Two districts in Afghanistan’s northwest offer a glimpse into life under the Taliban, who have completely cut off education for teenage girls.
By Adam Nossiter
Photographs by Kiana Hayeri
SHEBERGHAN, Afghanistan — The order to shut down the girls’ schools was announced at the mosque, in a meeting with village elders. The news filtered through the teachers, in subdued meetings at students’ homes. Or came in a curt letter to the local schools’ chiefs.
Appeals to the Taliban, arguing and entreaties were useless. So three years ago, girls older than 12 stopped attending classes in the two rural districts just south of this low-slung provincial capital in Afghanistan’s northwest. Up to 6,000 girls were pushed out of school, overnight. Male teachers were abruptly fired: What they had done, provided an education to girls, was against Islam, the Taliban said.
All over Afghanistan the orders have been similar to those issued just 40 miles south of Jowzjan Province’s capital. In districts controlled by the Taliban, no more schooling for all but the youngest girls, with some few exceptions. The Taliban’s message: Teenage girls should be at home helping their mothers.
when the United States formally began its withdrawal, the Taliban have captured territory in practically every part of the country.
a triple bombing of a school in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, left dozens of schoolgirls dead. While the Taliban denied responsibility, the culprit sent a clear signal: Education for girls will not be tolerated.
But in Jowzjan Province’s south, the future has already arrived. The parallel universe that is now the lot of many Afghans is a vivid reality for the province’s education officials and teachers. With grim resignation, they must deal with the fate of neighbors living nearby, yet on the other side of the looking glass.
The Taliban control the districts of Qosh Tepa and Darzab — drought-stricken and impoverished agricultural lands that are home to about 70,000 people — and all 21 of these districts’ schools. They took charge in 2018 after fierce fighting with local Taliban renegades who had proclaimed allegiance to the Islamic State, as well as with government forces.
Taliban control notwithstanding, every month the districts’ teachers trudge to Sheberghan, the provincial capital, to collect their salaries, one of many anomalies in a country that is already under de facto control of two governments. Better to have to pay the teachers than close the schools. The city, dusty but bustling, is still in the hands of the central government, but like other provincial capitals it is an isolated island; the Taliban rule the roads, coming and going.
The provincial government still employs school chiefs for the captured districts. But local education officials must watch, helplessly, as Islamist insurgents front-load a heavy dose of religion into the curriculum, slash history instruction and keep the girls out.
The female teachers have been fired. The Taliban use free government textbooks, but they strictly monitor their use, and make sure the ones devoted to Islamic instruction get a heavy workout. And they punish teachers who don’t show up for work, docking their pay. There are no days off. The Taliban have accused teachers in these districts of spying, and of shaving their beards.
“‘If we don’t obey them, we will be punished,’” The education director of Jowzjan, Abdul Rahim Salar, recalled the teachers and principals telling him. “They were worried for their lives.’’
For the girls who escape to Sheberghan to continue their education, there is the sense of a baffling destiny imposed by the Taliban, narrowly avoided. Nilofar Amini, 17, said she missed the school she was barred from three years ago. She had arrived here in the provincial capital only four days before.
“I want to be educated,” Ms. Amini said, sitting with relatives in a room at a derelict shopping center.
Her high voice was muffled by the light blue burqa imposed by the Taliban even on teenagers — she wore it out of habit, though removed it after the interview. Ms. Amini described her life since the schools ban: “I have been sewing, making kilim rugs, handicrafts.”
She added: “The girls there, they stay indoors all day. They can’t even visit relatives.” The Taliban have destroyed the cellphone towers; no chatting on phones.
Ms. Amini’s father, Nizamuddin, a farmer, sitting next to her in the shopping center, hinted at the consequences of the Taliban strictures against girls’ education: “I’m illiterate. It’s like I am blind. I have to be led by others. And so that is why I want my daughters to be educated.”
The Taliban’s policy on education for girls can vary, slightly. Local commanders make the decisions, reflecting the decentralization of a movement scholars like Antonio Giustozzi have described as a “network of networks.” Human Rights Watch noted in a report last year that though the Taliban commanders often permit schooling for girls up to age 12, it is unusual for them to allow it for older girls. Though in some areas, “pressure from communities has persuaded commanders to allow greater access to education for girls,” the report said.
But not many. And not in this part of Afghanistan.
A teacher in the district whose three teenage daughters are now barred from schooling said, “The situation is bad, and I feel badly for them. They don’t have anything to do.” He added that his daughters are just helping their mother with housework.
Encountered at the provincial school headquarters in Sheberghan, where he had gone to collect his salary, the teacher asked that his name not be used out of fear of retribution by the Taliban. He said his daughters keep asking when they can return to school.
