Ms. Carreon-John noted that more than a third of the U.S. track and field women’s roster is made up of Nike athletes. “Individual situations of a handful of athletes are not representative of Nike’s support of women’s sport,” she said, adding, “No footwear, apparel or equipment manufacturer provides the level of support Nike provides to women’s sport, period.”
To be sure, Nike is a huge company and has supported a sprawling number of athletes for decades. “Nike has done a lot of great things, but sometimes when you’re the big brand, there are more opportunities to get things wrong at the end of the day,” said Merhawi Keflezighi, founder of HAWI Management, who represented Mr. Berian and manages Ms. Pappas. He commended the company for changing its policies for pregnant athletes and added that since 2016, the industry has become less aggressive about reduction clauses in contracts.
The new sponsorship opportunities are arising as the athletic apparel market continues to grow — a trend further fueled by the pandemic. Athleta and Lululemon were among the rare apparel brands that saw sales soar last year. In the running world, there were five to six brands that were more visible at the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., in June than in the past, Ms. Neuburger of Lululemon said.
“The athletic sportswear and athleisure market is transforming from growth to maturity with newer and rising entrants,” said Angeline Close Scheinbaum, associate professor of marketing at Clemson University. “So naturally, a shift in athlete endorsers from the market leader to other brands is occurring.”
Dr. Scheinbaum said that she viewed the trend as less of an exodus from established leaders and more about “athletes, especially women, joining a smaller brand that can become synonymous with these star athletes and their platforms and stories.”
Indeed, brands that are pursuing elite women athletes are keen to embrace their backgrounds and causes that matter to them. Ms. Cain said that the most famous women athletes have often become household names because they have an “and” tied to their performance — “athlete and activist” or “athlete and mental health advocate,” she said.
“Unless you have five different ways to sell yourself, you’re just not valued monetarily in the same way as the white dude next to you is,” she said. While that dynamic is unfair, she said, it has created a situation where women athletes often have bigger and more engaged followings online, and more brands are starting to take notice of that.
More than 1,500 workers for the video game maker Activision Blizzard walked out from their jobs this week. Thousands signed a letter rebuking their employer. And even as the chief executive apologized, current and former employees said they would not stop raising a ruckus.
Shay Stein, who used to work at Activision, said it was “heartbreaking.” Lisa Welch, a former vice president, said she felt “profound disappointment.” Others took to Twitter or waved signs outside one of the company’s offices on Wednesday to share their anger.
Activision, known for its hugely popular Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and StarCraft gaming franchises, has been thrown into an uproar over workplace behavior issues. The upheaval stems from an explosive lawsuit that California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed on July 20, accusing the $65 billion company of fostering a “frat boy workplace culture” in which men joked about rape and women were routinely harassed and paid less than their male colleagues.
Activision publicly criticized the agency’s two-year investigation and allegations as “irresponsible behavior from unaccountable state bureaucrats.” But its dismissive tone angered employees, who called out the company for trying to sweep away what they said were heinous problems that had been ignored for too long.
Hollywood, restaurants and the media — the male-dominated video game sector has long stood out for its openly toxic behavior and lack of change. In 2014, feminist critics of the industry faced death threats in what became known as Gamergate. Executives at the gaming companies Riot Games and Ubisoft have also been accused of misconduct.
Now the actions at Activision may signal a new phase, where a critical mass of the industry’s own workers are indicating they will no longer tolerate such behavior.
“This could mean some real accountability for companies that aren’t taking care of their workers and are creating inequitable work environments where women and gender minorities are kept at the margins and abused,” said Carly Kocurek, an associate professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology who studies gender in gaming.
She said California’s lawsuit and the fallout at Activision were a “big deal” for an industry that had traditionally shrugged off claims of sexism and harassment. Other gaming companies are most likely watching the situation, she added, and considering whether they need to address their own cultures.
spared little detail. Many of the misconduct accusations focused on a division called Blizzard, which the company merged with through a deal with Vivendi Games in 2008.
The lawsuit accused Activision of being a “a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.” Employees engaged in “cube crawls” in which they got drunk and acted inappropriately toward women at work cubicles, the lawsuit said.
