Journeys to the Edge Trek article recognized

My story about Lauryn Oates and Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, “Courage, Education & Hope” published in the University of British Columbia’s alumni magazine Trek, was just awarded the bronze medal in the Individual Features or Feature Articles category in the 2014 CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) District VIII Communication Awards competition. District VIII covers the US Pacific Northwest and Western Canada. Trek magazine picked up a gold medal. Congratulations to editor Vanessa Clarke!

Happy New Year!

The Journeys to the Edge team of Roberta Staley and Tallulah Photography would like to thank the incredible supporters who helped make the multimedia show, Afghanistan Rising, such a success in 2013. We’ve got lots planned for 2014, including bringing the second recipient of the J2E Emerging Journalist Scholarship award to Canada to obtain advanced digital filmmaking and journalism skills. The first scholarship recipient was Sebastian Petion of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, who is back in his home country working for various international media outlets.

To close our New Year’s message, J2E would like to give special thanks to the following individuals who, without their help, neither J2E nor Afghanistan Rising would have been possible: über web designer John Ngan, intern Kari Barret, technology wizard Bryce Ferris, Chapel Arts Club owner Nathan Weins, musicians Levi and Elliott of Parentheses, as well as the following businesses: Lace Embrace Atelier, RMT Massage from the Electra Health Floor, Rawket Chocolate, Finlandia, Paranada, The Eatery Restaurant, Mystic Masala, Creampuffs, Rayne Longboards, Hair Cats, Fairview Plastic Surgery, Renaissance Spa, Queensberry Flowers and Three Birds Bodycare and Massage.

May you have a happy and fruitful New Year!Burka. Afghanistan

Farewell to Nelson Mandela – Peacemaker

Several years ago, the Journeys to the Edge team of Roberta Staley and Tallulah Photography travelled to Soweto, South Africa to report upon the efforts of a palliative care organization that supported slum dwellers who were suffering HIV-AIDS alone, immobilized and unable to feed themselves or travel to obtain their antiretroviral drugs.

Soweto, which was the heart of the anti-apartheid movement, is also the epicenter of the AIDS pandemic, which killed 1.7 million people in 2011 alone, and has killed about 35 million since 1981, when statistics were first compiled.

In 1981, Nelson Mandela, also known by his Xhosa clan name ‘Madiba,’ was still behind bars in his prison cell on Robben Island. But the tide was turning against the apartheid regime that imprisoned him in 1964. International pressure helped secure Mandela’s release in 1990 and Mandela, who became president in 1994, dismantled apartheid.

One of the places that Journeys to the Edge visited was Regina Mundi Church, which held a rousing and moving memorial service for Mandela on Dec. 8. If Soweto was the heart of the antiapartheid movement, then Regina Mundi Catholic Church was the centre of its heart. Within the embrace of its red brick walls, touched by rays of yellow, white and pale blue streaming through simple stain glassed windows, anti-apartheid activists would communicate their clandestine plans by signing the time and location of covert meetings. The church was the only place that people could assemble without fear of arrest for breaking a state edict forbidding gatherings of three or more people.

We were all touched by Mandela’s remarkable statesmanship. His legacy is one that—we hope—will endure, for it was founded on love, forgiveness and the courage to live a moral and ethical life.

Peace and healing to the people of South Africa. Rest in peace Madiba.


Dec. 10 is International Human Rights Day

Today, December 10, is International Human Rights Day. Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan are calling for assurances from the Government of Canada to ensure that accountability measures are taken to prevent any Canadian funding to the Government of Afghanistan from inadvertently contributing to legal or judicial changes in Afghanistan that will be a setback for human rights, writes Madeliene Tarasick, President of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan.

