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Talking about Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors: A cultural and Social Taboo in Afghanistan

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Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/World Bank

In June 2018, Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies (2018) published its latest survey entitled “Transition to Adulthood; Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors of Youth in Afghanistan.”The survey has been conducted in a conversation with 1,350 people aged 15 to 34 in 10 largest provinces of Afghanistan. Sediqa Bakhtiari, one of the researchers (2018), articulates that in the survey, the attitude and sexual behavior of youth and adolescents after childhood have been examined.This study echoes that most Afghan youths do not have information about the healthy sexual relationship.In this survey, 36% of the interviewees had no information about AIDS, and only 20% were familiar with safe and healthy relationships. And, 90 percent of those interviewed in this study said that there is a pressing need for sex education in Afghanistan.

The research shows that ignoring the debate on sexual issues has led Afghan young people to go to other sources for obtaining information about sexual matters that do not provide the right information to them. For example, according to this study, 60 percent of Afghan youths use sexy content such as movies and photos that address their sexual instinct. The researchers of this survey argue that using such objects for tackling the sexual needs can have personal and social damage. Its personal damage includes imitation of patterns of misconception, depression, and frustration, mental disorders, and addiction to such content and social damages are encouraging the youth toward committing rape, violence, street harassment and, in some cases, avoidance of marriage (Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, 2018)

Studies project that widespread rape, honor killings, sexual violence, and child abuse in Afghanistan are the malicious results of lack of information and public awareness about sexual attitudes and behaviors. According to Ruhollah Amin, a psychologist in Afghanistan (BBC, June 29, 2018), talking about sexual needs and issues has a very negative connotation in Afghan society. He argues that even among couples, talking about a sexual relationship is interpreted as bad, embarrassing, and heinous and should be kept secret. In his opinion, this social and cultural censorship has become a self-censorship that causes disorders for a person, and finally, the consequences of such self-censorship rise in other ways that are inconsistent with the cultural and social norms of the society. For instance, jokes and poems that have sexual content and violence are indicative of such cultural censorship in the society (BBC, June 30, 2018). He emphasizes the need for a social and cultural campaign in Afghanistan regarding sexual attitudes and behaviors so that individuals can become aware of their sexual needs legally as a human.

Lack of Sex Education at Afghan Schools

Afghanistan is a traditional country and its people are religious who strongly believe in the traditional Islamic and religious principles. The contents and subjects of school curriculum in Afghanistan are also designed based on these Islamic principles and traditional values of the people(Compilation & Translation, 2003). In 2016, the city of Kabul witnessed a public campaign that broke many of the taboos and traditions in the country.This campaign was specifically talking about sexual attitudes and behaviors of youths and the problems and inadequacies surrounding them in Afghanistan (Horizon News Agency, Oct. 23, 2017).Holding such public awareness programs are very pivotal and vital in this regard but not adequate. Because, first, such campaigns only take place out of schools by private organizations in Afghanistan. Second, these kinds of social and cultural public awareness programs occur in big cities of Afghanistan where far-reaching provinces are not witnessing such campaigns. Third, schools that are considered to be the main training centers for children don’t have any clear and specific programs regarding educating the students about their sexual attitudes and behaviors, unfortunately.

Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission’s annual report (2017) shows that violence against women in Afghanistan has increased by 8.6%. The report states that 5575 cases of violence had been registered in 2017. This figure was 5132 in 2016. Of the total recorded violence, more than 1,500 cases of physical violence, more than 360 cases of sexual violence, more than 1,800 verbal and psychological violence, more than 1,100 cases of economic violence and remaining violence have been reported in response to behaviors that are traditionally are disgraceful. In the reported physical violence section, more than 1,200 cases of beatings, 10 incidents, 57 injuries, 45 forced labor and 234 deaths were included. The Independent Human Rights Commission argues that the statistics do not show the full reality due to the extent of this problem, and many cases of violence against women are likely to remain hidden for reasons of custom and lack of security.

Given the above reasons, it is argued that one of the key factors of violence against women increase in Afghanistan is the shortage of sex education at Afghanistan’s schools. For example, several studies echo that presenting guidance by the teachers about sexual attitudes and behaviors of students at schools will reduce the occurrence of sexual assaults and gender violence in the society. Because girls and boys as teenagers will learn about their sexual attitudes at schools. In other words, sex education will help students how to tackle their sexual problems appropriately, how to respect their opposite sex’s sexual characteristics and not to look at their opposite sex as a physical and biological object but as a human being(Raphael, 2015).