“They wouldn’t let us study any longer,” said Fatima Qaisari, 15, at a dusty camp for refugees from neighboring Faryab province. She was 12 when her school was shut down.
Education officials here describe an environment of repression in which residents, parents and teachers have no opportunity to weigh in on the Taliban’s rigid and harsh policies.
“We’ve been in touch with them many times. But there has been no result,” said Abdel Majid, the head of schools in Darzab.
“They tell us, ‘Our government doesn’t want us to teach girls,” he said. “Nobody can disobey them.” The Islamic State faction destroyed some of his schools; others don’t have windows.
At first, Mr. Majid told many of the girls to “play a game” with the Taliban, and pretend they were younger than the cutoff age. “After a year, they warned me that I should stop it,” he said.
He and others have been told that the girls’ schools would stay shut at least until the advent of what Taliban officials depict to bemused residents as the insurgents’ grail: a top-to-bottom “Islamic system,” in which there might be a place for girls’ education.
Shaiasta Haidari, the finance director for Jowzjan Province’s schools, said officials sent a letter alerting the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, of the situation. “Nothing has happened,” she said. “Of course, I am not happy.”
Not far away at the Marshal Dostum School — named after Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former vice president and local warlord whose portrait hangs everywhere in the city — a handful of girls from the Taliban-controlled districts are trying to make up for lost ground. On a recent morning, streams of their schoolmates, laughing girls in black and white uniforms, rushed past the flowered grounds, eager to begin the school day.
In the principal’s office, some of the refugees from Darzab and Qosh Tepa marveled at the senselessness of the Taliban’s decision to bar them from school. Several said they wanted to be teachers; one girl was hoping to study engineering.
Farida, 16, shook her head. “Their decision, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s not even logical.”
Nabila, the teenager from Darzab, added: “The Taliban, they don’t have the brains to know that it is important for girls to go to school.”
Fatima Faizi and Kiana Hayeri contributed reporting.
Park Na-rae, a comedian, grabbed a male doll, placed its plastic arm between its legs and made a suggestive remark.
By the standards of Western comedy, the stunt on her YouTube show in March would have hardly seemed offensive. But the skit became a scandal in her home country, South Korea. Legions of aggrieved young men accused her of sexual harassment. The police are investigating.
The scandal has made headlines for weeks and has threatened to inflict lasting damage on Ms. Park’s career, two years after she became the first female comedian from South Korea to host a Netflix special.
Her supporters say the outcry illustrates a double standard in a culture where men often brag about sexual conquests and where sexual harassment is endemic, but where women who dare to mention sex in public can be penalized.
suggested that women use sex to get jobs. Since he was punished for inappropriate comments, they argued, Ms. Park should be called to account, as well.
Lee Wonjae, a professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology who studies online, said that most of Ms. Park’s critics were not trolls from misogynistic, far-right websites, but ordinary men from mainstream society.
Professor Lee said that many young men in South Korea — which has one of the highest gender pay gaps in the developed world — feel threatened by certain gender trends and President Moon Jae-in’s attempts to push for gender equality. These men see women as growing competitors for jobs and gaining more bargaining power in the marriage market.
“Why are you going to support women more? Look at me: I’m doing my military service. What are you doing for me?” he said of how young men see their lot in life. “That is the message.” (Men in South Korea age 18 to 28 are required to serve in the military for about two years.)
Sexism is deeply entrenched in South Korea. There is an epidemic of men using hidden cameras to spy on women in public restrooms and changing rooms. Misogynistic posts are a defining feature of Reddit-like forums. “It’s everyday life, this kind of gender conflict, misogyny, backlash and hatred,” Dr. Mo said.
Park Won-soon, was one of many male politicians to be accused of sexual harassment. (He died by suicide last year.) And the Seoul authorities apologized this year after issuing guidelines that advised pregnant women to cook, clean and work on their appearances to ensure that their husbands still found them attractive.
sentenced to prison in 2019 for raping women who were too drunk to consent to sex.
Yet, other male celebrities and public figures have made sexist remarks without facing the kind of scrutiny faced by Ms. Park. She already had a reputation for pushing the boundaries of what female South Korean comedians can say or do. She began her 2019 Netflix special, “Glamour Warning,” by talking about her “first time doing it without a man.”
Ms. Park resigned from her YouTube show a few days after the scandal broke. The Seoul police later said that they were investigating the harassment claims to determine whether she had broken any laws. The police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
OpenNet, a South Korean nongovernmental organization that advocates for internet privacy, said this month that her doll stunt did not constitute sexual harassment under policies set by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. The group said that she had merely tried to express female sexual identity.
Ms. Park’s talent agency, JDB Entertainment, said that she was not available for an interview.