In November, a working group on sharia law within the Ministry of Justice of Afghanistan proposed draft revisions for punishments for “moral crimes” in its new penal code, including stoning to death. The draft provisions specified that married women and men who engage in sexual intercourse outside of marriage would be stoned to death in a public location, and whipping of 100 lashes would be proscribed for those unmarried men and women who engage in sexual intercourse.
Fortunately, in response to international media coverage and outrage from human rights and women’s organizations, President Hamid Karzai quickly announced that stoning to death would not be included in the new penal code.
Nevertheless, it is great cause for concern that elements within the Afghan Government were advocating for the return of a barbaric practice that clearly represents an egregious and blatant violation of human rights. Officially sanctioned and routine stonings to death were emblematic of the pariah Taliban’s infamously crude and brutal “justice” system, the end of which was celebrated by the people of Afghanistan.
It hardly needs to be said that stoning to death is an inherently cruel practice that no human being should be subjected to under any circumstances, for any crime. It is unacceptable that in the 21st century this practice continues to occur in several countries, an affront to the spirit and intent of international human rights law and the establishment of an enlightened community of nations committed to valuing and protecting human life, in the aftermath of the Second World War.
However, it is even more atrocious that stoning to death could be proposed in a country where the government is financed almost entirely by members of that community of nations, including Canada.
The Government of Afghanistan has been on the receiving end of billions of dollars of aid, one of the most ambitious and broad-based efforts of international cooperation ever mounted. Yet, the Karzai-led administration has frequently and flagrantly violated its own international legal commitments, domestic criminal and civil law, and human rights policy objectives. The country’s own Constitution (Article 7) stipulates that “the State shall observe the United Nations Charter, inter-state agreements, as well as international treaties to which Afghanistan has joined, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. Afghanistan is also a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention Against Torture, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among others.
In response to these violations, donor countries have often raised objections through diplomatic means, but have failed to enforce any robust accountability measures upon the Afghan Government.
In particular, Canada and other donor governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on legal and judicial reform in Afghanistan. The Afghan Ministry of Justice is almost entirely financed by international donors, and yet a working group within that ministry advocated for a return to the punishment of stoning to death.
Women are particularly at risk in the face of laws that target “moral crimes” and seek to regulate and repress the sexual behaviour of citizens. The justice sector is systematically failing to protect the rights, dignity, and lives of women and girls in Afghanistan, and this most recent example demonstrates that the current Afghan administration is not serious about its promises to improve the dismal status of women, to protect human rights, and to reform the justice sector.
While Afghanistan is indeed a sovereign country and must gain the capacity to legislate its own laws, its Government, including its legal system, is financed by the taxpayers of foreign nations. Donor governments must ensure that their funds are not used to support legal and judicial practices that violate international human rights law. Norway has now cut its aid to Afghanistan on the grounds that it failed to meet its commitments to protect women’s rights and fight corruption. Indeed, Human Rights Watch is calling for donors to withhold funds if the proposed provisions in the penal code are passed. The Government of Canada should consider the same.
Our organization is committed to promoting and protecting the basic human rights of Afghan women and girls. We will continue working towards this task regardless of what 2014 brings, and we urge the Government of Canada to continue its support for gender equality and human rights objectives in Afghanistan. To this end, Canada must insist that the government of Afghanistan uphold its international legal commitments to human rights protection, and should make all existing and future funding commitments that flow through the Afghan government contingent on strict accountability measures to this end.
It is essential that Canada stand by the people of Afghanistan to ensure that their government works to reform and progress its legal system, rather than regress it. We owe nothing less to both Afghans and Canadians.

J2E presents “Afghanistan Rising” at Dec. 6 event in Nanaimo, B.C.

J2E principal Roberta Staley will present “Afghanistan Rising” Dec. 6, 2013 as part of Vancouver Island University’s (VIU) annual Activism Against Gender Violence, commemorating the 24th anniversary of the slaying of women students by Marc Lépine at École Polytechnique de Montréal.

The event will take place at Mon Petit Choux, 120 Commercial St, at 6pm.