In one case, a female employee died by suicide during a business trip because of the sexual relationship she had been having with her male supervisor, the lawsuit said. Before her death, male colleagues had shared an explicit photo of the woman, according to the lawsuit.
Employees reacted furiously. An open letter addressed to Activision’s leaders calling for them to take the accusations more seriously and “demonstrate compassion” for victims attracted more than 3,000 signatures from current and former employees by Wednesday. The company has nearly 10,000 employees.
“We no longer trust that our leaders will place employee safety above their own interests,” the letter said, calling Ms. Townsend’s remarks “unacceptable.”
a $155 million pay package that makes him one of the country’s highest-paid executives, added that the company would beef up the team that investigated reported misconduct, fire managers who were found to have impeded investigations and remove in-game content that had been flagged as inappropriate.
Employees said it was not enough.
“We will not return to silence; we will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point,” organizers of the walkout said in a public statement. They declined to be identified out of fear of reprisal.
TOKYO — Kurumi Mochizuki is the kind of skilled soccer player who can roll a ball from between her shoulder blades to the top of her head and onto her right foot, keeping it aloft for more than a dozen kicks. She makes it look so easy.
Yet when she practices with her local club team in southeastern Tokyo, her coaches sometimes advise her to take longer breaks than her teammates, and warn her not to pick up heavy bags of balls when clearing equipment from the field.
All because she is a girl.
Kurumi, 13, is the only girl on her team. She plays with boys because there are no girls’ club teams near her neighborhood andno girls’ team at her middle school. Finding a team in high school will be difficult, too. Only one of the 14 schools in Kurumi’s area offers a girls’ team. Her older brother, who plays soccer at his high school, has had no such trouble — almost all the high schools in the district have boys’ soccer teams.
Tokyo Olympics, which open next month, offer an opportunity to anoint another crop of champions to inspire girls with athletic aspirations. But after the Olympic spotlight dims, those like Kurumi will still face powerful obstacles.
Japan has no law like Title IX, the American statute that requires schools receiving public funding to offer equal opportunities to boys and girls, and there is no public data on how much schools spend on extracurricular sports or how it breaks down on gender lines.
Female athletes who persevere often have to push past stereotypes that they are doing something unladylike, jeopardizing their chances of attracting boys and later becoming wives and mothers. Even their coaches view their participation through this lens, in some cases giving them etiquette lessons to ensure they are ready for domestic life.
2011 Women’s World Cup and claimed the silver medal at the London Olympics in 2012.
She followed her brother into soccer when she was 6. “When I was little, I never thought about it,” she said of being the sole girl on her team. “But once I got a bit older, I was much more aware of it.”
The extracurricular soccer team at her public middle school is technically coed, although not one of the team’s 40 players is a girl. Kurumi decided to stick to the club team she had played with since elementary school rather than try to break into a new group at school.
“There is a difference in strength and aggressiveness between boys and girls,” said Shigeki Komatsu, the middle school’s vice principal, standing on the sidelines as the boys scrimmaged on a gravel pitch, their cleats kicking up puffs of dust.
hopes that the situation would improve for female athletes in Japan.
Before that victory, girls in the United States had flocked to suburban soccer clubs after the U.S. women won the World Cup on American soil in 1999.
Koshien, that is more than 100 years old. Just after New Year’s, huge audiences tune in to watch the Hakone Ekiden, a college-level marathon relay that is restricted to male runners.
There are few vocal advocates for female athletes, and most of their coaches are men who often do not provide support for the physical changes that girls undergo in adolescence.
Hanae Ito, a swimmer who represented Japan at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, said coaches along the way had told her she was “mentally weak” when she gained weight or suffered menstruation-related mood changes as a teenage athlete.
“I thought it was a problem with me or that it was my fault,” she said. “But I think that this all ties back to Japan being a patriarchal society. Even women’s sports is seen from a male gaze.”
The idea that female athletes need to worry about their future prospects with men is deeply rooted.
After Hideko Maehata, an Olympic swimmer, became the first woman to win a gold medal for Japan, The Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest newspapers, heralded her victory at the 1936 Berlin Summer Games with the headline: “Next Up Is Marriage.”
Such attitudes persist today. Yuki Suzuki, who played in Japan’s Nadeshiko women’s professional soccer league and taught the sport until she gave birth to her son, is frustrated by the rigid gender definitions.