In a handwritten note to her 1.8 million Instagram followers in March, Ms. Park said that it was her duty as a performer and public figure to “take responsibility” for her own acting and props. “I am nothing but sorry to the many people who trusted and supported me,” she wrote.
Last month, she visited her grandparents for one of her other television shows, “I Live Alone,” and expressed remorse for how her stunt with the doll had caused harm to her castmates.
“Humans are imperfect,” her grandfather, who was not named in the broadcast, said as Ms. Park burst into tears. “Don’t listen to hate.”
When Fan Jianhua had her third daughter last April, she was afraid that she would be fined for violating China’s birth limits.
Ms. Fan was already heavily in debt paying for treatment for her 6-year-old, who has leukemia. To her relief, when she registered her new baby with the police, she didn’t have to pay the $7,500 fine.
“I was really happy and could finally relax,” said Ms. Fan, 34, a stay-at-home mother in the central city of Danjiangkou, in Hubei Province.
Slowly, in fits and starts, China’s ruling Communist Party is loosening its long-held restrictions over childbirth and women’s bodies. Some local governments have tacitly allowed couples to have more than two children. Beijing has said civil servants will no longer be fired for such infringements. Party leaders have pledged to make population policies more inclusive, a signal that some have taken to mean the rules will be eased further.
decline in birthrates. A once-a-decade population census, released on Tuesday, showed that the number of births last year fell to the lowest since the Mao era. Low fertility translates to fewer workers and weaker demand, which could stunt growth in the world’s second-largest economy.
But the party is wary of giving up control and has resisted scrapping birth restrictions wholesale. Instead, Beijing has been taking a piecemeal approach by slowly dismantling the once-powerful family-planning bureaucracy and carving out exemptions. In many places, police officers, employers and city officials are deciding how strictly, or loosely, to enforce the rules.
That can mean more freedom for some, like Ms. Fan, to have more children. But it also creates uncertainty about the risks, adding to a reluctance about having more children.
The strategy could also founder amid broad cultural changes. Anxiety over the rising cost of education, housing and health care is now deeply ingrained in society. Many Chinese simply prefer smaller families, and the government’s efforts to boost the birthrate, including introducing a two-child policy in 2016, have largely fizzled.
“If the restrictions on family planning are not lifted, and they are encouraging births at the same time, this is self-contradictory,” said Huang Wenzheng, a demography expert with the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based research center. He said that removing all birth limits would convey an important message. “I think such a step has to be taken.”
official murmurs about a reconsideration of the one-child policy surfaced but were quickly dismissed. It took years before the government moved to allow all couples to have two children.
Now, the population is aging more rapidly than those of many developed countries, including the United States, and some argue that the government cannot afford to keep any restrictions on procreation.
“We have to take advantage of the fact that a certain number of residents now are willing to give birth but aren’t allowed to,” China’s central bank said in a working paper it published on April 14. “If we wait to lift it when no one wants to give birth, it will be useless.”
harshly enforced family-planning rules in what Beijing has depicted as a fight against religious extremism. The campaign has led in recent years to a rise in sterilizations and contraceptive procedures — forcibly imposed in some cases — in the region’s Muslim-dominated areas.
China’s family-planning policy has long given local officials a powerful weapon of control — one that may be hard, or costly, to wrest back. Before they were unwound, family-planning agencies hired around eight million people, down to the village level, who corralled women to be fitted with intrauterine devices or coerced them into abortions.
The officials also collected large fines from couples who broke the rules. One senior researcher at the Central Party School estimated in 2015 that the fees amounted to between $3 billion and $5 billion annually.
In recent years, the government has been reassigning family-planning employees to roles including in population research and tackling Covid-19. But local governments retain the power to enforce birth limits as they see fit, which has led to inconsistencies.
The central government said in May last year that civil servants did not have to lose their jobs for violating birth limits, yet months later, a village committee in the eastern city of Hangzhou fired a woman after she had a third child — prompting a public outcry.
Ultimately, the fate of China’s family-planning policies may change little. A generation of highly educated women are putting off marriage and childbirth for other reasons, including a rejection of traditional attitudes that dictate women should bear most of the responsibility of raising children and doing housework.
Liu Qing, a 38-year-old editor of children’s books in Beijing, said getting married and having children were never in her future because they would come at too great a personal cost.
“All the things that you want — your ideals and your ambitions — have to be sacrificed,” Ms. Liu said.
Ms. Liu said Chinese society imposed a motherhood penalty on women, pointing to the discrimination that mothers often faced in hiring.
“I’m furious about this environment,” she said. “I’m not the kind of person who would accept this reality and compromise. I just won’t.”
For other Chinese, having fewer children is a matter of necessity when holes in the country’s social safety net mean that a major illness can lead to financial ruin.