“Afghanistan Rising” is a multimedia presentation combining video, still photography and live narration that showcases Afghan female politicians who brave Taliban threats to fight for gender equality, an Afghan-Canadian cardiologist who treats patients for free, and many others working to restore civil society in a nation devastated by three decades of civil war. The presentation will also highlight the work of Young Women for Change, a youth organization in Kabul that raises awareness about women’s rights. A Q&A, mingling and a chance to donate to the J2E Emerging Journalist scholarship will follow.
Visit: For more info contact: Joy Gugeler, Chair VIU Status of Women 250-797-2623.

The Archer & The Horseman – Afghanistan cafe and gallery

I love this new little café and art gallery off Main Street on 16th Ave. in Vancouver, which was opened by Wafi Gran of Kabul, Afghanistan. Wafi is a bright young man who is studying political science at Simon Fraser University as well as running the café. Gran has imported paintings, sketches and photographs by Afghan artists in order to support a slowly growing cultural industry in the war-torn nation. There are some really lovely pieces, and it’s worth the visit, if only to drink the finest green tea sold in the city. Here’s the story I wrote for Vancouver is Amazing about the gallery.

Wafi Gran

Wafi Gran




Afghanistan Rising

Journeys to the Edge is gearing up for the Thursday, 27 June 2013 multimedia event and fundraiser, Afghanistan Rising, documenting the resurgence of education, gender equality, culture, fashion and civil society in Afghanistan. By showing how far the country has come since the Taliban were ousted by United States and NATO forces in 2001, Afghanistan Rising will reveal how much could be lost should the Taliban regain power when the West withdraws in 2014.
Purchase tickets at:
$20 admission · $15 seniors & students · $25 at the door. Chapel Arts, 304 Dunlevy Avenue, Vancouver. 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm (Doors open at 6:45). Door prizes and raffle. A portion of the funds raised will to to support Young Women For Change in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Rising will introduce you to Dr Lauryn Oates, the Burnaby-based projects director of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. You will visit the open-air markets of Kabul, a sensory overload of scents and sights like saffron, turmeric, dried rose petals, harvest vegetables and livestock. You will be introduced to world champion Qu’ran singer Ahmad Reshad Mamozai, and an Afghan rug designer whose wares sell as far afield as Vancouver. You will meet a female politician who is fighting for gender equality and rule of law, members of the Afghanistan women’s boxing team, the owners of Kabul’s famed Toofan Beauty Salon, an international fashion designer. jewelry makers, and an Afghan-Canadian cardiologist who treats everyone for free – even ex-Taliban.


Elle Canada link to Afghanistan stories

Elle Canada posted our story on Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and sidebars about Young Women for Change and Toofan Beauty Salon. The latter was edited away to nothing, so the story below is the original. The women in the final photo are sisters and co-owners of Toofan.


Toofan Beauty Salon 

About 20 women, heads sprouting tightly pinned curls of black hair, sit gossiping on chairs while toddlers whiz about underfoot. Another half dozen women sit in front of Toofan beauty salon’s long mirror, watching their transformation from Kabul beauties to Bollywood sirens with dramatic eye makeup (always matching the colour of the dress), thick foundation and elaborate hairdos.

Toofan is a sanctuary — a place to discard the burqa and headscarves and escape from patriarchal, conservative customs. Femininity within the country isn’t honoured, and women are expected to embody humility and modesty by hiding their beauty from men. This means that most women are forbidden from keeping company with men who aren’t family members — a tradition that effectively keeps them from participating in politics or education. In Afghanistan, tragically, beauty is considered a sin.

