Female Complaints

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

September mornings, and the sun is finally shining in London. The first flurry of falling leaves are swept up and the pavements look just a little bit fresher, gardens are tidied for winter and their last autumnal blooms wave at us before the summer light fades. Children are back to school and there is a bustle of work, increased traffic on public transport and Boris had some questions to answer in Parliament on Monday afternoon. Which he did, with his hair combed softly – he knew it would be a difficult day – and a promise to fulfill one election pledge by breaking another. Taxes in one form or another must to go up, to pay for the increased health care needs of the country. It is not all the fault of the elderly for living longer – though that could be where to focus some attention. But after the afternoon session in parliament, it is onto the ‘Let’s all have a drink together and get along’ cocktail party hosted by Johnson, and paid for by us, as he tries to keep his friends close and his enemies closer. The Right Honorable Jacob Rees Mogg gave a weak smile before turning his back on the reporters and, with double-vented jacket not showing him to advantage, entering number 10 Downing Street. The Right Honorable Michael Gove may still be in Aberdeen. Luckily Domonic Raab is nowhere to be seen having slipped off to Pakistan trying to find safe passage for those afghans left behind after the British evacuation of Afghanistan. There is no certainty that Raab can return with the needed free pass tickets on his shopping list.

The Right Honorable Jacob Rees Mogg on the bench

We hear less from Afghanistan, but the news stories that do come through are of cruelty and despair, such as the pregnant police woman, Banu Negar, killed in front of her family. There will be no ‘good news’ coming from Kabul until the Taliban control the media outlets and feed news to the Western world. How it is that Secunder Kermani and Lyse Doucet can continue to report for the BBC from Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan is hard to fathom. With a new government not yet formed, and young men on the streets all eager to do something, the Taliban’s promise of ‘No grudges, no revenge’ is proving messy to follow. We hear little of how other countries faired getting their personal out during the Taliban take over and may hear even less about how they might return.

But the Taliban and the new Afghanistan leadership need money. Europe recognizes this and Germany appears to be leading by a nose, sniffing out what opportunities there are still in this land-locked country. Where can a foothold be found that will ensure a western presence to plug the hole of a ship-side leak open to the seas of Russian and Chinese advances?

The Taliban say that women and girls will have full rights ‘under Islamic law’ but Islamic law, like any other law, is subject to interpretation and already new rules about dress and education leave many women and their families fearful. Such strict laws preclude many women from the problems that beset women from other countries and, as has been recently seen – states such as Texas.

The new laws in Texas, banning abortion for whatever reason beyond 6 weeks of gestation, brings fear to this generation of fecund women and some hash memories back to those way past their prime. Seeing the protests in Texas of young women dressed in the red cloak of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” was as chilling as anything we have seen in America since the beginning of this year. Margaret Atwood says of her 1985 novel “I didn’t put in anything that we haven’t already done, we’re not already doing, we’re seriously trying to do, coupled with trends that are already in progress… So all of these things are real, and therefore the amount of pure invention is close to nil.” It is as if the men of Texas and beyond have said to themselves, ‘Yeah. This is how it should be.’ 

Women in Texas

And that can be the burping misfiring of art, rather like ‘Apocalypse Now’ conceived as the ultimate antiwar film only ofttimes used as a training tool to those young men and women heading out to the deserts and beyond.   

“I tried gin, hot baths, the lot” said my mother recounting her reaction when learning she was pregnant – with me. Not necessarily how one wants to feel welcomed into the world, but no less true because of it. Documented in the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus 1850 BC, ways to prevent an unwanted pregnancy have been sought out and used to various degrees of dissatisfaction, despair, disease and death. Fighting for legal methods of birth control have consumed women, and some men, during the past two centuries, and remains contentious to this day. Those of us who ‘came of age’, in the mid-1960’s still remember the fear of unwanted pregnancies.

A little box of little pills. From the Welcome Trust Museum.

For nurses there were various paths open within hospital systems: volunteering to take patients to the X-ray department, before the mandatory introduction of lead aprons was one; a somewhat-drunken date with a maintenance supervisor who was as handy as any Vera Drake in his day another. And then there were Widow Welch’s Pills. Containing high doses of iron, pennyroyal and juniper and advertised as being very effective in curing ‘Female Obstruction’ they were freely obtainable from Boots the Chemists.

