Link Love

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We’ve decided to add a regular Link Love feature to the blog, because there is some amazing content coming out from South Asian women bloggers and writers every day that it’s easy to miss some. Here are some of our faves from the past few days: 

Afghanistan: Roqala from the Afghan Women’s Writing Project discusses the upcoming Afghan elections and how Candidates Make Promises for Women’s Vote. Also check out this meaningful poem by Mahnaz “Beneath a Mother’s Feet“, a phrase many Muslim women are well aware of.

Bangladesh: Tanzila Ahmed writes an open letter to Maks – a Bangladeshi model for American Apparel who got topless to advertise clothing, in “I Am Made in Bangladesh Too: An Open Letter to American Apparel’s Now-Famous Model” for The Aerogram.

Pakistan: Rafia Zakaria writes about Five ways Pakistan degraded women in her article for Dawn about the extremely misogynistic action taken towards allowing child marriage to the lack of justice for rape victims and survivors of violence. 

Nepal: Sweta Baniya shares her experience about the rituals and stigma around her first menstruation experience on her personal blog in this post Untouchable Tale: Rajaswala Days.

Sri Lanka: Subja Wijesiriwardena highlights the nature and extent of sexism in Sri Lankan politics with the example of Namal Rajapakse, the son of the President and his decision to share a highly sexist image on twitter, in this post The Namal Rajapakse Twitter fiasco: Sri Lanka, Sexism & Political Correctness.

Featuring Blogger Samar EsapZai

We are kicking off our South Asian women bloggers profiles with Samar EsapZai. Samar is ethnically Pashtun, she  is a visual artist and a PhD student in international rural development and gender studies and currently lives in Canada.  Her interests include food, travel, intelligent debates, and spending quality time with her best friend — her husband — and her beautiful baby girl. She is currently writing her first book.

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When did you start blogging? And is there a Why?

I guess the real question should be: When did you start writing?:) I have been writing since I was eleven years old, from  personal journals to poems to short stories to novels even! However, to answer your question, I didn’t start an official blog until early 2009. The reason I decided to start a blog was because I’d newly discovered WordPress and was quite intrigued by it. And, also, mostly because I love to write. A lot. And a blog gave me the opportunity to do that, openly and freely, without the need to adhere to any rules or boundaries. Here was a chance to express myself anyway I wanted, whenever I wanted, with just a click of the “publish” button. Blogging, in a nutshell, allows me the opportunity to have my voice heard; in its true, honest and raw form. No rehashing whatsoever.

Before blogging, however, I was very active in forums and wrote most of my stuff, by hand, in a journal. Writing has always been my love; my passion. And to finally start my own blog, where I would get the opportunity to share my writings publicly, was something quite new and exciting for me (at the time). Needless to say, it was the best decision ever. It’s been five years now, and my blog now receives over 200+ hits per day with close to a 100 email subscribers. Never had I imagined that I’d actually have such a wide array of readership that arrive on my blog, from all over the world! It’s quite incredible, to say the least:)

Describe your blog and what it means to you as an artist and activist?

When I first started my blog, my intention was simple: to have a platform where it would make it easier to write about things that are very near and dear to me. One such thing was discussing everything there was about my people: Pashtuns. However, the more I blogged and the more readers I attained, the more I realized that I needed to broaden my topic horizon. While I was, and still am, very passionate about Pashtun-related issues, especially with regards to gender and development, and still doggedly write about them, I felt it was also important to add a little bit of a personal touch to my blog, while at the same time keeping it formal and academic. Therefore, I pretty much share everything on my blog: my poems, links to my artwork, personal reflections and travelling experiences, etc. I know that many blogs tend to have a theme of some sort, but mine doesn’t for I don’t believe in limiting myself as a blogger and certainly not as a writer.

As a visual artist, academic, and human rights activist, my blog serves as a platform where I get a chance to write and shed light on issues from each of the above three categories that I feel defines me as a person  — as a human being and most importantly, as a woman. I write and share writings that are not only in tune with my artistic side, but are also related to my academic and philanthropic work as well; hence the title of my blog. I feel that blogging serves as a wonderful platform to allow me to showcase my personality and individuality to the world, without the need to be standoffish or arrogant. Hence, for me, blogging is both humbling and therapeutic, just like my art. Additionally, writing about issues that are deeply close to my heart gives me a sense of purpose — a sense of great responsibility. And while I strongly believe in the saying: “Action speaks louder than words,” I have also come to realize how incredibly powerful the written word can be; how it can serve as a podium for good things to transpire. Just knowing that is a beautiful feeling.

What inspires you to write and blog?

Everything! Everything inspires me: from the stuff I read in the news to things I learn about in school to conversations/discussions with friends and loved ones to the daily occurrings in my life. I try to draw inspiration from it all, because it is only then that I am able to write about fresh, new, unique and interesting topics.

