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Society

A Touching Tale Of Leprosy In Kashmir

"We all have the same story here. After my family abandoned me, it was these people who adopted me and looked after me for all these years."

SRINAGAR — Nizamuddin Bajad, who claims to be 100 years old, was a young man when he arrived in a leper colony situated on the banks of Nigeen lake, far from the noise and crowd of Srinagar city.

Bajad, a resident of Chattaragul village in Ganderbal district, had lived all his life as a nomad, traveling across stretches of Jammu and Kashmir with his flock of sheep and goats. Then one day, he suddenly fell ill and was diagnosed with leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease.

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Geopolitics

"We Won't Be Silenced" - Afghan Women Vow To Resist Taliban

Angered at the return of the Islamist rule of the Taliban, many Afghan women are refusing to keep quiet, covered and at home as they did in the 1990s.

The Afghan struggle against the Taliban's sectarian rule has begun, and does not look as if it will be deterred by threats from the "Islamic Emirate." After forming its provisional government — which shares a trait with the cabinet of Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi for including ministers subject to sanctions and sought by international justice — the Taliban regime immediately banned all demonstrations. Protests, it declared, must seek permits 24 hours beforehand and even submit the slogans to be chanted to the interior and justice ministries for approval.

One woman who took part in recent anti-state protests in Kabul was Fahimeh Sadat, a rights activist who used to work with the Afghan government. Fahimeh Sadat tells Kayhan London by phone, "We won't be silenced with these threats, and will defend the rights we won in the past 20 years as far as we can."

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Feed The Future

Climate Change & The Food Factor: The Planet Needs A New Kind Of Agriculture

Let's not underestimate the impact on the planet of industrial, intensive agriculture, focused on exploiting machines, pesticides and fertilizers across wide tracts of land.



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WORLDCRUNCH

Internship Offer: Editorial and Social Media

PARIS — Internship, 6 months, full time

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Society

"Emotional Stripping," A Pop Idol's New Path To Exposure

Billie Eilish and Demi Lovato represent a new kind of performance artist for our confessional times.

In Billie Eilish's 2019 video for "Bury A Friend," the then-17-year-old singer blurs the lines between being in a nightmare and being committed to a psychiatric hospital.

"I want to end me," she repeats six times before the song ends.

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In The News

Algeria Cuts Ties With Morocco, COVID Plateau, RIP The “Ultimate Drummer”

Welcome to Wednesday, where tensions build between Algeria and Morocco, WHO reports that global COVID cases plateau, and Rolling Stones lovers mourn the passing of drummer Charlie Watts. Meanwhile, New Delhi-based daily The Wire looks at the patriarchal prejudices still surrounding motherhood and so-called "non-custodial mothers" in India.


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Society

In India, When Mothers Live Without Their Children

The stigma around so-called "non-custodial mothers" has prevented us from expanding our own imagination of what motherhood can, or does, look like when it is practiced by non-residential mothers

NEW DELHI — Three years ago, Shalini*, a 35-year-old media professional based in Bengaluru, gave up custody of her daughter. Her child grew up in a joint family and she was very attached to her paternal grandparents. Shalini couldn't imagine taking her child away from the people she loved. Still, Shalini went through severe mental health challenges after her separation; it took her several years of therapy and counseling to adjust to the new parenting arrangement. But she is now on the path of discovering a new relationship with her 8-year-old daughter.

"I interact with my daughter like I am her friend," she says. "When she comes to live with me during the weekends I enjoy it fully without taking any unnecessary pressure of being a "mother" around her. In fact, I feel my relationship with her has significantly improved because I am a happier person now than I was before my divorce."

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Geopolitics

In #MeToo Times, Cuomo Saga Shows Abusers Still Hold Sway

Putting New York Governor Cuomo's delayed departure in light of the #MeToo movement.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's resignation came after more than a week of bad news, starting with a damning report from the state attorney general's office that detailed his sexual harassment of 11 women, some of whom worked in his office. An executive assistant to Cuomo, Brittany Commisso, filed a criminal complaint against him with the Albany County sheriff's office. The state Legislature readied impeachment proceedings.

