In Afghanistan, Fighting To End Slavery Of Virgin Girls

'Baad' is a tribal tradition through which a woman is offered as compensation if her relative commits a crime.

Khanwali Adil protesting the enslavement of women
Khanwali Adil protesting the enslavement of women
Ghayor Waziri

KABUL — When clans in Afghanistan fight over land, water or other resources, community elders form a council to mediate the conflict and prevent bloodshed. When a villager kills a member of a rival clan, for instance, this council enacts a practice called "baad" wherein it chooses a young woman from the perpetrator's family and orders her to marry a man from the victim's clan. In theory, the resulting bond between the two families is meant to stop further turmoil. In practice, it is the young woman who pays the price.

Khanwali Adil, 28, says it's time to stand up against the barbaric practice. Surrounded by young activists and university students, he lives in a colorful tent in Kabul, the capital. The tent is decorated with slogans. "Women are not our concubines," says one. "Let's end inhumane treatment of Afghan women," reads another.

"I knew Baad was wrong and unjust…18 months ago I launched a hunger strike for five days in protest," says Adil, who grew up in the rural province of Paktia. "Ten years ago my family received a girl in Baad — she was only two years old — to stop a fight with another clan. It really shocked me. But my family did not support my protest. No one supported me so I left my home."

Two of Adil's sisters — one aged just 12 — were also given away to resolve a dispute. "What happened in my family pushed me to fight against Baad," Adil says. "I have not seen my family for five years."

"I don't go near my house because my brothers are powerful warlords. They have guns and that is what they know. They have threatened me, told me to stop my protest, that it is bringing shame onto the family," he says.

Since Adil moved to Kabul, his campaign has received the support of civil society activists.

"When Mr. Adil's tent was taken by the police in Paktia province and he decided to come to Kabul we supported him and made a tent for him so that he could continue his protest, and it is still here," says activist Nasrullah Safa. "We fully support him. He is protesting to defend women in the right way."

Photo: KBR

Adil says he is embarking on a non-violent struggle to bring about change to a region marred by violence and regressive cultural practices that often target weak and vulnerable groups such as women.

Tofan Mangal, an activist, says there are many traditions in the country that are not Islamic or human. Adil's fight, he says, is a fight for all Afghans. So far, Adil's protest has shown some results.

"First, my family returned the girl they had received as Baad 10 years ago. In Paktia province that was the first time that had happened. Second, the Afghan Ulamas council for the first time declared Baad non-Islamic. And third, my protest is an achievement for all people in this country now. Women and men can follow my way and stand up against Baad," Adil says.

Zeba Haidry, of the Afghan human rights commission, says there is growing awareness that Baad is an inhuman practice. "Compared to the first six months of last year, the numbers of Baad weddings decreased this year," she says. "The main reason is more public awareness and the declaration from the ulamas. Before the ulamas were silent. But after Adil's protest they also declared Baad a crime."

It's not unusual for a Baad bride to be in her early teens or younger, and for the groom to be 50 to 60 years old. There are no official statistics on the number of Baad marriages. Many people in remote areas of Afghanistan still support it.

"I hope my sister or daughter never have to pay (the cost of crime). But sometimes when you want to stop more murders and fights between two families or tribes, one person should sacrifice to stop it. That is why I say Baad tradition is good," says Ahmad Shekeb, a 20-year-old university student in Kabul.

Adil says that girls forced into Baad never live as somebody's wife. They live like slaves to the whole family, he says. Adil has vowed to continue his protest until the practice ends in Afghanistan.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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