“Girls are often told ‘be feminine, be feminine,’” said Ms. Suzuki, now 34. “I think we have to change the fundamental culture of Japan when it comes to women.”
Even when girls get the chance to play, a bias toward boys emerges in small ways. At the middle school Kurumi attends, the boys’ volleyball and basketball teams get the gym three days a week for practice, while the girls use it the other two days.
Kurumi said she tried not to worry about the unequal treatment. She does not hold it against her coaches, she said, for barring her from carrying heavy equipment during practice.
“I am sure the coaches just care about me,” she said. “But personally, I know I could carry it.”
After China said it would allow couples to have three children, the state news media trumpeted the move as a major change that would help stimulate growth. But across much of the country, the announcement was met with indignation.
Women worried that the move would only exacerbate discrimination from employers reluctant to pay maternity leave. Young people fumed that they were already hard-pressed to find jobs and take care of themselves, let alone a child (or three). Working-class parents said the financial burden of more children would be unbearable.
“I definitely will not have another child,” said Hu Daifang, a former migrant worker in Sichuan Province. Mr. Hu, 35, said he was already struggling, especially after his mother fell ill and could no longer help care for his two children. “It feels like we are just surviving, not living.”
For many ordinary Chinese, the news about the policy change on Monday was only a reminder of a problem they’d long recognized: the drastic inadequacy of China’s social safety net and legal protections that would enable them to have more children.
Pregnancy discrimination is widespread in China, with women reporting being fired or demoted after telling their bosses they were expecting a child. Some women have even reported being forced to sign contracts promising not to get pregnant within a certain period at new jobs.
“As a woman, you’re inherently at a disadvantage in the workplace,” Ms. Li said.
Ms. Li said she was sympathetic to her boss’s concerns. She did believe that as a manager, her absence would be inconvenient for the company. She acknowledged that she herself, when interviewing candidates, would sometimes wonder whether a new hire would soon leave to give birth.
as some other countries do, and mandate paternity leave, so women would not be singled out for being parents.
had already barred employers from asking women about their marital or childbearing status in 2019, and the problem was weak enforcement. The government has often encouraged women to retreat to more traditional gender roles, in an effort to increase the birthrate.
“Our government is very good at empty talk,” said Lu Pin, a Chinese feminist activist. “It’s meaningless to just look at a few things they said.”
Ms. Lu expected workplace discrimination against women to get worse. Employers might fear that women would want to have a third child — even if, she added, that was unlikely to be the case, given broader trends.
The lack of social support may discourage those who would otherwise want more children, but a more fundamental issue may be a lack of interest among younger, better educated women who have declared a preference for small families. Even if the government did offer more benefits, Ms. Li said, she would not want to have a third child.
“Two is pretty good,” she said. “There’s no point to having too many.”
When Belgium said in March that it would repatriate some women who had joined the Islamic State, along with their children, Jessie Van Eetvelde welcomed the decision with relief — even though she knows it will likely mean time in prison.
She and her two children have been living for at least two years in detention camps in Syria. Her dream, she says, is to have her children, whose father fought for the Islamic State, attend school in Belgium. For that, she is ready to pay the price of having joined the militant group in 2014, if Belgium will take her back.
“Maybe they realized that those who want to go back are sorry and want a second chance,” Ms. Van Eetvelde, 43, said recently in a WhatsApp voice message.
Many European countries have balked at allowing the return of people linked to ISIS, yet some, like Belgium and Finland, are now heeding the advice of security experts and rights groups who say that repatriations are the safest option.
lost its last territorial foothold in Syria, more than 200 women from 11 European countries and their 650 children are living in two Syrian camps, Al Hol and Roj, according to figures compiled by Thomas Renard, a researcher at the Egmont Institute, a Brussels-based think tank.
Although the Europeans represent a small fraction of the 60,000 people being held in the camps, who are mostly Iraqis and Syrians, European governments are facing increasing pressure to bring the adults back to face trial amid an argument that the countries’ inaction violates their commitment to human rights.