Toofan, as well as Kabul’s many other popular salons, are places of subtle change and quiet public discourse. Here, says 20-year-old Zakiah Hakim, women discuss politics, the latest suicide bombings, as well as the minutiae of women’s daily lives that fill the air of beauty salons everywhere. Hakim, who studies abroad in London, England, is being primped for her sister’s wedding. I remark to her that she and the other clients all look like movie stars. “That’s the point,” Hakim huffs, fluttering false eyelashes that reach artfully arched brows. In Afghanistan, the genders are separated at Afghanistan weddings, allowing women to burst from the chrysalis of convention, exposing skin in shiny cocktail dresses and expressing—if only for a short time—their individuality and flare for fashion and glamour.

Even during the five-year reign of terror by the Taliban, Toofan was an oasis for women.  From 1996 to 2001, Toofan operated out of a private home as a ‘tailoring shop,’ says co-owner Fariba Ejtemai. Cosmetics were forbidden under the Taliban, but that didn’t stop some members from secretly sending their wives to Toofan to be dolled up for special occasions, Ejtemai says.

That salons like Toofan operate in the open is a sign of progress in Afghanistan. Salons are also one of the ways that women can achieve economic independence, says Ejtemai, whose four sisters — all Toofan co-owners — earn sufficient income to support their families and put their children through school.

Toofan.5327 Toofan5352

Elay Ershad – MP


DSC_4998swAfghanistan MP Elay Ershad looks out upon the elegant gathering of men and women under starry skies on the open-air terrace of Kabul’s Park Star Hotel. Two years into her tenure, and the public is still focused on her public deportment rather than her politics. Tomorrow, Ershad predicts, she will be condemned for mingling in a crowd of men. “I don’t care,” she exclaims.

A 43-year-old single mother, Ershad is working to make Afghanistan a better place for her daughters, aged 21 and 16. The biggest challenge, says Ershad, stylish in jeweled sandals, white headscarf, embroidered black tunic and pink lipstick, is the absence of rule of law. The country has excellent legislation criminalizing child marriage, forced marriage, rape and beatings. But the laws are rarely enforced. Ershad also criticizes the treatment of women in divorce court. “The judge is usually a man who says, ‘shame on you, why are you applying for a divorce?’ ” Divorce often means losing custody of the children. “Why does Parliament accept this much pain?” Ershad demands.

Kabul women’s shelter

DSC_2552swWe are seated in the living room of the Kabul Family Guidance Center and shelter for abused women. The home is traditionally furnished with large, soft pillows for visitors to sit on instead of chairs. We listen carefully as one resident, Fahima, haltingly describes through a translator why she fled to the shelter, which is at a secret location in Kabul to protect the women from violent family stalkers. While just a teenager, Fahima was forced to marry a man with “bad habits” who drank, took drugs and beat her “ a lot.” He also molested the couple’s daughter. Fahima is now seeking a divorce with the help of shelter lawyers. But a future without a brutal husband will be nearly as bad as one with, says Fahima. Society looks upon single mothers as it does “a prostitute.”

The reality is, Afghan women endure sustained torture, from broken arms to attacks with scalding water and acid. Others are victims of honour killings, called baad, when a man kills a female relative to restore a family’s ‘tarnished reputation.’ Such acts are just an excuse to murder a woman you don’t want anymore, says Lauryn Oates of Burnaby, who helped train surveyors for the UNICEF and Afghanistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, which was completed three years ago. The survey revealed how oblivious women are of their rights, Oates says. “When asked, ‘Do you think it is permissible for your husband to beat you,’ 91 per cent said ‘yes.’ Yet they all think it is unjust.”

Ironically, progressive laws exist to prevent such abuses. This includes the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW), which was pushed through parliament by women MPs in 2009. It’s not just ordinary citizens but police and judges who are are ignorant of EVAW’s protections, Oates says. Unfortunately, “cultures are shaped by the people in power.”

Women lose out in other instances where judges invoke personal biases instead of law, says Afghan MP Elay Ershad. “The divorce judge is usually a man who says, ‘shame on you, why are you applying for a divorce?’

“Divorce often means losing custody of the children,” says Ershad, who is a single mother of two well-educated and independent-minded teenagers.