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Women In Afghanistan Fear Recurring Oppression If Taliban Becomes Part Of The Government

In Afghanistan the women are no more the women from 20 years back,” said the 28-year-old, who was in her first year of school when the Taliban took power

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Afghanistan, Women
Afghan women line up to cast their votes during a parliamentary election at a polling station in Kabul, Afghanistan, Oct. 21, 2018. VOA

Eighteen years ago, at the height of the Taliban’s power in Afghanistan, Roshan Mashal secretly taught her daughters to read and write alongside a dozen local girls who smuggled schoolbooks to her house in potato sacks.

Mashal’s daughters have since gained university degrees in economics and medicine. But she now fears the looming prospect that the hard-line Islamist group, whose rule barred women from education, could once again become part of the government.

“They say they have changed, but I have concerns,” she said in an interview in her office in Kabul. “There is no trust … we don’t want peace to come with women losing all the achievements of the last 17 years.”

Fears freedoms will be lost

As talks to end Afghanistan’s long war pick up momentum, women such as Mashal fear the freedoms eked out since U.S.-backed Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001 are about to slide backwards, and complain their voices are being sidelined.

Women, Afghanistan
Afghan first lady Rula Ghani stands backstage during the 2017 Asia Game Changer Awards and Gala Dinner in New York, Nov. 1, 2017. VOA

An aide to Rula Ghani, the wife of Afghanistan’s president, said the first lady had launched a survey of women in 34 provinces in a bid to amplify their voices in the peace process, with a report summarizing their views slated for February.

“The war was started by men, the war will be ended by men,” said the aide. “But it’s the women and children who suffer the most and they have a right to define peace.”

Women, children suffer

Almost two decades of war have implicated both sides in the suffering of women. The United Nations last year expressed alarm at the increased use of airstrikes by U.S. and Afghan forces, which caused a rising death toll among women and children.

Afghanistan is still not an easy place to be a woman, with forced marriages, domestic violence and high maternal mortality rates prevalent nationwide, and particularly in rural areas, according to gender equality advocates.

But access to public life has improved, especially in cities such as the capital Kabul, where many women work outside the home and more than a quarter of the parliament is female.

Afghanistan, women
Afghan women cheer during the final match of the Afghan football premier league in Kabul, Afghanistan, Oct. 18, 2012. VOA

But women lawmakers and some foreign diplomats fear enshrining gender equality may take a backseat in any peace deal to the intense international focus on ending fighting and eliminating the country’s potential as a haven for militants to launch attacks overseas.

“That is the threshold. The question is how much they will accept the position of women deteriorating in the process,” said a senior Western diplomat in Kabul whose country funds projects to empower women. “There may be some backsliding, but hopefully not all the way back.”

Between 1996 and 2001, under the Taliban government that called itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, women were banned from work, required to wear the full-length burqa that covered their faces, and not allowed to leave the house without a male relative.

The Taliban say they have changed, and that they would allow women to be educated, though they say schools should be segregated by gender and women required to wear loose clothing.

“We want Afghanistan to move forward with its present achievements and developments. But there are some reforms and changes the Emirate will struggle for,” spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told Reuters last month.

Afghanistan, Women
Afghan women’s rights activist Wazhma Frogh adjusts her scarf during an interview in her office in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 5, 2014. A gender and development specialist and human rights activist, Frogh says for Afghan women, the successes are fragile. VOA

Words not enough

That is not enough to assuage the fears of women such as Karima Rahimyaar. She is the main provider for her family after her first husband was shot and killed by the Taliban in Kunduz province in 1996 and her second was injured and left unable to work after being imprisoned by them around three year ago.

She regularly comforts her university-aged daughters, who feel sick when they hear gunshots or mention of the Taliban.

“It is very difficult for me,” she said.

Like many Afghans, she is desperate for peace and wants an end to the near-daily attacks across the country, which claimed the life of her 32-year-old son, a police officer, in 2016.

But not, she says, at the expense of women’s rights.

“If there are no agreements and commitments, women will be inside the home and they will be deprived of everything,” she said.

Afghanistan, Women
Afghan women army cadets shoot a target during practice at the Officers Training Academy as part of the Indian military training program for women Afghan army cadets, in Chennai, India, Dec. 19, 2018. VOA

Wazhma Frogh, a member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, tasked with negotiating with the Taliban, said that she and the 11 other female members of the group had to fight to have their perspective heard.

“To get access is difficult,” she said, saying that at times women had to raise their voices in meetings to avoid being ignored and that gatherings were sometimes held late at night in venues women did not feel comfortable traveling to.

Though the Taliban is refusing to include the Afghan government in formal talks, Frogh and other members have informally met with the insurgent group and with U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

Afghan society has changed

Meanwhile young women such as Zuhal Babakarkhil, one of the fast-growing segment of the population who have reached adulthood since the fall of the Taliban, say Afghan society has changed.

“In Afghanistan the women are no more the women from 20 years back,” said the 28-year-old, who was in her first year of school when the Taliban took power and whose family fled overseas.

Also Read: As U.S. Intensifies Efforts To Make Peace With Afghanistan, Taliban Attacks Military Base

She now lives in Kabul, plays cricket and promotes higher education among girls. She says that social media such as Whatsapp and Facebook gives women access to organizing networks at home and abroad that would be tough to curtail.

She said she has no intention to leave Afghanistan, despite her worries about the Taliban returning.

“We did it before … but certainly this is not the way, to escape anymore,” she said. “We are not leaving our home country. We will definitely stand up for our rights.” (VOA)

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Women Who Consume Food Late in The Evening Likely to Suffer Heart Disease: Study

Data from the food diary completed by each woman was used to determine the relationship between heart health and the timing of when they ate

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Heart Health
Researchers found that, after 6 p.m. with every one per cent calories consumed Heart Health declines, especially for women. Pixabay

Women who consume a higher proportion of their daily calories late in the evening are more likely to be at risk of Heart Disease than women who do not, researchers have warned.

For the study, the research team assessed the cardiovascular health of 112 women using the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 measures at the beginning of the study and one year later.

Life’s Simple 7 represents the risk factors that people can improve through lifestyle changes to help achieve ideal cardiovascular health and include not smoking, being physically active, eating healthy foods and controlling body weight, along with measuring cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

A heart health score based on meeting the Life’s Simple 7 was computed.

“The preliminary results indicate that intentional eating that is mindful of the timing and proportion of calories in evening meals may represent a simple, modifiable behaviour that can help lower heart disease risk,” said study lead author Nour Makarem from Columbia University in the US.

During the study, participants of the study kept electronic food diaries by computer or cell phone to report what, how much and when they ate for one week at the beginning of the study and for one week 12 months later.

Data from the food diary completed by each woman was used to determine the relationship between heart health and the timing of when they ate.

Heart Disease
Women who consume a higher proportion of their daily calories late in the evening are more likely to be at risk of Heart Disease than women who do not, researchers have warned. Pixabay

Researchers found that, after 6 p.m. with every one per cent calories consumed heart health declined, especially for women.

These women were found more likely to have higher blood pressure, higher body mass index and poorer long-term control of blood sugar.

ALSO READ: Women Who Consume Food Late in The Evening Likely to Suffer Heart Disease: Study

Similar findings occurred with every one per cent increase in calories consumed after 8 p.m.

“It is never too early to start thinking about your heart health whether you’re 20 or 30 or 40 or moving into the 60s and 70s. If you’re healthy now or if you have heart disease, you can always do more. That goes along with being heart smart and heart healthy,” said study researcher Kristin Newby, Professor at Duke University. (IANS)