Then, top aide Melissa DeRosa resigned amid a flurry of questions surrounding her role in protecting Cuomo. Attorney Roberta Kaplan also resigned from the #MeToo advocacy organization Time's Up after the attorney general's report revealed that she helped draft a letter that denied Cuomo's wrongdoing.

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Future

Her Prerogative? A Unique View On The #FreeBritney Movement

A California law professor with an expertise in mental health and ethics, and who suffers from chronic schizophrenia, takes a look beyond the headlines at the case of Britney Spears, who has been fighting to free herself from the conservatorship of her father.

Britney Spears' impassioned remarks in court have raised many questions about conservatorships, including when they're necessary and whether they effectively protect someone's best interests.

When one loses the capacity to make decisions for oneself the court appoints a guardian, or conservator, to make those decisions. Appointing someone to make decisions about personal and financial matters on another's behalf has been part of civil society since the ancient Greeks. Today, all jurisdictions in the U.S. have conservatorship laws to protect people who lack the ability to make their own decisions.

As a distinguished professor of law at the University of Southern California, and as a person who was diagnosed over four decades ago with chronic schizophrenia, I have a personal and professional interest in issues at the intersection of law, mental health and ethics. I believe that conservatorships are warranted in certain rare cases, such as someone experiencing severe delusions that put them at financial and bodily risk. But because conservatorships are a serious intrusion into a person's sense of self, they might not always be the best option.

Here are four myths about decision-making capacity, and ways to address them:

Myth 1: The inability to make one kind of decision means an inability to make any kind of decision

Historically, lack of decision-making capacity was thought of in a global way. That is, the inability to make a single significant decision meant that a person lacked capacity to make all significant decisions.

Making "bad" decisions, or decisions others do not agree with, is not the same as making incompetent decisions.

Today, U.S. law tends to view decision-making capacity more granularly. Different kinds of decisions require distinct capacities. For example, whether people are capable of making decisions about their finances is seen as legally separate and distinct from whether they're capable of making a decision to marry or refuse medical treatment. Not being able to make one kind of decision may reveal little about whether someone lacks the capacity to make other important decisions.

Making "bad" decisions, or decisions others do not agree with, is not the same as making incompetent decisions. People, especially those with considerable resources, often have family members and associates who are eager to provide a court with examples of an individual's poor decision-making that may be irrelevant to determining competence.

People sometimes make decisions that others strongly disagree with. That is their prerogative.

Myth 2: Once someone loses decision-making capacity, it never returns

As someone who lives with schizophrenia, I can say from personal experience that decision-making capacity waxes and wanes. At times, I unquestionably lack the capacity to make certain decisions because I have false beliefs, or delusions, about the world and how it works. Thankfully, those psychotic states are not permanent. With proper treatment, they pass and I soon return to my usual self.

Although certain conditions, like severe dementia, can permanently render an individual incapable of making decisions, many conditions do not. Research is increasingly demonstrating that there are ways to help people regain their decision-making capacity sooner, including psychotherapy and medication.

Myth 3: People who are declared incompetent are indifferent to having their decision-making abilities taken away

As Spears made powerfully clear in court, being deprived of the ability to make important decisions about one's own life can be one of the most deeply distressing circumstances a person can endure. It leaves one feeling helpless and unheard, and can reinforce and prolong mental illness.

Consider what it might feel like to not be able to write a check or use your credit card without asking for permission. Or consider how a parent reacts when an adult child takes away the car keys. In law school I wrote a paper on the use of mechanical restraints in psychiatric hospitals based on my own excruciating experiences as a patient. On reading my paper, a well-known professor in psychiatry unwittingly remarked that "those people" would not experience restraints as he and I would. I've always regretted not telling him in that moment that my article was about myself.