Ms. Fan, the woman in Hubei who was spared a fine, said that she and her husband, a laborer, were getting increasingly desperate. Public health insurance had covered half the cost of her daughter’s treatment for leukemia, but they were on the hook for $76,000.
She had a third child only because she heard that a sibling’s cord blood could help in the treatment of leukemia. But she later learned that such treatment would cost more than $100,000.
“I don’t dare think about the future,” Ms. Fan said. She added that if her daughter’s condition deteriorated or they went broke, they would have to give up treatment.
“We can only leave it up to her fate,” she said.
Research was contributed by Claire Fu, Liu Yi, Albee Zhang and Elsie Chen.
“We’re not against men. All we want to do is take apart a system that has abused and hurt women.”
— Vilma Ibarra, the top legal adviser to the president of Argentina
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In his annual speech before Congress in March, President Alberto Fernández of Argentina did something few, if any, of his predecessors had done before: He dedicated a large chunk of the 90-minute speech to the “rights of women.”
He vowed to help mothers get back to work by building more preschools and said that “the fight against gender violence” should be a top priority for everyone in Argentina.
The speech came just months after the country became the most populous in Latin America to legalize abortion, fulfilling one of Mr. Fernández’s key promises during his campaign for president.
“feminists” and “activists”, are driving the change: Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, the country’s first minister of Women, Genders and Diversity; Vilma Ibarra, the president’s top legal adviser who has the authority to write bills and decrees (she wrote the country’s landmark abortion bill); and Mercedes D’Alessandro, the country’s first national director of economy, equality and gender within the Economy Ministry, and the author of “Feminist Economics.”
the highest number of gender-sensitive Covid-19 responses in the world.
Ms. Alcorta, Ms. Ibarra and Ms. D’Alessandro spoke with In Her Words from the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires about the next big items on their policy agenda and how their WhatsApp group of female government leaders is helping to shake up what is still a male-dominated space.
a report on the unpaid care economy. It found that unpaid care and domestic work amount to almost 16 percent of G.D.P. — making it the largest sector of Argentina’s economy — and that 75 percent of care work is carried out by women. What are your plans to address the gender gap in unpaid domestic work and care?
Alcorta: The Ministry of Women, Genders and Diversities has created a special office to deal with care policies. In February 2020, we put together an inter-ministerial commission, including 14 ministries and strategic departments, focused specifically on crafting care policies.
We’ve also announced the creation of 800 kindergartens, nurseries and day care centers around the country, and we also want to look at leave policies to be shared by parents — so paternity and maternity leaves — to create more equality at the workplace. Before President Fernández’s administration, we didn’t have any of these things that we are now looking at.
D’Alessandro: In the pandemic, we found that activity in the unpaid care sector is the only sector that went up, while all other sectors fell. So, it’s important from an economic standpoint. And those 800 day care centers — they are not just creating a physical space where children will be looked after, but they’re also a way to create jobs and opportunities. When you create a new system, you are professionalizing the care work and you are also recognizing the value of that work.
Violence against women is a big problem in Argentina. The number of women killed reached a 10-year high during the lockdown, and there have been major protests against violence dating back to almost six years ago. Why is this still happening?
Alcorta: The femicide rate in Argentina has remained high for the past 20 years and those of us who study this phenomenon know that there are many issues that create the conditions for extreme violence. Often, higher inequality is correlated with more violence. Gender stereotypes also have a lot to do with this as does the culture — some Latin American societies are more tolerant of this violence. And of course, there are the shortcomings in the state agencies, like the police. Until 2015, Argentina didn’t officially track femicides. They used to be called “crimes of passion.” And there was no institutional structure that looked into violence against women, so we created a nationwide, federal agency.
The changes needed are huge and structural in nature so they can’t be resolved in a couple of years or with one administration.
The president has made gender equality a priority, but women are still a minority among ministers and other high positions in government. Will that change?
Ibarra: Not so many years ago, there weren’t any women at all in high-ranking positions and the creation of the Ministry of Women is a major highlight of this administration. Now, is that enough? No. But we are much better off than where we used to be.
We started a group on WhatsApp called “Women in Government” — a network of more than 250 women. And we get together, we have discussions, we share experiences and help one another. It’s important because we come from a culture that is male dominated and it’s easier for men to team up. So each woman and feminist who joins the government is opening up doors to change things.
Alcorta: This administration has the highest share of women in high-ranking positions — 37.5 percent, compared with the previous administration which had 22 percent. Certainly, as you go up to the level of ministers, you see that share get smaller. Argentina was also the first country in Latin America and the Caribbean that set a gender quota for Congress in 1991 and, since 2017, we have a parity law for Congress.
