Apr 21
Her eye on the news
‘A great danger’

As the U.S. continues to sideline women from its peace talks with the Taliban, Afghanistan’s women musicians are increasingly striving to make their voices heard.

Negin Khpelwak, the country’s first female conductor and leader of the all-women Zohra Orchestra — another first for the conservative Islamic country — told Bloomberg News that she and other women will fight before they “go back to the dark days.” Khpelwak and her bandmates have been enjoying massive success both domestically and internationally; they recently returned from a sold-out tour of the U.K. and Sweden. But when performing in Kabul in February, she recalled, fear of violence from the Taliban and their supporters required them to put 700 attendees through as many as 10 security checkpoints manned by armed guards and dogs.

“They can break our instruments, they can ban the music, but they never take it from our hearts,” said Khpelwak.

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, music of all kinds was banned and women were not allowed to attend school or even leave the house without a male escort. Concerns that the U.S. might sacrifice women’s rights in negotiations with the Taliban, who currently control or are contesting half of Afghanistan, have been exacerbated by America’s seeming acquiescence to Taliban demands that women be excluded from the peace process.

“If the Taliban comes back, it might be a great danger for us,” said violinist Gul Mina. “Their return could be a huge disaster to our lives and musical works.”

Read the full story at Bloomberg News.


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‘Two for Seder’

The daughter-in-law of one of the 11 Jewish worshipers killed in a mass shooting at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue in October has started a movement she hopes will help heal wounds and bridge divides. The concept? Invite non-Jews to celebrate Passover with Jewish families across the United States.

Marnie Fienberg said she founded the “Two for Seder” movement after the horrific death of her mother-in-law, 75-year-old Joyce Fienberg. The idea to encourage Jewish households to invite at least two non-Jewish guests to their Passover Seder celebrations, which take place this weekend, sprung from Fienberg’s own experience attending Joyce’s packed Seder gatherings. According to Feinberg, Joyce would invite foreign acquaintances from her travels, her husband’s students, and countless other guests — Jewish and non-Jewish alike. Already, Fienberg says, more than 730 families across 41 states have pledged to follow in her mother-in-law’s footsteps.

“Conceivably, someone’s going to say something to my neighbor, something negative about Jews. Well, he’s got the data now. He can say, ‘I’ve experienced this myself. You are wrong. You need to reconsider this trash coming out of your mouth,’” said Fienberg, explaining how she hoped her program would help combat anti-Semitism. “I think if you have 1,000 people this year, and next year a different thousand people, over and over again, that’s how education works. That’s how good ideas spread and grow.”

Read the full story at the Washington Post.


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'Till my last breath'

A Bangladeshi teenager was soaked in kerosene and burned to death less than two weeks after filing a sexual harassment claim against the headmaster of her school.

Nusrat Jahan Rafi, 19, attended an Islamic school in a small, conservative town about 100 miles outside of Dhaka. On March 27, she said, the school headmaster called her into his office and touched her inappropriately. She filed a report with the local police, where an officer filmed her with his phone as she made her statement while visibly shaken and hiding her face in her hands.

That same day, the headmaster was arrested. But soon after that, a group that included male students from the school and local politicians gathered in the street to demand his release. Nusrat began to worry about her safety, but nonetheless went to school on April 6 to take her exams. That day, a female student tricked her into going up to the roof. When she got there, a group of four or five people wearing burqas set her on fire.

According to the police chief, Nusrat’s killers tried to make her death look like a suicide. “One of the killers was holding her head down with his hands, so kerosene wasn’t poured there and that’s why her head wasn’t burned,” he told the BBC. But she survived long enough to tell the story of what happened to her — in the ambulance, she recorded herself on her brother’s phone, identifying some of the attackers and saying, “The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath.”

She died on April 10. The case has gripped Bangladesh, and thousands attended Nusrat’s funeral. Thousands more have protested in the streets against the treatment of sexual assault survivors.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports that police have arrested 15 people. And the case has attracted the attention of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who met Nusrat’s family in Dhaka and promised justice. “None of the culprits will be spared from legal action,” she said.

Read more at BBC.


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Favored sons

Men in their early thirties are much more likely than women to receive financial support from their parents, according to a new report from investment firm Merrill Lynch.

The study found that just under half of women in their early thirties are financially supported by their parents, while 62 percent of men in the same age group got support. Despite the fact that nearly two-thirds of student loan debt is owned by women, women also reported receiving dramatically less support in paying off their loans than men did.

According to the report, men between 18 and 34 years old were roughly twice as likely to receive financial support compared to women of the same age group. This held across categories that included grocery shopping, vacations, rent payments and student loans. Interestingly, young women were also significantly more likely than men to list paying down their debt or saving for the future as their highest financial priority. Similarly, 40 percent of men reported that their highest priority was enjoying life, compared to just 28 percent of women.

But while young people are often criticized for depending on their parents for financial support, 79 percent of young adults who have been forced to move back in with their parents said that they were actually enjoying the experience — as did 87 percent of parents. And nearly all young adults said they were prepared to return the favor for their parents as they aged. According to Merrill Lynch, 89 percent of young adults said they planned to help support their parents financially once they got further into their earning years.

Read the full story at Quartz.


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Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo says that the outpouring of support her city has received in wake of the fire at Notre Dame cathedral shows that the famous church is not just a religious symbol, but “a monument and a place that belongs to everyone who loves Paris.”

Speaking with journalists from the Leading European Newspaper Alliance, Hidalgo recalled meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit, Notre Dame’s rector Patrick Chauvet, and Jean-Claude Gallet, the general of the firefighters, as the fire raged nearby. The famous church’s spire had already fallen, and Gallet was explaining that 10 firefighters would have to climb into the cathedral’s iconic towers if they wanted to save those from destruction as well.

“The general said that action was needed to save the towers,” said Hidalgo, and that the 10 firefighters to be deployed would be taking an enormous risk. “It was a moment … Nobody speaks, we all trust him,” she said. “We will all remember that moment: his face and our own faces, together in a moment of reverence.”

In the end, they made the decision to risk the firefighters’ lives to save what remained of the church. Fortunately, they were successful and no lives were lost.

Within hours of the fire, wealthy individuals from across Europe helped raise more than $1 billion to restore the 1,000-year-old monument to its former glory. As a result, Hidalgo says, it should be possible to fix the church within five years. Asked what she thought about the disparity between the money pledged to fix Notre Dame and the relative lack of interest from the world’s richest families in contributing to the poor, Hidalgo insisted that charity was not a zero-sum game.

“They know I am in favor of redistribution policies and that I am a social-democrat who believes we live in a country and in a Europe where there is not enough social justice,” said Hidalgo. “But I also think it is important that the people with the most means, the large fortunes of France and the world, are deciding to contribute.”

Read the full story at El Pais.


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