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: http://www.facebook.com/VIUStatusOfWomen For more info contact: Joy Gugeler, Chair VIU Status of Women joy.gugeler@viu.ca 250-797-2623.

Media Democracy Days Media Fair

Journeys to the Edge is attending this year’s Media Democracy Days Media Fair, Saturday, November 9th 2013.

Come visit our table and talk to us about our exciting plans for 2014. The Media Fair will run from noon to 5 p.m. at the Vancouver Public Library Promenade. http://mediademocracydays2013.ca/

Journeys to the Edge is thrilled to announce that Sahar Fetrat of Kabul, Afghanistan has been accepted into the Digital Film Production course at Langara College in Vancouver. We are now in the process of raising funds for her to pay for tuition and travel and living expenses.

Journeys to the Edge is also starting preliminary work on a documentary about the amazing work of Afghan-Canadian cardiologist Dr. Asmatullah Naekbhil of Windsor, Ont.. He has opened a cardiac centre and we are planning to return to Kabul, Afghanistan next year to create a documentary about his work helping the thousands of Afghans who suffer from heart disease.


Dr. Asmatullah Naebkhil and staff, Kabul, Afghanistan.

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: afghanistanrising-journeystotheedge.eventbrite.com
$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. http://www.ellecanada.com/living/culture/elle-world-writing-a-new-future-for-afghanistan/a/74065


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.

Zarif Design – Zolaykha Sherzad

Many brave women have entered civil society in Afghanistan as businesspersons, educators and politicians since the Taliban were pushed out of Kabul by NATO-led forces. Few, however, have done it more beautifully than Zolaykha Sherzad, the founder of Zarif Design in Kabul. (Zarif means ‘precious’ in the Dari language.) Sherzad is part of a dynamic cohort that is showing what can be done when educated women are freed from an oppressive patriarchy.

Afghanistan-born Sherzad was a teenager when her family fled the country in the 1980s during the Soviet Union invasion. She became a professor of architecture in New York and attended New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Sherzad returned to Afghanistan in 2000 to open School of Hope in Ghazni province, one of the few areas not under Taliban rule at the time. Smitten by the richness of Afghan culture, Sherzad began collecting fabrics and bought traditional pieces of clothing from the marketplace. “I recut, reshaped and recreated 20 pieces for a pilot fashion show,” says the slight, dark-haired 44-year-old. The positive response to that first exhibit led to the creation of Zarif Design in 2005. Soon, Sherzad’s clothes were being sold internationally at agnès b. stores in Paris, New York and London and worn by  people like Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. Sherzad continues to use Afghanistan textiles and embroidery accessories like buttons cast from ancient Persian coins.

For Sherzad, Zarif Design is a way to connect the rich cultural past to Afghanistan’s dynamic future. While conservative forces in Afghanistan still oppose women’s independence, Sherzad bridges this vast gulf, showing that the past can be amalgamated with the present to create something new and beautiful that enriches the nation’s economy by providing good-paying work for women. Sherzad employs many Kabul housewives, educating them in the art of clothing design. They are like family, and create suits, jackets, evening gowns and wedding dresses on Singer sewing machines in the cozy cottages surrounding Sherzad’s main office, where she keeps sample racks for visitors. Sherzad has also created a ready-to-wear clothing line, introducing the Afghan public to the concept of sizes—a radical shift for a people who have always worn tailor-made garments.

Sherzad’s fashion house is sublime, and a subtle assertion that the new Afghanistan is a place of equality for women. One of her most creative designs is hand-woven silk dress with tiny, precise rows of accordion pleats that follow the body’s shape yet hides it, mimicking the burqa’s mystery. “The burqa is thought of as repressive,” yet, under Sherzad’s creative control, is transformed into a thing of beauty while remaining a symbol of female piety and modesty — a small but defiant act in Afghanistan’s gender wars.

Rough Cut

Sebastian Petion left last night for Haiti. He enjoyed a fabulous four-month intensive digital film production program at Langara College. Thanks so much to Annat Kennet and all the other instructors. We’re just finishing the rough cut of Sebastian discussing his time here in Vancouver, which we’ll post in a few days. This is what Journeys to the Edge is all about: helping talented people from the developing world become competent and influential media participants in their home nation.

Courage, Education & Hope

Our first story from Afghanistan, “Courage, Education & Hope,” will be available online at the University of British Columbia’s Trek Magazine: http://trekmagazine.alumni.ubc.ca. The story features Lauryn Oates, projects director for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. The article articulates Oates’ position that literacy to key to helping Afghanistan achieve permanent stability and security, gender equality and rule of law.

If you want a PDF of the article, please contact us.