Until we took office 13 provinces had parity laws, and there was still another 10 left. Last year, seven provinces implemented provincial parity laws as well and now we have three left. One of our goals is to work with those remaining provinces so that all provinces have parity. This is a process — participation in Congress allows women to also become officials in the executive branch.
D’Alessandro: We can advocate laws related to gender parity and request that women are represented in the high levels of government and in Congress, but we still have many serious problems. In the judiciary, there’s a clear gender gap, but also in trade unions and in the business sector. I think this demonstrates the difficulties of society, which, at its core, is still a male-dominated patriarchal, unequal structure with clear discrimination against women. That’s what we need to fight.
It’s fascinating that you often call yourselves feminists and activists. That kind of language is rare — maybe even radical — for government officials. Do you face any backlash for that?
Ibarra: Yes, but we welcome that. Whenever someone says, “Where is the ministry for men?,” we say, “Well, men don’t need to get together and defend their rights and that’s great. But we need to make sure that women have the same rights.” That’s why we are feminists. We’re not against men. All we want to do is take apart a system that has abused and hurt women.
NEW DELHI — Chandro Tomar first picked up a gun when she was around 68.
Until then, she had led a quiet life in Johri, a village in the state of Uttar Pradesh, one of the most conservative regions in India. She spent her days on household chores — milking cows, cutting the grass, grinding wheat and mopping the floors of the large home she shared with her extended family.
But a trip to a local shooting range with her granddaughter Shefali, who was 12 at the time, changed everything. She discovered that she had a gift for shooting. A coach at the range encouraged her to practice, and she returned to the range each week with Shefali, under the guise of chaperoning her.
The two took turns firing the air pistol. Mrs. Tomar trained each night after her family had gone to sleep, holding up heavy jugs so she could keep her arm steady. A few months after she first picked up a gun, she competed in a regional championship and won a silver medal. (Shefali won a gold medal at the same tournament.) Her family found out about her achievement only when a local newspaper published an article about her.
“My husband and his brothers were very angry,” Mrs. Tomar recalled in a recent interview. “They said, ‘What will people think? An old lady of your age going out to shoot guns? You should be looking after your grandchildren.’”
“I listened to them quietly,” she said, “but I decided to keep going no matter what.”
Mrs. Tomar, usually wearing a long skirt, blouse and head scarf, continued to compete well into her 80s in shooting contests, often against men with military backgrounds. She eventually won more than 25 medals.
Mrs. Tomar, who was born in 1931, died on April 30 at a hospital in the town of Meerut, near her village, said Sumit Rathi, her granddaughter Shefali’s husband. She had been hospitalized for a gastrointestinal disorder and then suffered a brain hemorrhage, he said.
Along with Shefali, she is survived by two sons, Vinod and Omveer; three daughters, Savita, Kaushal and Dharambiri; nine other grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Her husband, Bhawar Singh Tomar, died before her.
Mr. Tomar never saw his wife compete, and he and his brothers eventually began ignoring her new interest. “That was fine with me,” she said.
Mrs. Tomar was proudest of her work as a coach and mentor to hundreds of young women around the country. She persuaded families in Johri to send their young daughters to shooting ranges to learn the sport, often going door to door to talk to reluctant parents.
Today, her area of western Uttar Pradesh has dozens of shooting clubs, and hundreds of children take the sport seriously. For many of them, it’s a ticket to a better life and a job with the Indian Army or security forces. All of her grandchildren have competed at the national level, although only Shefali still does.
Chandro Malik was born into a large farming family, the only daughter among five siblings. She never went to school. She married Mr. Tomar at 15 and spent the next 50 years raising her family.
Her defiance of patriarchal and social norms and her determination to keep trying new things inspired countless people in her village and beyond. She was known fondly in India as “Shooter Dadi” (“Shooter Grandma”). In her later years, she traveled across the country to speak about female empowerment, until the pandemic forced her to stay home.
Her children and grandchildren fulfilled one of her dreams by building an indoor shooting range, for underprivileged children, in a section of their home. It opened last month.
“Dadi was happiest when she was teaching a new generation and firing at targets,” Mr. Rathi said, “and we plan to continue her life’s mission.”
Births are falling. The population is aging. The work force of the world’s second-largest economy is shrinking.
China’s latest once-a-decade census, which was conducted last year, showed the slowest population growth since the 1960s, confirming that the country is in the midst of an urgent demographic crisis.
The results may push the government to loosen its family planning restrictions, which have shaped the most intimate aspects of Chinese society — marriage, childbirth and child-rearing — for decades. But the stark need for change has also underscored how reluctant the authorities have been to fully let go of control.
according to World Bank data. Last year, just 12 million babies were born in China, the lowest official number since 1961, as the country was emerging from a devastating famine.
Experts cautioned that the pandemic may have been a major factor, but births have now declined for four consecutive years.