How does your art meet your writing? Do they feed into each other or are they separate creative processes?

Passion: this is how my writing meets my art. Indeed there have been many a time where I’ve married my art to my writing, especially when it came to topics related to the treatment of women (both in general and in my culture) and Pashtuns (in general). Additionally, I feel that my writing inspires some of my art, especially when I write poetry, which is, in itself, a form of written art as well.

Is there a piece of writing you are most proud of? Why? (And please share:) )

Oh, gosh. That’s a tough question! There are quite a few pieces that are special and endearing to me and it would be unfair to pick one over the other. However, if I really, really had to choose, I’d say that my most prized piece is an article I wrote titled, “On The Issue Of Walwar (Bride Price)And Marriage Among Pashtuns” . It’s actually one of my most popular pieces — if not the popular — to date!

When I initially wrote this article, I was a little hesitant in sharing it as I did not have prior knowledge about the term “walwar,” which means bride price in the Pashto language. I recall initially discussing the topic with a few acquaintances and friends over Twitter, which hence inspired and encouraged me to research deeper into it, going as far as writing a full-length article on it. To my surprise, it was very well-received, especially by those (fellow Pashtuns) who truly understood the essence of my argument and what a huge problem walwar is in our culture; it even elicited a highly informative and interesting discussion on my blog. And, though I wrote this article about a year and a half ago, it still receives the most hits and ongoing commentary from new blog visitors.

What have your experiences connecting with other women bloggers over the interwebs been like? (please feel free to describe positives and negatives)

I’ve actually met some of the most amazing women bloggers through my own blog! There were a few wonderful women who’d shared a comment on a post I’d written, which then gave us the opportunity to introduce ourselves to each other; while others have contacted me personally (through my contact page on my blog) by introducing themselves and then telling me how they love reading my blog and how much it inspires them. It’s both flattering and humbling at the same time; to know that I have the capability to bring joy into someone else’s life simply through my writings. It’s an incredible feeling, no doubt. Others, I’ve met through social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook, and with whom I, too, have become very good friends. I was even fortunate enough to met a couple of these women bloggers in person and it didn’t feel like we were meeting for the first time; the rapport was instantaneous!

Hmmm. There haven’t been a lot of negatives, I’d say; for the most part, my experience with other fellow women bloggers have been quite wonderful. We’re all  pretty much friends and acquaintances who respect and admire each other for all our similarities and differences. And even though I believe that this is how it should be, it’s not always the case necessarily. Yet, my being a generally positive person, I avoid and refrain from every and all sorts of negativity  that happens to come my way. You could even say I have become immune to it.:)

Who are some of your favorite bloggers and what are some of you favorite blogs?

Ahhh! There are too many! I do actually have a list of them on my blog here: sesapzai.wordpress.com

Three things every woman blogger must know?

Just three?😉 The blogging world is huge! It’s a community all on its own. Over the years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve learned quite a few things that have allowed me to become a better, more effective blogger. My top three are as follows:

1) Don’t be shy. In other words, don’t shy away from topics that you feel will give people  a chance to  judge, criticize, or think negatively of you. Let people think whatever they want. It hardly matters anyway. Besides, this is the reason why we all have a blog. It’s supposed to provoke and invoke; it’s supposed to include topics that challenge common norms and beliefs.  It’s your voice and your voice only. So, let it be heard, loud and clear.

2) Be original. I cannot stress this enough. No one wants to read a blog full of false facts or plagiarized content. It just undermines the purpose of having a blog in the first place. Of course, you are free and more than welcome to share other people’s articles on your blog; however, ensure you reference and give them their due credit.

3) Keep it simple and honest. Don’t try so hard to impress by writing about topics that are beyond your realm of understanding. I mean it’s okay to challenge yourself and write about topics in which your knowledge is limited; however, ensure that you do your research, speak and discuss the topic with people who do know more about it, and then perhaps write your own analysis or interpretation of it.

Links: 

Samar blogs at SesapZai – Artist. Academic. Philanthropist  and tweets at @sesapzai

Her art portfolio can be accessed here: http://www.artifolio.com/Sesapzai/gallery/

Like her page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SesapZaiArt

Nepal – A Demand for Action

Nepalese women’s rights activists have been organizing a series of protests demanding increased accountability and action for escalated violence against women cases in the country. Here Sumeruh writes – 

My heart grew much heavier after coming back from the protest. Thought I went there to protest for the killing of Sarswoti Subedi only…then after being there realization grew that this month saw high human rights violations in terms of the rape of Sita Rai (name changed) and others. Sita was returning from Saudi Arabia after working there and she was robbed here at National Airport in Nepal by the Immigration Officers and again at the hands of the police who took charge of her.We believed that women are safe in our own country especially from the “authorities” but here the people from own country robbed and raped fellow citizens. This is a serious violation that has to be dealt with not only by the legal system but at the level of the Minister of Home Affairs who should actually resign for being unable to give protection to the citizen!

