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For Afghan Girl, Going To School Is Act Of Bravery

Afghan girls walk home from school in Kunduz province earlier this year. Despite progress in recent years, girls who want an education face threats from the Taliban and other extremists, and sometimes even their own families.

Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty ImagesAfghan girls walk home from school in Kunduz province earlier this year. Despite progress in recent years, girls who want an education face threats from the Taliban and other extremists, and sometimes even their own families.

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September 3, 2012

In Afghanistan, girls are required by law to go to school. However, many of them never do.

Death threats, acid attacks and bombings by Taliban militants and other extremists lead many parents who support female education to keep their daughters at home.

Sometimes, it’s the families themselves who stand in the way. School officials in conservative communities say relatives are often more interested in marrying off their daughters or sisters than in helping them get an education.

If it wasn’t a sin to commit suicide, I would. Life has become very bitter.

– Rahmaniya, an 18-year-old Afghan girl whose brother says he will kill her for attending school

But some girls, like 18-year-old Rahmaniya, are fighting back.

The 10th-grader in the southern city of Kandahar province says the moments she savors most in her life are those she spends learning.

Rahmaniya, whose last name is being withheld to protect her, says she didn’t dare go to school until her father passed away five years ago. He had vowed to disown her if she tried to get an education.

These days, the slight girl with big brown eyes dreams of going to college to study journalism.

But she adds that it’s hard to think about the future when her older brother keeps threatening to stab her to death with a knife he carries in his pocket.

“Several times he has beaten me up,” she says. “He tells me, ‘You go ahead and go to school, and I’ll throw acid on you like the Taliban. I’ll go to the Taliban, and they’ll protect me if I do this in this land of infidels where girls go to school.’ ”

Driven Into Hiding

Rahmaniya believes her brother’s anger is rooted in jealousy, since he quit school a long time ago.

Her family, like many in Kandahar, is also struggling to make ends meet, and the teen says her brother wants her to marry. In Afghanistan, dowries bring in a lot of cash for the bride’s family.

“But I don’t want to get married, at least not before I finish my studies,” Rahmaniya says.

Her brother’s insistence that she wed is something Rahmaniya says she uses against him.

She explains that when he threatens to blind or maim her, she reminds him that disfiguring her will make it impossible to find a husband.

Still, the threats and beatings have driven Rahmaniya into hiding. She moves every few days from one sympathetic relative’s house to another to avoid being found by her brother.

Societal Taboos, Taliban

Last week, her mother agreed to help plan her daughter’s escape to a women’s shelter in Kabul so she could continue her studies in safety.

The plan fell apart when Rahmaniya’s mother caved in to family pressure that her daughter marry a relative.

The mother says the man will allow Rahmaniya to attend school after they wed. But her daughter believes that’s a lie and refuses to marry the relative.

Saying she feels trapped, Rahmaniya begins to cry.

“If it wasn’t a sin to commit suicide, I would,” she says. “Life has become very bitter.”

Ehsanullah Ehsan, who is director of the Kandahar Institute of Modern Studies, where some 800 girls go to school, says Rahmaniya’s case is not unique. He adds that societal taboos are oftentimes as problematic for his students as the Taliban.

“There are many other threats … extremist threats, warlord threats, tribal lord threats, family honor threats, because still there are families in which education is an honor problem. So these women who are coming here, they are brave to come here for an education,” he says.

Ehsan says that bravery has translated into a brighter future for many young women; 300 of his graduates have gotten jobs in Kandahar.

But Rahmaniya says she doesn’t want to stay in Afghanistan.

She says she yearns to go abroad, but that she’s found no one who can help her.

This Impossibly Badass Prosecutor and ‘Rape Kit’ Advocate Is Our New Hero

AUG 28, 2012 11:00 AM28,186 81

This Impossibly Badass Prosecutor and ‘Rape Kit’ Advocate Is Our New Hero

Plagued by rape fatigue? Meet Detroit prosecutor Kym Worthy, the woman who’s been leading the charge to sort through more than 11,000 untested police “rape kits” since 2009. Worthy is hellbent on getting the kits, which contain evidence of rape such as semen and saliva, logged, tested, and entered into the national DNA database — and, if it wasn’t for her dedication, the women whose kits have been ignored for years would have no support at all.

You’d think that everyone could agree that prosecuting serial rapists should be a priority, but Worthy’s had to fight hard over the past few years, not only to get funding to test the kits but to get the police department to care about them in the first place. She was instantly outraged when she heard that there were thousands of untouched kits languishing in a dusty police warehouse, but the police chief didn’t take action until someone in his department leaked the news to the press. “No one really paid attention to what I was saying and yelling about ’til about four months in,” she told The Daily Beast‘s Abigail Pesta. Finally, the public took notice, and Worthy’s team received a $1 million federal grant to start testing the kits.

Worthy’s colleagues “literally had to dust [the kits] off” and “physically go through and open them to get the name of the victim, the date that it happened,” she said. But, as expected, it was more than worth the hard work: the team identified twenty serial rapists — meaning they had been involved in at least one other rape case — from the first 153 kits tested this summer, and found DNA matches for another 38 suspects. Unfortunately, the DNA matching is only the beginning; all the cases still need to be re-investigated (or, too often, investigated for the first time), old-school detective style. But hopefully the work they’ve accomplished will lead to more money — Worthy says she only has funds for about 1,600 of the 11,303 rape kits — and more attention from police. Here’s just one example that proves the testing of kits is crucial:

In one especially horrific case, Worthy says, a convicted rapist named Shelly Andre Brooks had raped and murdered five women after raping a woman whose kit was just recently entered into the database through Worthy’s initiative. If that rape kit had been tested and entered into the database sooner, the man could have been caught sooner-and five women’s lives could have been saved. “That’s why it’s so horrible, this whole thing,” she says.

Here are some other fun facts about the anti-rape superhero, who deserves a zillion awards and a major motion picture based on her life: she’s a single mother of three, the first African-American and first woman to be Wayne County prosecutor, and famous for indicting former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in 2008.

A not-as-fun fact: Worthy was raped thirty years ago, while jogging around her law-school apartment complex. She didn’t report the rape. Now, she wants to help those who do, and develop a blueprint for cities across the country to follow in her footsteps.

Rapists, Beware: Detroit Prosecutor IDs 21 Attackers in ‘Rape Kit’ Probe [The Daily Beast]