The numbers make clear that China’s aging crisis will not be resolved anytime soon. As older Chinese people occupy a greater share of the population, while the younger work force who would support them declines, China’s pension funds and underdeveloped facilities for older adults are sure to feel strain. Adults above 60 now make up 18.7 percent of the population, compared with 13.3 percent in 2010.
Liang Jianzhang, a demography expert at Peking University, said he expected that the government would lift its remaining limits on fertility soon. Five years ago it ended its one-child policy and allowed families to have two children, but families who have more can still be penalized or denied benefits.
forcing women to have fewer babies as part of an effort to control the Muslim ethnic minorities there.
China’s gender gap is shrinking, but discrimination remains.
Stuart Gietel-Basten, a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology who studies demography. But that ratio is still higher than normal, suggesting a lingering preference for boys, he added.
The advancement of women faces more official obstacles, too. In an effort to address the fertility crisis, officials in recent years have sought to push women back into traditional gender roles. Feminist activists have been detained or censored online.
39 percent of adults aged 25 to 64 in countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development had some form of tertiary education.) But it is a tremendous accomplishment for a country that in 1997 had fewer than 3.5 million undergraduate and graduate students.
Still, experts have noted that the surging numbers of college graduates may bring a new problem: a dearth of well-paid jobs to employ them. China’s economy is still largely reliant on blue-collar labor. Ning Jizhe, the head of China’s National Bureau of Statistics, acknowledged the gap at a news conference about the census on Tuesday.
“Employment pressure on college students is increasing,” he said. “The pace of industrial transformation and upgrading needs to speed up.”
Unless the new crop of educated young people can find stable jobs, Professor Gietel-Basten said, the fertility rate may drop even further. “If you’ve got a situation where you have graduate unemployment and it’s difficult to access these good jobs,” he said, “why would you have more babies?”
Wealthier centers are continuing to grow, while poorer areas lag.
Wang Feng, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine. As the northeast continues to empty out, those disparities may become even more pronounced, he added.
When the government ordered women in her mostly Muslim community to be fitted with contraceptive devices, Qelbinur Sedik pleaded for an exemption. She was nearly 50 years old, she told officials in Xinjiang. She had obeyed the government’s birth limits and had only one child.
It was no use. The workers threatened to take her to the police if she continued resisting, she said. She gave in and went to a government clinic where a doctor, using metal forceps, inserted an intrauterine device to prevent pregnancy. She wept through the procedure.
“I felt like I was no longer a normal woman,” Ms. Sedik said, choking up as she described the 2017 ordeal. “Like I was missing something.”
Across much of China, the authorities are encouraging women to have more children, as they try to stave off a demographic crisis from a declining birthrate. But in the far western region of Xinjiang, they are forcing them to have fewer, as they tighten their grip on Muslim ethnic minorities.
internment camps and prisons. The authorities have placed the region under tight surveillance, sent residents to work in factories and placed children in boarding schools.
By targeting Muslim women, the authorities are going even further, attempting to orchestrate a demographic shift that will affect the population for generations. Birthrates in the region have already plunged in recent years, as the use of invasive birth control procedures has risen, findings that were previously documented by a researcher, Adrian Zenz, with The Associated Press.
crimes against humanity and genocide, in large part because of the efforts to stem the population growth of Muslim minorities. The Trump administration in January was the first government to declare the crackdown a genocide, with reproductive oppression as a leading reason; the Biden administration affirmed the label in March.
Ms. Sedik’s experience, reported in The Guardian and elsewhere, helped form the basis for the decision by the United States government. “It was one of the most detailed and compelling first-person accounts we had,” Kelley E. Currie, a former United States ambassador who was involved in the government’s discussions. “It helped to put a face on the horrifying statistics we were seeing.”
Beijing has accused its critics of pushing an anti-China agenda.
in March. “No one nor any agency shall interfere.”
To women in Xinjiang, the orders from the government were clear: They didn’t have a choice.
Last year, a community worker in Urumqi, the regional capital, where Ms. Sedik had lived, sent messages saying women between 18 and 59 had to submit to pregnancy and birth control inspections.
“If you fight with us at the door and if you refuse to cooperate with us, you will be taken to the police station,” the worker wrote, according to screenshots of the WeChat messages that Ms. Sedik shared with The Times.
encourage births, including by providing tax subsidies and free IUD removals. But from 2015 to 2018, Xinjiang’s share of the country’s total new IUD insertions increased, even as use of the devices fell nationwide.
The contraception campaign appeared to work.
report by a Xinjiang government research center read. “They have avoided the pain of being trapped by extremism and being turned into reproductive tools.”