Britney Spears supporters in Los Angeles on July 14 — Photo: Ringo Chiu/ZUMA

For most people of childbearing potential, the ability to make decisions about reproduction is often an important part of their identity. A state action depriving someone of the ability to reproduce is incredibly intrusive, and the stress this causes may itself exacerbate the conditions that interfere with decision-making capacity.

There are other options that ensure a child's needs are met while respecting the parent's autonomy. One possibility includes having the parent identify individuals who can care for the child until decision-making capacity returns.

Myth 4: Mental illness or involuntary commitment to a psychiatric hospital indicates lack of decision-making capacity

Under the law, neither a mental illness nor involuntary psychiatric commitment renders a person incapable of making decisions. People who suffer from major psychiatric disorders may be perfectly capable of handling their personal and financial matters and would justifiably be outraged if they were declared unable to do so.

There are cases when someone's ability to make decisions is so compromised that others need to step in.

Those whose ability to make decisions appears to be deteriorating can designate a trusted person to make decisions on their behalf. Supported decision-making allows individuals to choose who they want to help them in decision-making while they retain the final say. Similarly, a pychiatric advance directive documents an individual's mental health treatment preferences and enlists a proxy decision-maker should decision-making capacity be lost in the future.

Respecting autonomy

U.S. law honors individual autonomy by presuming that everyone has decision-making competence unless proved otherwise. There are certainly cases when someone's ability to make decisions is so compromised that others need to step in. Conservatorships are one way to do this. But there are also less restrictive alternatives that take into account the fact that decision-making capacity waxes and wanes. Keeping Britney and others safe does not mean that they cannot be free to make decisions about their own lives.The Conversation

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Geopolitics

Why So Many In Mexico Don't Trust The Coronavirus Vaccine

Despite the pandemic's heavy toll, people remain reluctant to inoculate, in part because of persistent doubts about the country's public health system.

TUXTLA GUTIÉRREZ Sitting in her sister's restaurant in the smothering midday heat of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, in Mexico's southernmost state of Chiapas, Ricarda Jiménez Tevera prepares a cuchunuc flower freshly cut from the tree for cooking. Later the flower will be part of traditional dishes such as quesadillas or tamales, but for now Jiménez Tevera is fired up about something else.

"I've never been vaccinated; I don't believe in vaccines," says the forceful Jiménez Tevera, gray-white hair tied in a ponytail. "We're used to taking herbs. A lot of people aren't going to get vaccinated."

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Geopolitics

They're Back: Why Taliban Return Is Such Bad News For Afghan Women

The Taliban insurgents continue their deadly war to seize control of Afghanistan after the departure of United States and NATO forces. As they close in on major cities that were once government strongholds, like Badakhshan and Kandahar, many Afghans – and the world – fear a total takeover.

Afghan women may have the most to fear from these Islamic militants.

We are academics who interviewed 15 Afghan women activists, community leaders and politicians over the past year as part of an international effort to ensure that women's human rights are defended and constitutionally protected in Afghanistan. For the safety of our research participants, we use no names or first names only here.

"Reform of the Taliban is not really possible," one 40-year-old women's rights activist from Kabul told us. "Their core ideology is fundamentalist, particularly towards women."

From subjugation to Parliament

The Taliban ruled all of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Everyone faced restrictions under their conservative interpretation of Islam, but those imposed on women were the most stringent.

Women couldn't leave their homes without a male guardian, and were required to cover their bodies from head to toe in a long robe called a burqa. They could not visit health centers, attend school or work.

In 2001, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, toppled the Taliban regime and worked with Afghans to establish a democratic government.

Officially, the U.S. war in Afghanistan was about hunting down Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. The Taliban had sheltered bin Laden in Afghanistan. But the U.S. invoked women's rights as a justification for the occupation, too.