Security experts, rights groups and lawyers of those who went to ISIS territories acknowledge that European governments face legitimate security concerns, along with political dynamics in countries fearful of terrorist attacks. But a growing number of government and intelligence officials say that leaving European citizens in Syria comes with greater risks, including that they could join terrorist groups that target Europe.
Kazakhstan and Turkey have repatriated many of their own citizens to prosecute them and, in some cases, reintegrate them into society.
The Kurdish leadership in the region that oversees the camps has not prosecuted the women, whose roles under ISIS’s rule often remain unclear. And because the administration is not internationally recognized, any prosecutions would still not get them out of their legal limbo.
Most European countries say that they have no legal obligation to help their citizens in the camps and that adults who joined ISIS should be prosecuted in Iraq and Syria.
Save the Children.
Reprieve says that many women in the camps were trafficked, raped and forced into marriage and domestic servitude.
Yet in several European countries, repatriations remain out of the question, said a French intelligence official who requested anonymity to discuss the topic. Part of the hesitancy, security analysts say, is that repatriated women could receive light or no prison sentences.
Britain has stripped British citizenship from nearly 20 women who joined ISIS, in some cases taking them to court to prevent their return. France has turned down numerous calls for repatriation, even as some of the women staged a monthlong hunger strike. The Netherlands and Sweden said that they might take in children, but without their mothers.
France reels from years of terrorist attacks, the government has opposed calls to repatriate people who left to wage jihad.
Although France has taken in 35 children from the camps on a case-by-case basis, 100 women with French citizenship and their 200 children remain mostly in the Roj camp, according to Jean-Charles Brisard, the director of the Paris-based Center for the Analysis of Terrorism.
France was due to repatriate at least 160 of them in early 2019, according to intelligence documents brought to light by the newspaper Libération that spring and seen by The Times this year. But the situation in the camps became too volatile, the French intelligence official said, and the plan was abandoned.
asked the International Criminal Court to consider whether the country’s policy makes President Emmanuel Macron complicit in war crimes.
A French woman who went on hunger strike in the Roj camp said that there was no running water and that many people there had respiratory problems. (The Times is not publishing her name, because she says she has received death threats from ISIS supporters who oppose their return to France.) “It’s very difficult to see doctors and dentists — there are no medicines,” she said, adding that the Frenchwomen wanted to return “to be tried, to be jailed.”
Jussi Tanner, a diplomat from Finland who is in charge of his country’s repatriations, said the women and children’s return was not a matter of “if, but of when and how.”
“Repatriating them as quickly as we can is better from a security point of view rather than pretending that the problem goes away when we look away,” he said. “You can leave them there, but they will return anyway.”
Claire Moses, Christopher F. Schuetze and Jasmina Nielsen contributed reporting.
Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.
As a freelance photographer, I was contacted by The New York Times in February to create a series of portraits of 15 mothers in Los Angeles who had been forced out of their jobs because of the pandemic.
I had become a mother during the pandemic, so this story struck a particular chord with me. I had lost some work as the coronavirus shut down the country, and it scared me to begin motherhood while record numbers of women were leaving the work force.
As soon as I had my heart set on taking the assignment, my editor, Crista Chapman, and I realized this would be difficult to execute. I was working in Florida for a few months and would need at least a week in California, and my doctor advised against being away from my breastfeeding infant for multiple days. Also, Los Angeles County was just beginning to recover from a devastating wave of Covid-19, so the initial plan for me to photograph everyone at their homes or in an open studio space was scrapped.
I thought I was going to have to pass on the assignment all together, which felt particularly ironic. But I didn’t want to give up, so I decided to get creative and pitched remote portrait sessions with the women. I knew these might be a little trickier because all of our subjects were busy moms without a lot of time to deal with technology. So, to ensure I could pull this off, I did a practice session with my sister-in-law and her kids. I could use those images as a step-by-step guide for all the sessions, and Crista signed off on the idea.
I emailed and called each woman with the general plan for the photo shoot and then jumped right into the work.
I set up a video call, usually with my daughter on my lap, so a different kind of intimacy was quickly developed. We could relate to each other as mothers, which broke any awkwardness that might be felt from FaceTiming with a stranger. My daughter would giggle, their child would shove a stuffed animal on camera, and we would share stories about what we had been through over the past year.