Women like Ms. Sedik, who had obeyed the rules, were not spared. After the IUD procedure, Ms. Sedik suffered from heavy bleeding and headaches. She later had the device secretly removed, then reinserted. In 2019, she decided to be sterilized.
“The government had become so strict, and I could no longer take the IUD,’” said Ms. Sedik, who now lives in the Netherlands after fleeing China in 2019. “I lost all hope in myself.”
‘The women of Xinjiang are in danger’
leaked last year from Karakax County, in southwestern Xinjiang, which revealed that one of the most common reasons cited for detention was violating birth planning policies.
government notice from a county in Ili, unearthed by Mr. Zenz, the researcher.
operated under secrecy — many were subjected tointerrogations. For some, the ordeal was worse.
Tursunay Ziyawudun was detained in a camp in Ili Prefecture for 10 months for traveling to Kazakhstan. She said that on three occasions, she was taken to a dark cell where two to three masked men raped her and used electric batons to forcibly penetrate her.
“You become their toy,” Ms. Ziyawudun said in a telephone interview fromthe United States,where she now lives, as she broke down sobbing. “You just want to die at the time, but unfortunately you don’t.”
Gulbahar Jalilova, the third former detainee, said in an interview that she had been beaten in a camp and that a guard exposed himself during an interrogation and wanted her to perform oral sex.
The three former detainees, along with two others who spoke to The Times, also described being regularly forced to take unidentified pills or receive injections of medication that caused nausea and fatigue. Eventually, a few of them said, they stopped menstruating.
The former detainees’ accounts could not be independently verified because tight restrictions in Xinjiang make unfettered access to the camps impossible. The Chinese government has forcefully denied all allegations of abuse in the facilities.
Beijing has sought to undermine the credibility of the women who have spoken out, accusing them of lying and of poor morals, all while claiming to be a champion of women’s rights.
‘We are all Chinese’
Even in their homes, the women did not feel safe. Uninvited Chinese Communist Party cadres would show up and had to be let in.
The party sends out more than a million workers to regularly visit, and sometimes stay in, the homes of Muslims, as part of a campaign called “Pair Up and Become Family.” To many Uyghurs, the cadres were little different from spies.
The cadres were tasked with reporting on whether the families they visited showed signs of “extremist behavior.” For women, this included any resentment they might have felt about state-mandated contraceptive procedures.
When the party cadres came to stay in 2018, Zumret Dawut had just been forcibly sterilized.
Four Han cadres visited her in Urumqi, bringing yogurt and eggs to help with the recovery, she recalled. They were also armed with questions: Did she have any issues with the sterilization operation? Was she dissatisfied with the government’s policy?
“I was so scared that if I said the wrong thing they would send me back to the camps,” said Ms. Dawut, a mother of three. “So I just told them, ‘We are all Chinese people and we have to do what the Chinese law says.’”
But the officials’ unwelcome gaze settled also on Ms. Dawut’s 11-year-old daughter, she said. One cadre, a 19-year-old man who was assigned to watch the child, would sometimes call Ms. Dawut and suggest taking her daughter to his home. She was able to rebuff him with excuses that the child was sick, she said.
Other women reported having to fend off advances even in the company of their husbands.
Ms. Sedik, the Uzbek teacher, was still recovering from a sterilization procedure when her “relative” — her husband’s boss — showed up.
She was expected to cook, clean and entertain him even though she was in pain from the operation. Worse, he would ask to hold her hand or to kiss and hug her, she said.
Mostly, Ms. Sedik agreed to his requests, terrified that if she refused, he would tell the government that she was an extremist. She rejected him only once: when he asked to sleep with her.
It went on like this every month or so for two years — until she left the country.
“He would say, ‘Don’t you like me? Don’t you love me?’” she recalled. “‘If you refuse me, you are refusing the government.’”
“I felt so humiliated, oppressed and angry,” she said. “But there was nothing I could do.”
Amy Chang Chien and Fatima Er contributed reporting.
KABUL, Afghanistan — One by one they brought the girls up the steep hill, shrouded bodies covered in a ceremonial prayer cloth, the pallbearers staring into the distance. Shouted prayers for the dead broke the silence.
The bodies kept coming and the gravediggers stayed busy, straining in the hot sun. The ceaseless rhythm was grim proof of the preceding day’s news: Saturday afternoon’s triple bombing at a local school had been an absolute massacre, targeting girls. There was barely room atop the steeply pitched hill for all the new graves.
The scale of the killing and the innocence of the victims seemed further unnerving proof of the country’s violent unraveling, as the Taliban make daily gains and the government seems unable to halt their advances or protect its people from mass killings. On Sunday there were mourners everywhere in the neighborhood of the bombing, home to the persecuted Shiite Hazara ethnic minority, but hardly any security to protect them.
