Saturday, 14 April 2007

Hamida Ghafour thinks it'll "take two generations" for Afghani women to make a difference in Afghanistan. The Canadian journalist returned to her country of birth in 2003 when she was sent on assignment to cover the war on "terror". The foreign editor of the London The Daily Telegraph, where she worked, thought her background would facilitate the job of reporting.

What I didn't realise was, for the next 18 months I'd be subject to incredible scrutiny from everyone I met there. I hadn't understood that there are three genders in Afghanistan: male, female and "the other". Afghan men can do what they want, and are treated like Persian princes; Afghan women are probably among the worst-treated on Earth; and female Western aid workers and journalists are the third gender — they have the freedom of men, and can speak to male politicians and leaders, as well as to women in their homes.

After arriving in Kabul, Ghafour made sure to keep a low profile, eschewing make-up and ostentatious jewellery. Nevertheless, she felt under scrutiny. She lived in a domicile "like a student house". She felt like an oddity: "an Afghan woman living on her own with men who were not her husband or father."

She stopped telling people she was Afghani, because it was easier. Even her minder told her to say she was Canadian.

After a scare, when another foreign women was targeted by a powerful warlord, who wanted to marry her, she left as soon as possible. "That society breeds tough women," she says.

Ghafour's memoir, The Sleeping Buddha, is on sale in Australia now. Ghafour was interviewed for The Weekend Australian Magazine.

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