Other recent cases are that of the murder of Shiva Hasami of Bardiya ( who was burnt alive), killing of school going teenager Bindu Thakur ( who was also burnt alive) and Chori Maiya Maharjan who has been missing for one year with no support rendered from concerned authority whatsoever in finding her. And then the case of

Saraswoti Subedi, a young single woman (widow) who worked in a house and died a suspicious death at Anamnagar. The medical authorities along with the suspected murderers claim that she committed suicide. However other evidence indicates that it was not suicide but rather the case of murder.
We demand re investigation and  re-examination of the case of Ms. Subedi, there has to be RIGHT TO TRUTH along with clear and severe punishment to the perpetrators.
From Baisakh till Poush ( April to Dec 2012) more than 85 different forms of severe violence against women incidents have been reported ..in last month alone more than 10 known cases…of death, rape, burning alive, and others.There have been protests for number of  days and as a result there is some recent developments, the human rights activists have  managed to make the re investigation possible after the meeting with Prime Minister. There have been protests infront of Rastra Bank, Baluwatar near Prime Minister’s office in raising voices calling for action.
These were silent protest..do you think it will be heard by the authorities who have already turned their deaf ear towards these violations? NO, But WE WILL KEEP FIGHTING…JUSTICE CANNOT BE DENIED !!!
As women we envision a just legal system with the highest protections and prevention mechanisms in the country..AND WE WILL KEEP STRUGGLING UNTIL WE GET IT!

Forced marriages and the question of female consent and agency

The practice of arranging marriages is highly prevalent within Asian, Arab and African communities and countries around the world. Deeply rooted and ingrained in the culture and customs, it is considered normal for parents and older family members of young men and women to “set up” matrimonial engagements between them. It is viewed as a responsibility of elders in doing so and full consent of the potential bride and groom is expected. In many Muslim communities and countries where there are religious and legal restrictions of social interaction between men and women, and it is common for marriages to be arranged without the prospective bride and groom meeting prior to the marriage ceremony.

Families arranging marriage takes into consideration the castes, tribes, nationality and community that both the bride and groom belong to. As well as the social status and economic standing of families and it is highly dependent on the concept of ‘family name’. Owing to the patriarchal and patrilineal nature of the society in which these practices are rooted, it is also likely within these matrimonial arrangements that men and the family of prospective grooms have more control, voice, opinion and decision making power. The question of whether ‘dowry ’ is required, if so how much or what it would involve, the cost and cost sharing of the ceremonies etc are most likely to be a negotiation between the two parties, with the groom’s side having a larger say.

Continue reading Forced marriages and the question of female consent and agency

First Impressions of Poland

By Sumeruh

Crossposted from Sumeruh blog 

It was by the end of the August 2010 I flew to Poland. The long hours of flight ended into the exotic land in Central Europe. It was chilling and I was shaking because of lack to adaption to this exotic weather. It was 30 degrees back home and suddenly I was experiencing weather of 8-9 degrees. The temperature was cold but the hospitability of the University of Warsaw’s faculty and the staffs was really warm. They did not let us feel alone rather they were trying every time to help us cope with the surrounding and new environment organizing different interaction programs. Then I realized they are professional and this is how the works in Poland is carried on.

The food for the first time was really hard for me to adopt with but I must say that there are varieties of Polish cuisine which is extremely delicious. The first time I saw “Pierogi”, I remembered similar dish called “momo” back in my country. I started bridging Poland and Nepal to some context then. I tried comparing the dressing pattern of people here, especially of ladies. The people wear the dresses they prefer and they are not stared on. If I were suppose to wear skirts and socks back in my home country then people would embarrass me now and then by staring at me. I enjoyed the people’s positive attitude towards other people in this regard too.

I had imagined Warsaw as a concrete jungle but I was surprised to see the place is still environmentally and culturally protected. University building, Vistula River, parks and artistic palaces in Old town gave specific examples of this fact. When I heard the Polish language for the first time then I felt they are singing some kind of song to me. Also, to my surprise Polish have particular name for every objects and kinds in their own language which depicted their linguistic richness.

The most noticeable thing for me also was the people here love to read a lot. I could see most of the people reading in the tram and metro even standing or just leaning to pole. This too fascinated me a lot as I have never seen people reading stuffs even when they are travelling for the distance of few minutes. The respect for the elderly citizen was well demonstrated where the young people often offered seat to them in the public transportation. This demonstrated the strong cultural and moral values of the Polish people.

There are many things yet to explore but these were the first impressions of Poland and Poles on me. I must confess that the initial cultural shocks are not shocks any more. I am getting used to it and enjoying. I know the memories spent here will be preferred and treasured throughout my life time.