The death toll exceeded even previous massacres in this bustling neighborhood of a minority long singled out for persecution by the Taliban and, in recent years, the Islamic State. Afghanistan’s second vice president, Sarwar Danesh, himself a Hazara, said more than 80 people had been killed in the attack.
attack on a wrestling club that killed 20, the school attack that August in which 34 students were killed, and the 2017 mosque bombing in which 39 died. Not to mention the massacres of Hazara in the civil war-torn Kabul of the early 1990s by the forces of warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and his ally, Ahmad Shah Massoud, now revered — not by Hazaras — as a national hero.
The absence of government security forces Sunday, even though funerals are often targeted by the extremists, prompted some to say that the community could rely only on itself.
“If we want to protect ourselves, men and women should pick up guns,” said Ghulam, the day laborer.
The attack “compels Hazaras to pick up guns and defend themselves,” said Arif Rahmani, a Hazara member of Parliament. “Whether the government likes it not, people will stand up and provide themselves with their own security,” he said. “Hazaras will have to make their own decisions,” he said. “There will be gunmen on every corner and street of their neighborhoods.”
Outside the school Sunday a crowd surrounded an elderly man shouting, “God, please help us!” A man listening said: “The only option is to take up guns. We just buried an 11-year-old girl. What is her crime?”
The man, Qasim Hassani, a vendor, continued: “If the government doesn’t stop these terrorists from coming into our neighborhoods, we will do it. Today I am just a vendor. But if they keep pushing, I will be the next Alipur.”
President Ashraf Ghani proclaimed Tuesday a national day of mourning for the victims.
The blast was so powerful it shattered the windows of stores a considerable distance down the street.
“It’s terrifying,” said Naugiz Almadi, a mother clutching her young daughter outside the school. “Hazaras have nothing to protect them. Only God.”
In 2017, when the media was flooded with women’s stories of sexual harassment, Ms. Franks wrote an opinion essay for The Times in which she recalled her male colleagues’ snub over her Pulitzer.
“Grateful to win a place in the hierarchy of power,” she wrote, “we didn’t understand the ways that gender degradation still shaped our work lives.”
Lucinda Laura Franks was born on July 16, 1946, in Chicago. Her family soon moved to Wellesley, Mass. Her mother, Lorraine Lois (Leavitt) Franks, was involved in civic activities, including as president of the Wellesley Junior Service League. Her father, Thomas E. Franks, was vice president of a metals company.
While growing up, Ms. Franks wrote, she found her parents’ marriage grim, and she left home as soon as possible. She went to Vassar, where she majored in English and steeped herself in the counterculture. After graduating in 1968, she left for London.
Her mother died in 1976, and Ms. Franks had little contact with her father. She later learned that he had been unfaithful to her mother, was a heavy drinker and over time had become nearly penniless. And only toward the end of his life (he died in 2002), while moving him out of his cluttered house in Milford, Mass., did she discover, to her shock, boxes of Nazi paraphernalia and cryptic documents. He had been a secret agent during World War II, she found — an experience, she would learn, that had tormented him.
As a former spy, he had been sworn to secrecy. But Alzheimer’s was eating away at his memory, and under his daughter’s relentless questioning, he revealed his secrets.
An Egyptian mummy that for decades was thought to be a male priest was recently discovered to have been a pregnant woman, making it the first known case of its kind, scientists said.
Scientists in Poland made the discovery while conducting a comprehensive study, which started in 2015, of more than 40 mummies at the National Museum in Warsaw, said Wojciech Ejsmond, an archaeologist and a director of the Warsaw Mummy Project, which led the research.
The findings were published last month in The Journal of Archaeological Science. “It was absolutely unexpected,” Dr. Ejsmond said.
“Our anthropologist was double-checking the pelvis area of the mummy to establish the sex of the mummy and check everything, and she observed something weird in the pelvis area, some kind of anomaly,” he said.
Papyrus from around 1825 B.C., revealed that materials such as honey and crocodile dung were used as contraceptives.
Still, very little is known about prenatal care in ancient times, Dr. Ejsmond said.
Dr. Nagel said about 30 percent of infants died within their first year of life during ancient times. After learning of the discovery of the pregnant mummy, he said he was intrigued about what further study could reveal about Egyptian beliefs concerning the afterlife of unborn children.
Further research is needed to learn more about the health of the pregnant mummy. That could require taking microsamples of soft tissue, Dr. Ejsmond said.
“It’s a very small amount of soft tissue, so one will not see any difference on the mummy, but still we’re interrogating into the structure of the object,” he said.
Scientists hope that publishing their findings can attract attention from physicians and experts in other fields to help in the next stage of research.
“This is a good base to start a bigger project about this mummy,” Dr. Ejsmond said, “because this will require a lot of experts to make decent interdisciplinary research.”