Since there is not any formal education about sexual attitudes and behaviors at schools in Afghanistan, most of the Afghan teenagers and youths obtain information about sexual issues secretly via internet or friends. The Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies survey(2018) projects that this kind of approach toward knowing about sexual matters leads to watching porn movies that eventually result into porn addiction.Moreover, researchers believe that the lack of education at schools and the lack of proper education of parents regarding sexual attitudes and behaviors of youths may create serious cultural and social problems for the health of the entire society. They argue that embedding the topic of sex education in school curriculum can acquaint the children from the stage of childhood to sexual issues. When they grow up, they don’t feel shy talking about their sexual problems and needs in families, among their friends, or referring to a doctor because of their sexual problems. Furthermore, addressing sex education in an integrated education system may provide information for children and adolescents that won’t provoke them toward inappropriate solving their sexual needs. Additionally, providing sex education through schools can help students not to look for other misleading channels for obtaining information about their sexual attitudes and behaviors.

Afghan Society and the Taboo of Sex Conversation

Traditional values that may restrict access to knowledge about sexual attitudes and behaviors might be the main barriers on debating regarding sexual issues among the families and youths in traditional societies(Heinemann, Atallah, & Rosenbaum, 2016).In Afghanistan, there are many reasons that why parents don’t educate their children about sexual issues. First,only 31.741 percent of Afghan adults aged 15 and above are literate that is why most of the parents are not aware of sexual issues due to not being able to read regarding sexual topics (The World Bank, 2011). Second, parents feel shameful and discomfortable of conversing about sexual issues with their progenies thus they have a negative attitude to sexual attitudes and behaviors. Third, most of the parents in Afghanistan feel that if they talk about sexual issues with their children, the respect between them and their children is broken, thus, they neither want nor can to talk about sexual matters with their progenies.

Lack of information about sexual attitudes and behaviors often lead to misconceptions about sexual issues. This ignorance usually manifests itself in the form of shameful, impolite, and culturally abnormal conversation among the families in Afghanistan. Dr. Haidari Nasab, a consultant and member of the family and sexual health group (2017), believes that the question of how to answer children’s inquiries about sexual attitudes and behaviors is a cultural issue. It depends on the culture of each community and the family how to respond and to get acquainted with sexual issues. He argues that the crucial point is that parents and teachers step by step should acquaint the teens and adolescents with sexual attitudes and behaviors. Sexual information provided to a 3-year-old child is very different from that of a 13-year-old girl. On the other hand, the lack of awareness and refusal to answer of puberty and sexual questions can provoke the curiosity of the newly-raised teenager, therefore, the family is the most important social elements that should give enough information and guidance to their teens in this respect.

In Afghanistan, since there is no formal sex education at school, and parents are not talking about sexual attitudes and behaviors with their progenies either, there is a risk that Afghan youths may become familiar inappropriately with sexual issues out of the home. Studies hold that educating teens and adolescents about sexual issues by parents and schools is a safe and healthy way. While gaining information about sexual needs and issues via friends and Internet may provoke teens and adolescents to commit sexual violence, rape, teasing their opposite sex in the society, and other abnormal deeds.

Recommendations for Policy Implications

First, as schools are the main hubs of education for children, scholars are in this belief that school teachers should instruct the students that sexuality is a natural, normal, and healthy part of life. They should provide value-based education and offer students the opportunity to explore and define their individual values as well as the values of their families and communities. The discussion between teachers and students should include a wide variety of sexuality-related topics, such as human development, relationships, interpersonal skills, sexual expression, sexual health, society,and culture. The conversation should be based on the accurate and factual information.

Second, since most of the families in Afghanistan, particularly in the countryside, don’t have information about their sexual attitudes and behaviors, Ministry of Education in collaboration with Ministry of Public Health through school administrators should start public awareness campaigns in this regard. These campaigns should be held at schools and mosques. The campaigners should discuss the importance of knowing sexual attitudes and behaviors with the local people. They should tell the families that having information about sexual issues is not shameful and bad culturally and socially, but very vital and important for the health and social safety of their families and communities. Because, it is necessary for the parents and teachers, first of all, to receive the appropriate information for instructing teens, and then they can answer their questions related to sexual attitudes and behaviors.

Finally, parents and teachers should create a sincere and faithful relationship with children in conversing with them regarding sexuality and sexual issues. Because as long as there is no trust between parents and teachers, teens and adolescents can’t share their sexual problems and issues with them. Doing so, parents and teachers can reduce the risk of referring teens and adolescents to illegal and inappropriate channels for seeking the answers to their questions related to sexual attitudes.

