While the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, girls were forbidden to attend school and the freedoms of adult women were severely restricted.
Those who engaged in activities that wouldn’t even cross the minds of most Westerners as problematic, such as leaving their homes without an escort from a male member of their family or even having a job were severely punished.
Rape and crimes of domestic violence were ignored by Afghan courts. Women could not be examined by male doctors or even have surgery if there was a man on the operating team. They were not allowed to play sports, not allowed to sing and could be beaten for merely being overheard in a public place.
There’s been a lot made of how the NATO occupation of Afghanistan has changed all that. But with Canadian troops leaving the country in a couple of months and other European and American forces soon to follow, few believe the gains made for women and girls will last.
Meanwhile, the influence of the Taliban has spread next door in Pakistan, where in October of 2012, twelve year old Malala Yousafzai was shot by Taliban gunmen who had simply asserted her right to have an education.
Malala survived the attack, becoming an international celebrity and the youngest nominee for a Nobel prize as she continued to press for the right of girls in Pakistan to go to school.
But the groundswell of support she sparked around the world has made no difference in the Swat Valley of Pakistan that had been her home, a home to which she cannot return.
Victoria, BC, filmmaker Mohsin Abbas has just completed a film about Malala’s life and work entitled “A Girl From Paradise”, a shoot that took him into the Swat Valley and face-to-face with the Taliban. And the film he shot does not paint a pretty picture of the future that lies in store for girls like Malala.
More than 400 schools have been burned down by the Taliban and none have been rebuilt. More than 27 Million kids are no longer even going to school in Pakistan and 7 million of primary school age have never spent a single day in one.
Meanwhile, the Taliban leader who ordered Malala’s execution, Mullah Fazullah, has been elevated to the extremist group’s top job, his attack on a little girl fuelling rather than short-circuiting his rise to power.
Normally, I’d be linking you to where you might be able to see Mohsin Abbas’ film. But it’s a Canadian documentary, meaning that despite its power and currency it’s struggling to reach an audience.
Yeah, you might eventually see it at a local film festival or late night broadcast on a cable channel. But it deserves, as do so many Canadian docs, a better fate.
Does it strike anybody besides me as troubling that we have corporate entities willing to put their names on sparkling film venues like the Vancity Theatre in Vancouver or Toronto’s Bell Lightbox, where patrons can sip Lattes and gawk at movie memorabilia; but there’s little if any money from the same wealthy corporations to support the films those venues were supposedly built to serve.
Meanwhile, the government agencies that continue to pretend they’re supporting the Canadian film industry have failed to build a distribution and exhibition infrastructure to get the work of Canadian filmmakers to the people who paid for them on any kind of consistent or regular basis.
If you think it’s hard to find a Canadian film in theatres, start looking for one from a particular genre, even genres as wide-ranging as family films and especially documentaries.
“A Girl From Paradise” is a film that needs to be seen. Just as we as a country need to start asking whether the blood and treasure we’ve spent in that part of the world, much of it better the lives of girls and women, will be allowed to go to waste.
Enjoy Your Sunday.