    know these men. We didn't know their families and I didn't want
    to gamble with my life like that.''

    The story is hauntingly similar for Sonia, another 19-year-old
    Afghan refugee in Islamabad who works as a prostitute alongside
    her own sister. The name Sonia is what her customers call her,
    not her given name.

    After the Taliban raided Sonia's Kabul home, making off with
    everything from jewelry to the television to her perfume, the
    soldiers returned to tell her father they wanted to marry his

    ''My father said yes, but you should first get engaged in a
    proper way,'' Sonia recalled. ''We fled the next morning for

    The family moved to Islamabad, but Sonia's father left the
    country to find work in Europe and later was jailed on
    immigration charges. Sonia and her sister worked for three years
    in a textile factory, earning about $20 a month for grueling
    14-hour days, until their boss told them there were no more jobs.

    ''We were penniless,'' Sonia said.

    A female friend offered to introduce her to ''someone who could
    help,'' a construction company mogul who gave her about $80
    without asking for anything in return. For a month, he took
    Sonia for rides in his car and out to restaurants. He told her
    mother not to worry.

    ''I was a virgin at that time. I didn't know anything about
    sex,'' Sonia said, adding that her only previous experience came
    when the son of her family's landlord began to kiss her in
    secret, sparking a scandal that prompted her family to move to a
    different house.

    After four weeks of friendship, the businessman mixed Sonia an
    alcoholic drink, which is just as taboo in this Muslim country
    as extramarital relationships. He spiked the drink with a drug
    and she woke up the next morning to find her life forever

    ''Virginity should be lost with your husband on your wedding
    night,'' said Sonia, who began to weep on the shoulder of a
    bearded male friend. ''I was a very good girl in Afghanistan. I
    have never been like this.''

    Sonia stayed with the construction mogul for about a year,
    collecting between $240 and $320 a month as well as
    recommendations for other well-heeled clients.

    Now she bubbles about glamorous evenings in Karachi and weekends
    spent in Lahore with high-class people. She happily slapped
    hands with her sister, polished off a mountain of french fries,
    and hugged everyone in sight. But when the jokes passed and the
    room grew quiet, she clung like a child to the arm of her male
    friend, another paying customer, and murmured ''don't leave''
    and ''where shall we go?''

    At 19, Sonia and Rahima are both younger than their country's
    22-year-old war. They can't remember when Kabul, their hometown,
    was a sophisticated and glamorous city in the region. Although
    the fall of the Taliban has prompted thousands of Afghan
    refugees to return home, these women say it is too late for them.

    ''In my custom, if a woman is not a virgin, then nobody will
    want to marry her,'' Sonia said. ''So I can't go back to
    Afghanistan. There is nothing for me there.''

    Globe correspondent Rana Mubashir contributed to this report.

    This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 1/14/2002.
    Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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