While we chatted, I would have each woman take me on a tour of her space and show me anything that reminded her of life before Covid. This typically took about 30 minutes while I figured out lighting and composition. Once we decided on the space, I would have her set her camera up on whatever she could find — a chair, bookshelf, laptop stand or kitchen table. Then I would have her sit with her kids.
The women would set up the camera while I gave directions. Sometimes I had a child, husband or translator hold the phone and help me out. I was always clicking the capture button.
A big part of my process is watching body language and documenting, with minimal direction, how people occupy space. To create organic, intimate images that tell a story, I usually have to share physical space with the people I photograph. So, remote shoots introduced a totally new dynamic.
I typically work to create images with a sense of familiarity and closeness, and by creating remote photos this way, I was able to go (virtually) into these women’s homes and capture their daily life with their children in a new way, creating really intimate portraits that were much more immediate than they would have been had we done the photos in person as planned.
I wanted to capture the feeling many of us have experienced communicating with family and friends through our phones and computers this past year, and this approach provided a different level of engagement.
Since the shoot, I’ve continued working while raising our daughter. I think of those women often and wonder how they all feel as life in Los Angeles is opening back up. I don’t take for granted the work that I’ve gotten, and I hope we all collectively remember the women who are still at home, still taking care of the kids with their lives on hold.
While its island neighbors in the Pacific weathered military coups and internal volatility, Samoa long followed a predictable political course, keeping the same leader in power for more than two decades.
But as the country is set to usher in its first female prime minister, that status quo has been dramatically upended. The incoming leader, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, represents a sharp break from what she describes as a worrying slide away from the rule of law, and she has vowed to scrap a major infrastructure project backed by China, her country’s largest creditor.
And her ascension itself, after a dizzying seven-week period of uncertainty and intrigue that followed the April 9 election, has sent a rare charge through Samoan politics.
First, there was a dead heat at the polls. Ms. Mata’afa’s upstart party won as many seats in Parliament as the one led by the swaggering prime minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi. An independent candidate took the remaining seat, making him a kingmaker.
American Samoa — is more than four decades in the making. Ms. Mata’afa, 64, a high chief who holds the title fiame, was propelled into political leadership after her father, the country’s first prime minister, died when she was 18. Not long after, she became the matai, or head of her family — an unusually early rise.
legislation that threatened to change the structure of the Samoan judiciary.
“It wasn’t a difficult decision to make,” Ms. Mata’afa said. “What really led me to make the decision to step away was the dismantling of essentially the rule of law.”
“Because of that huge majority that the H.R.P.P. had,” she added, “it became a lot more rampant, even the internal checks weren’t there — I was getting to feel a bit like the lone voice. If you can’t do it from the inside, you have to step outside.”
She became the leader of a new opposition party, known as FAST, which drew a number of other H.R.P.P. defectors.
told local news media. “They should go to a church and pray instead of protesting in front of the courthouse.”
Ms. Mata’afa, for her part, said she just wanted to get on with the job.
“It’s a free world; he can talk about anything he likes,” she said. “I just like to spend my energy talking about things that need to be addressed.”
When reports began to emerge on Wednesday night that the murderous leader of the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram was dead, many Nigerians dismissed them immediately.
Over the years, the Nigerian military had announced the killing of that leader, Abubakar Shekau, several times before. And then he would show up online weeks later, taunting his supposed killers in video diatribes.
“If you have killed us, why are we still alive?” he asked in 2018, after the Nigerian military claimed to have “broken the heart and the soul” of Boko Haram, a group that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.
But this time feels different. It wasn’t the military announcing they had killed him. In fact, for hours on Wednesday night and on Thursday, the military was silent.
the 2014 kidnapping of the Chibok Girls, 276 schoolgirls who were abducted from their dormitories at night and who Mr. Shekau later vowed he would “sell in the market.”
over 100 are missing or remain in captivity, along with many other less famous, but often even younger victims.
Bunu Bukar, secretary of the Hunters’ Association in Borno State, who has played a key role in demobilizing Boko Haram fighters and is in contact with past and present members of the group. He said that 200 heavily armed ISWAP members descended on Mr. Shekau’s hide-out in Sambisa forest.