After the Taliban was driven out, women entered public life in Afghanistan in droves. That includes the fields of law, medicine and politics. Women make up more than a quarter of parliamentarians, and by 2016 more than 150,000 women had been elected to local offices.

Rhetoric versus reality

Last year, after 20 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. signed an accord with the Taliban agreeing to withdraw American troops if the Taliban severed ties with al-Qaida and entered into peace talks with the government.

Officially, in these talks, Taliban leaders emphasize that they wish to grant women's rights "according to Islam."

The Taliban disagree with the basic principles of democracy, including gender equality and free expression

But the women we interviewed say they believe the Taliban still reject the notion of gender equality.

"The Taliban may have learned to appreciate Twitter and social media for propaganda, but their actions on the ground tells us that they have not changed," Meetra, a lawyer, shared with us recently.

The Taliban included no women in its own negotiating team, and as their local fighters are taking over districts, women's rights are being rolled back.

A schoolteacher whose district in northern Mazar-e-Sharif province recently fell to the Taliban told us that, "In the beginning, when we saw the Taliban interviews on TV, we hoped for peace, as if the Taliban had changed. But when I saw the Taliban up close, they have not changed at all."

Members of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan protesting against the Taliban, in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1998 — Photo: RAWA/CC BY 3.0

Using mosque loudspeakers, Taliban fighters in areas under their control often announce that women must now wear the burqa and have a male chaperone in public. They burn public schools, libraries and computer labs.

"We destroy them and put in place our own religious schools, in order to train future Taliban," a local fighter from Herat told the channel France 24 in June 2021.

In Taliban-run religious schools for girls, students learn the "appropriate" Islamic role of women, according to the Taliban's harsh interpretation of the faith. That consists largely of domestic duties.

Such actions demonstrate to many in Afghanistan that the Taliban disagree with the basic principles of democracy, including gender equality and free expression. Taliban negotiators are demanding Afghanistan adopt a new Constitution that would turn it into an "emirate" – an Islamic state ruled by a small group of religious leaders with absolute power.

Women in Afghanistan have been struggling for and gaining new rights for a century

That's an impossible demand for the Afghan government, and peace talks have stalled.

A history of equality

Many Muslim countries have steadily increasing gender equality. That includes Afghanistan, where women have been struggling for and gaining new rights for a century.

In the 1920s, Queen Soraya of Afghanistan participated in the political development of her country alongside her husband, King Amanullah Khan. An advocate for women's rights, Soraya introduced a modern education for women, one that included sciences, history and other subjects alongside traditional home economics-style training and religious topics.

In the 1960s women were among the drafters of Afghanistan's first comprehensive Constitution, ratified in 1964. It recognized the equal rights of men and women as citizens and established democratic elections. In 1965, four women were elected to the Afghan Parliament; several others became government ministers.

Afghan women protested any attacks on their rights. For instance, when religious conservatives in 1968 tried to pass a bill banning women from studying abroad, hundreds of schoolgirls organized a demonstration in Kabul and other cities.

Afghan women's status continued to improve under Soviet-backed socialist regimes of the late 1970s and 1980s. In this era, Parliament further strengthened girls' education and outlawed practices that were harmful to women, such as offering them as brides to settle feuds between two tribes or forcing widows to marry the brother of their deceased husband.

By the end of the socialist regime in 1992, women were full participants in public life in Afghanistan.

In 1996 the rise of the Taliban interrupted this progress – temporarily.

Resilient republic

The post-Taliban era demonstrated Afghan women's resilience after a grueling setback. It also highlighted the public's desire for a more democratic, responsive government.

That political project is still in its infancy today. The U.S. withdrawal now threatens the survival of Afghanistan's fragile democratic institutions.

The Taliban cannot win power at the ballot box. Only around 13.4% of respondents in a 2019 survey by The Asia Foundation expressed some sympathy with the group.

So the Taliban are forcing their authority over the Afghan people using warfare, much as they did in the 1990s. Many women hope what comes next won't repeat that history.

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