Hamidullah Bamik, a Fulbright Scholar and Researcher in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri-Columbia, USA, E-mail: hamidullahbamik[at]mail.missouri.edu

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New Social Compact

The Sustainable State- Book Review

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Chandran Nair’s new book, The Sustainable State, is a response to runaway consumption by a rapidly expanding world populace. He explains how the rise in living standards, especially in the developing world, is soaring an unsustainable demand for everything from meat, to cars, to modern housing and then gives possible solutions.

Nair reminds me of economist Ha-Joon Chang in both his premise and the evidence he uses to defend it.  Both scholars are highly critical of the current economic ecosystem and the multinational corporations that run it.  Nair points out that the major industries of today are what’s causing the unprecedented environmental crises that we’re experiencing today.  Not only are corporations polluting the environment and depleting natural resources, but are also covering it up and blocking possible legislative antidotes.

Thus, Nair endorses Ha-Joon Chang’s solution: East Asian-style state regulation of the economy.  Since corporations will never voluntarily do anything that will hurt their profits, a strong federal government must force them to do so through laws that have the planet’s future in mind.  The book points out that the manufacturing and sales costs of consumer products don’t reflect their full cost.  For instance, a roll of toilet paper cost the forest it came from a tree; deforestation has existentially high long-term costs to Earth’s inhabitants.  Anything produced for or shipped to market cost the world through energy consumption, if nothing else.  Thus, Nair supports making producers pay for the full cost of their merchandise through programs such as cap-and-trade and reforestation taxes.

The book gives several examples of (generally East Asian) countries and cities trying to regulate their way to higher sustainability, with varying degrees of success.  For instance, China has arguably become the world leader in terms of environmental initiatives through tough laws governing pollution and a long-term environmental strategy.  In China’s Youyu County, they went from having under 1% of land forested in 1949 to over half today.  Singapore has largely staved off the kind of affordable-housing crisis seen in major cities and city-states by instituting a comprehensive public housing system.  Jakarta, on the other hand, has struggled in their efforts to reduce their crippling traffic congestion.  For instance, when they created 3-person minimum carpool lanes, car owners simply hired pairs of people to meet the requirement.  When Jakarta changed to an odd-even license-number congestion scheme, people simply bought extra license plates.

This book fits in nicely in the post-Trump, post-Brexit era in its skepticism of Western democracy.  Example after example is given of Western government ineptitude towards environmental management, from oil lobbyists’ consistent ability to kill or water down regulations, to general short sidedness.  India’s democracy is also criticized for its failure to clean up the Ganges, among other things.  Nair has a lot of praise for single-party governments in China, Vietnam and Singapore in their recent environmental policy records.

He stresses that he isn’t anti-democratic per se, but rather, he can’t ignore the trends.  Most Western democracies are currently neutered by partisan deadlock, lobbyist money and a myopic obsession with the short term, due to the nature of the election cycle.  Single-party states, by definition, have no partisan deadlock, aren’t reliant upon lobbyist money for re-election and can implement policies that may piss off their constituents in the short term, but are critical for the future.  The recommendation is thus given that democracies stick up to corporate interests and institute long-term policies that will meaningfully address the environmental issues of the future.

The Sustainable State is sobering in its assessment of our current state of resource depletion and global warming, but also cautiously optimistic in its faith that government, when acting in good faith, can curb the excesses of industry and regenerate the planet.  There are diagnoses for specific problems, such as the wildfire haze that emanates from Borneo every year and for pollution.  The main omission of the book is in regards to the water crisis.  Nair mentions high-efficiency circular farming and water pollution, but otherwise largely ignores the disturbingly low supply of water for drinking and farming.  This deficit has already sparked conflicts in countries such as Syria and will only snowball as the population continues to explode.  Desert countries and landlocked countries will eventually succumb civil war over access to water, creating a refugee crisis that the world has never seen, if radical and affordable solutions aren’t found for supplying water for consumption and irrigation.

Chandran Nair gives plenty of real-life examples of good policies that are mitigating issues and explains why they are successful.  Oftentimes, the solution lies in the checkbook.  Governments can spend money on decades-long programs, corporations can pay through sustainability taxes and individuals can pay through gas taxes and car ownership caps.  In democratic and nondemocratic nations alike, we the people must push our leaders to do more, for the future of the human species.

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New Social Compact

In Northern Nigeria, Online Skills Help Youth, Women Tap New Opportunities

MD Staff

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A mother holds her baby during the Click-On Kaduna Workshop held recently in Northern Nigeria. Photo: World Bank

Rashidat Sani lost her job when she was pregnant with her child.  Now a nursing mother, she has been unable to find flexible employment that would allow her to take care of her baby and earn a living.