And if prayer, that first and last resort, was also tried and failed, there may be a rushed marriage and definitely expulsion from nursing school. For pregnancy and even marriage made one unsuitable for the profession. Meanwhile those impregnating young doctors graduated into their lives carrying only their memories that faded over time.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

A Dereliction of Duty

Recorded and knit together by WSM

“On an extraordinary scale”, said Major Gen Charlie Herbert, who served three tours in Afghanistan between 2007-2018. “It is almost impossible to believe that the Prime Minister departed on holiday on Saturday; he should hang his head in shame.” 

Again – I might add, as we continue shaking our heads at the inconceivable conceit of this government while trying to wrap our minds around the suffering, fear and deaths that are taking place in Afganistan this week.

It came quickly, to those who have been diverted from the Middle East by relief at getting through the Tokyo Olympics with some honour, and then the helpless sadness at the latest earthquake destruction in Haiti with the number of dead reaching 1500 and Storm Grace closing in on the country. I think back on the young firemen from California who flew in to help in the last earthquake and pray another wave are willing to take on that relay baton. 

Throughout the summer the BBC gives trial runs to hopeful new young newscasters. So on Sunday night a lovely young woman smiles her way through the news from Afganistan before going live to Kabul. But Secunder Kermani, the BBC’s Afganistan correspondent was not there. In his place is a clearly nervous, Malik Mudassir who has a hard time staying focused on the camera. Afganistan is the third most dangerous country for news reporters. The BBC reporter Ahmad Shah, was killed in the province of Khosa, earlier this year on a day which left nearly 40 people dead.

Ahmad Shah reporting

This evacuation remains a withdrawal of shambolic proportions that is ever changing as I write. There is no captain of the ship. No brave president Ashraf Ghani staying until the last. Ghani is gone. The Kabul airport seems to have been allocated an international zone and over 60 countries are operating from makeshift desks and computers at that site. The UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, is there helping to process visa applications for over 4,000 British nationals and eligible Afghans. Dominic Raab’s office said the evacuation efforts will continue for “as long as we are able to do so and as long as it is safe to do so”. Cordoned off by the US troops this area of the airport is – for the moment – a safe haven for some. There are literally thousands of citizens from countries around the world, each that held a little presence, for their own ‘special interests’ in Afganistan, now clamoring to reach the airport and a plane. Like players on a monopoly board, they are now all ready to sell their stock for a flight out of the country. Except for the Russian and Chinese embassies. They are staying in town for informal chats with the Taliban leaders as they form a new government. Russian’s Presidential envoy to Afganistan, Zamir Kabulov, said that Moscow would decide on recognizing the new Taliban government based “on the conduct of the new authorities.” Vladimir must be chuckling at the debortle that his ‘Lets make a deal’ orange puppet offered last May. Like a patient fisherman he can just keep warm, sitting on the banks of this river of history, watching his line bob and duck under the rippled water that is Afganistan today. History, repeating again, from the Coup of 1953 in Iran through to this moment. With Joe Biden’s stance, can or will America and western countries keep their sticky fingers out of other peoples pies? It is doubtful.

But it is possible that when Boris Johnson said, “There is no military solution to the ‘problems’ in Afganistan’ he may have been saying – finally – a long-overdue truth, in all senses of the word. In August, when the country ‘shuts up shop’ and goes on holiday, there is usually a flurry of silly activity to find the Prime Minister on his or her holiday and, in the best English journalistic way, make a mockery of their chosen hideaway. But this year all was strangely quiet. And now we know why. Both the Prime Minister and the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, popped off for their summer holidays at the same time on Saturday. Johnson to Somerset, and Raab was in Cyprus until Sunday, hours before the fall of Kabul. Neither had showed up for work for over a week. Boris Johnson’s departure on Saturday, despite public warnings the Taliban would be in Kabul within hours, has been soundly criticized as a “dereliction of duty” by former senior military and security figures and may well cost him those deep conservative votes and pockets he counts on.

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, who served in the Scots Guards, appeared to choke up as he spoke of his regret that “some people won’t get back”.

The Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen called into the BBC, live on air “There will be no revenge  on the people of Afghanistan. We are awaiting a peaceful transfer of power. We assure the people of Afghanistan, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe – there will be no revenge on anyone. We are the servants of the people and of this country.”

Spokesman Suhail Shakeen. Photo from the Daily Express

On the Sunday night news screen, a middle-aged Afganistan woman, a teacher – of girls – spoke with bewilderment at her new reality, “I thought I was doing good, teaching.” On a phone from an empty room she looks about thoughtfully, now unsure what will become of her. And neither are we as posters and billboards depicting women in places of influence are blacked out throughout the cities of Afganistan.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com