“When Shekau discovered that these people are very powerful and he also realized that it’s not Nigerian army, it’s ISWAP — he just planned to use explosive devices,” Mr. Bukar said. “He wore them all and confronted them directly. When the explosion came, Shekau was in pieces. And they also lost at least 40 fighters — ISWAP fighters.”
wrote Ahmad Salkida, the Nigerian journalist often credited with — and sometimes criticized for — having stellar sources inside Boko Haram.
In Maiduguri, people gathered in small groups to talk about the news, but most assigned it no greater status than another rumor. Likely a false alarm.
How do we fight disinformation? Join Times tech reporters as they untangle the roots of disinformation and how to combat it. Plus we speak to special guest comedian Sarah Silverman. R.S.V.P. to this subscriber-exclusive event. But Mr. Shekau and his group would have an indelible effect on Mr. Hamza, who had to flee Maiduguri for two years, and his family.“I lost a brother, a cousin and an uncle killed by Boko Haram,” he said. “Thousands of innocent people killed or displaced, especially women and children. How can God forgive such a heartless person?”For many, particularly those connected with the country’s armed forces, if Mr. Shekau was dead, it was not necessarily a positive development overall. It could mean that ISWAP, already powerful, posed much more of a threat to Maiduguri and other garrison cities, some said.If it really happened, “Shekau’s death is not an end to Boko Haram. It is only the beginning of another chapter in the group,” said Audu Bulama Bukarti, an expert on extremist groups in Africa at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.Warfare between the factions has killed hundreds of their members previously, he said, and if that continued, they would be weakened.“It will be two violent groups eating up themselves and that will be positive news for Nigeria,” he said. On the other hand, if the two factions teamed up, he said: “It will open an even deadlier chapter for security forces.”It would also make it harder to win the battle of ideas, he said, as ISWAP tends to be more benign to civilians.“Where Shekau alienated civilians with his capricious and often massive and violent seizures of cattle and grain, ISWAP has substituted a fairer, cash-based taxation of trade and agricultural production,” wrote the analyst Vincent Foucher in a recent report for the International Crisis Group.
Those who have suffered at Mr. Shekau’s hands almost hoped he had not been killed in the way it was reported on Thursday, feeling it was too easy a way out for him.
“I would have wished that he was caught alive, released to the military authorities and taken round the city of Maiduguri,” Mr. Hamza said. “We would surely have skinned him alive.”
Ro, the parent company of Roman, the brand that is best known for delivering erectile dysfunction and hair loss medication to consumers, announced on Wednesday that it would acquire Modern Fertility, a start-up that offers at-home fertility tests for women.
The deal is priced at more than $225 million, according to people with knowledge of the acquisition who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not public. It is one of the largest investments in the women’s health care technology space, known as femtech, which attracted $592 million in venture capital in 2019, according to an analysis by PitchBook.
Modern Fertility was founded in 2017 with its flagship product: a $159 finger prick test that can estimate how many eggs a woman may have left, which can help determine which fertility method might be best.
“We essentially took the same laboratory tests that women would take in an infertility clinic and made them available to women at a fraction of the cost,” said Afton Vechery, a founder and chief executive of Modern Fertility, noting that her own test at a clinic set her back $1,500.
valued in March at about $5 billion, has in recent years expanded into telehealth, including delivering generic drugs by mail. In December, Ro acquired Workpath, which connects patients with in-home care providers, like nurses.
The global digital health market, which includes telemedicine, online pharmacies and wearable devices, could reach $600 billion by 2024, according to the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. And yet, by one estimate, only 1.4 percent of the money that flows into health care goes to the femtech industry, mirroring a pattern in the medical industry, which has historically overlooked women’s health research.
“Gender bias in health care research methods and funding has really contributed to sexism in medicine and health care,” said Sonya Borrero, director of the Center for Women’s Health Research and Innovation at the University of Pittsburgh. “I think we’re seeing again — gender bias in the venture capital sector is going to exactly shape what gets developed.”
That underinvestment was part of the reasoning behind the acquisition, said Zachariah Reitano, Ro’s chief executive. The company developed a female-focused online service in 2019 called Rory.
“We’re going to continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years into women’s health,” Mr. Reitano said, “because ultimately I think women’s health has the potential to be much larger than men’s health.”
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.