That was before Sani attended the Click-On-Kaduna digital skills workshop earlier this year, which helped her become an “e-lancer;” a self-employed contractor who can work various online jobs.

“This workshop has been perfect for me,” said Sani. “I can stay home and take care of my baby while working on my computer. I can’t thank the organizers enough.”

Sani is one of more than 900 young people who attended the three-day workshop designed to help young Northern Nigerians tap into the digital job market. With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the workshop was created by the Kaduna State government and the World Bank to increase job opportunities for the country’s youth—which currently makes up more than half its population—and decrease youth unemployment which has risen to 33%.

“There are nine million people in Kaduna State, 75% of whom are below 35,” said Muhammad Sani Abdullahi, Commissioner of Budget and Planning for Kaduna State. “There are also roughly 70,000 government jobs in the state and this cannot meet up with the job deficit.”

The hands-on workshop aimed to give unemployed and underemployed youth, women, and disadvantaged groups some of the tools needed to compete in the online job market. Sessions included practical trainings on how to set up an online profile, build a personal brand, negotiate a fair compensation, and land a first job. The workshop also provided opportunities for participants—nearly half of them women—to interact with e-lancing platforms like Upwork, a key partner of Click-On Kaduna, as well as several local platforms such as Efiko, Asuqu, MotionWares, or Jolancer.

In the last decade, digital technology has disrupted the global economy and fostered the creation of countless new markets, products, platforms, and services. Among the innovations, there has been a rise of online freelancing platforms which have enabled disadvantaged people across skills, gender and income levels to overcome physical and socio-economic barriers to earn an income through the Internet.

In Nigeria, unemployment rates have increased from 11.92 to 15.99 million in 2017, with the youth reported to be the most affected. This is further aggravated in Northern Nigeria due to its fragility and where the educational and economic infrastructures remain inadequate.

Kaduna State, located in the northern part of the country, faces these challenges. Plagued by years of endemic violence, government leaders recognize the importance of creating jobs for its young people, and the immense opportunities the digital economy offers.

Boutheina Guermazi, World Bank Director for Digital Development, said the global digital economy has given rise to a massive new market facilitated by digital platforms that are accessible to anyone who has access to the Internet.

“It is helping to promote inclusion by creating economic opportunities for youth in fragile states by equipping them with the skills needed to improve their social welfare regardless of their gender and income levels” she said. “These new income-generating opportunities need to be leveraged to create and connect people with jobs, especially women in the North who often do not have equal access to markets and jobs.”

Building on the success of the workshop, the Bank and Upwork rec+ently launched a pilot program that aims to kickstart the online careers of about 150 job seekers, expose them to more and better jobs, and contribute to Click-On-Kaduna’s sustainability and long-term impact.

Each of the selected participants will be given five tasks created under the Upwork pilot program. Once successfully completed, they will be paid for their work and rated, increasing their competitiveness for jobs on the platform. Participants will also be provided with further opportunities for mentoring and capacity building from Upwork while receiving payment for their work.

“I did not even have any idea of Upwork in the first place if it had not been for Click-On Kaduna,” said Nehemiah John, who participated in the workshop and the pilot program. “Aside from [participating in] the pilot project I am about to round a [new] contract with a client on Upwork. He requested a t-shirt design which I have done, and he liked it.”

The outcomes of the pilot program will continue to be monitored by Upwork and the Bank team, with the goal of increasing the number of people able to access online jobs and increase their incomes.

World Bank

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New Social Compact

Wedlocks in Kashmir’s landscape

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Marriage is a sacred institution in the human societies. Down the passing phases of time, the human beings have tied knots of man and woman in pairs to continue the order of the universe. God created human being in pairs and created humans out of those predecessors. This is even today the order of the nature and will remain so forever.

Marriage is a social and legal contract where man and woman are tied in a holy knot under the auspices of religious principles of Nikkah,as in Islam to carry forward the legacy of humans and human beings. Marriage is a pious knot that brings a man and a woman together forever to created an edifice of support for one another in times of need pain happiness, good and bad, nothing and something etc and is equated with one half of the Muslims faith. Marriage holds a vibrant symbolic significance in that people still want to marry and revere the institution. Overall it is said that the institution of marriage gives peace and order to the life of the man and Islam is in fact testimony to that bizarre fact.

Marriages form a major component of our Kashmiri culture which have come a long way since times immemorial. Marriages in Kashmir have undergone a fundamental transformation. In simpler terms, the age of marriage has risen. During the past times, the marriages in Kashmir were performed in an atmosphere of extravaganza where a lot of food and dishes were wasted and those nostalgic memories are perhaps etched to one and all if one recalls the memoirs of the past life. However today a civic and moral sense has prevailed among the masses where lavishness is slowly and steadily losing grip in our society and austerity is taking the substitution there of. Even the persons who accompany the groom towards the bride’s house have been reduced to few.The guests are also nowadays restricted in our society.It is a good gesture and a positive step towards development of society in Kashmir.

In an interview to India today T.V. few years back, i reteriated and favoured the stance of the government regarding ban on lavish marriages in Kashmir and guest control.

However the major problem that besets our marriages in Kashmir is the night long overuse of loudspeakers and subsequent firecrackers at the time of bharat reception. Suppose a person is suffering from disease and is ill, a student has examinations next day, a pregnant woman is expecting a child and the neighbours marriage causes the trouble. It becomes a major sin and music is prohibited in islam as wrong(haram).This ultimately causes trouble to one and sundry. Above the social plane lies the plank of moral conduit. We need to totally stop the use of loudspeakers during mehandirats. Although women can sing in pairs through get together.

Today, when our valley is under the grip of political violence and chaos and uncertainity has become order of the day, people need to show a religious and responsible civic sense and say goodbye to lavish marriages, particularly the menace of dowry in Kashmir.When parents of affluent give huge gifts and dowry to their daughters on their marriages,it causes roadblocks for the poor and disadvantaged sections of the societies and hinders their marriage prospectus..After all, it is the questions of our sisters. A parent who raises a girl child and marries him to a different person knows the pains of departure. Girls need to be respected and cared. They are not the property of their in-laws. There must be regard for the sacrifice of the women’s parents and the bride itself.

According to a famous Hadith, Prophet Muhammad SAW says that a marriage is performed on the basis of four factors. Some marry for the prestige of the caste some marry for the financial prospectus, some marry for the beauty of the girl and others marry for the character of the girl.Our beloved Prophet Muhammad SAW says that we need to focus and keep the last factor that is character of the girl in consideration for the to be married man.

In contravention, in our valley the parents are wary of the future of their daughters and want and wish to marry their daughters to the government employees. How many parents ask about the past, character, morality of the man.Be he a morally bankrupt but he should be a government employee. How sad and pathetic? Besides, the daughters are pushed towards late marriages on account of getting education and other factors.It is good to have education,but age factor matters. Parents should rather focus on the humbleness, compassion, character of the to-be grooms. Delaying marriage until personal and professional goals are achieved is a illogical response of our society.

Today,our society has degraded enormously. Our youth are under the grip of a moral disaster and soaked in immoral acts. The problem of late marriages has already aggravated and compounded the problem. The late marriages have given rise to various social problems and ills. Parents should marry off their wards once they become adults and attain maturity. God is responsible for their future. This will prevent our society from moral ills and our society will metamorphosize into a moral hub of social order. Unfortunately, we lack marriage planning  and counseling centers in Kashmir. Besides, there is no problem if parents ask about the choice of their wards. Compatibility is a vital factor and golden rule in marriage.

The money which we spent on the lavish marriages can be exploited for the overall good and development of our society.The poor can be helped via this mode. This will make our society a just and humane and also please our creator Allah SWT.

Post-marriage step is a crucial phase in the life of a man. According to John D Gray, men are like rubber bands and women have a wavy nature. The married men and women ought to understand each other and have a regard for each other and their families. Patience is the essence of life. Differences can arise, but it is the role of the married persons to annihilate the crisis that makes inroads almost in everybody’s life day-in and day-out and display a calm attitude thereof.

Kashmir history is witness to the fact that in some cases ,the demand of dowry ruins the marital bond during post-marriage time.In some cases, the daughters have committed suicide or have been dragged towards the same under the circumstances. There should be a total ban on the use of dowry in Kashmir. Government should rope in a permanent ordinance to ban lavish marriages and dowry in Kashmir. I was stunned when recently in a facebook post,it came to light that thousands of girls are unmarried in Kashmir. What causes that and who is to be blamed? Let’s ponder over it….One day we have to answerable before Allah SWT about our worldly deeds as this life is too short.

The parents which raise a child in the hope of pillar of support tomorrow need to be respected and regarded by the daughter-in-laws. The in-laws become the parents of the women after marriage and they need to treat them equally in that perspective and kind regard. This creates a healthy atmosphere in the lives of couples during post-married life and turns as boost in arm to solidify their strength of oneness forever. Marriage is more than being together. It is a responsibility in vogue, vis-a-vis the creator and created. We can’t turn a blind eye to this raw fact. This is all about the conjugal commitments.

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