On the Front Lines of Gender Equality with Pakistan’s Lady Cadets
Lady Cadet Wardah Noor, a slim 24-year-old Pakistani with deep-set eyes and an erect bearing, has pinned all her hopes on becoming a soldier.
“I found my civilian life to be slow moving and unsatisfying,” she told me one evening in September after a full day of class and training exercises at the prestigious Pakistan Military Academy (PMA). Raised in a middle-class home, Wardah had already earned a college degree in computer science but found little opportunity in her small village in Pakistan’s Punjab province, where horse-driven carts were still the primary mode of transportation. She craved discipline and structure. She wanted, she realized, to join the army.
LC Wardah was one of 32 women, ages 23 to 27, who comprised the PMA’s 2013 lady cadet class. The Academy is located in the town of Kakul, just a few miles from the Abbottabad compound where Osama bin Laden was killed by a team of Navy SEALs in 2011. It’s Pakistan’s answer to West Point; it’s just as hard to gain entry, and those who do, go on to lead young soldiers into battle.
Gaining admission to the academy is highly competitive. Once enrolled, male cadets spend two years of rigorous physical training and the study of war craft. Female cadets at the PMA, however, receive only six months’ training and then are assigned duties that don’t involve direct combat, serving as members of the medical and engineering corps, or analyzing tactics and logistics, or even training future officers.
“I want to be a part of protecting my country from the terrorists, and protect our borders,” LC Wardah explained. “We have both external threats as well as internal threats.”
Greece’s Kissing Gays Defied Neo-Nazis and Bigot Bishops Yesterday
I have always been ambivalent about January 6. It is the day before my birthday, which means I can get presents and get drunk. On the other hand, it is a great celebration of Orthodoxy. Greeks gather at various ports around the country and watch a rather theatrical religious tradition: priests throwing a crucifix into the sea while several young men dive into cold water and attempt to retrieve it for good luck. The day is called Theophany, or Epiphany, and it commemorates the revelation of God in human form through Jesus.
Since I’m an atheist, this whole ritual doesn’t mean much to me. However, this year January 6 got a lot more interesting. I got up early in the morning and joined a group of gay activists, members of Greece’s LGBT community, who gathered at the port of Piraeus to protest against Seraphim, the town’s ultra-conservative Bishop, who is notorious for his homophobic statements. By the time Seraphim tossed his cross into the sea, the assorted Ls, Gs, Bs and Ts were giving each other big gay kisses and handling out leaflets that read: “Love is not a sin.”
Last November, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Greece to allow same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships like straight people can. The Strasbourg-based tribunal ruled that, in not doing so, Athens was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Greece remains the only EU country other than Lithuania to refuse to extend this right to same-sex couples. Seraphim responded to the plans to make Greece join the rest of Europe in the 21st century by stating that “homosexuality is a unnatural aberration not even observed in animals.” A statement that discriminates against the sexual habits of manyalbatrosses, king penguins, dolphins, giraffes, and ancient Greeks.
The Red Marriage Equality Sign on Your Facebook Is Completely Useless
It’s a big week in the fight for “marriage equality,” which is what most gay activists want us to call gay marriage. Today the Supreme Court heard arguments for and against Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that struck down the state’s law to allow Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi the right to marry each other just as Britney Spears got hitched to some guy in a drunken haze one night so many years ago. Tomorrow the Court will hear arguments about the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 federal law signed by Bill Clinton that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Right now gay activism needs all the help it can get. But do you know what’s not helping? Changing your Facebook profile picture to a silly red and pink equal sign.
In more sad news for gay Americans waiting to have all the rights that go along with marriage and not just the ridiculously ornate parties and rituals, it looks like the court won’t issue a sweeping ruling to allow gay marriage in all 50 states. That means gay men and lesbians who call this country home will continue to be second-class citizens. Sorry to break it to everyone, but changing your little avatar isn’t doing anything to change that.
Yes, the show of support is heartwarming. It’s nice to see so many people who want their gay friends to be spoiled brides just like all their straight friends, but you’re not doing anything. This is just another form of passive activism that isn’t advancing the cause. Do you know what would be helpful? Actually picking up a sign, heading down to the Supreme Court, and joining the throngs of protesters. Do you know what would be useful? Instead of just downloading an image and clicking a few buttons, going to the website of a gay rights organization (or any gay organization for that matter) and giving them some money so they can fight for gay civil rights on your behalf. Do you know what would really matter? If you had done this back when Prop 8 was being voted on and actively lobbied everyone you know in California to vote the right way so this thing didn’t have to go to the Supreme Court in the first place.
Basically, it’s the equivalent of wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day (which is only useful in identifying which drunks to avoid on the sidewalk). And this is not the right time or place for the show of support. There are only nine people, the Supreme Court Justices, who matter today or tomorrow, and their lifetime appointments mean that they’re above being prejudiced by the masses. They’re probably not even allowed on Facebook. Why don’t you hold your burst of activity for something that really matters, when the public actually has some say in what happens?
Loving Gay Couples in Vietnam
Three months ago, about a 100 bike-riding homosexuals pedaled through Hanoi in what would come to be seen as the Vietnamese capital’s first ever gay pride parade. Not too many eyebrows were raised by that, at least in our little Western corner of the world; I guess we all thought it was about time those guys on the other side finally celebrated the wonders of crossing swords. What should cause a stir is that only one day after the parade, rumors began to circulate that the Vietnamese government was considering the legalization of same-sex marriage. Considering that Vietnam is still operating under a communist regime, this is sort of newsworthy, don’t you think?
I thought so, which is why I got in touch with photographer Maika Elan, who spent last year photographing Vietnam’s gay couples in their most intimate moments for her photo series The Pink Choice. She sort of stood me up on the day of the interview, but that’s OK because she’s the sweetest Vietnamese with a mushroom haircut I’ve ever met.
VICE: Hey Maika, why did you stand me up?
Maika Elan: Hi, I’m really sorry. I got up this morning to go to the UK Embassy and sort out a visa—I’m visiting in a few days to prepare for an exhibition—and ended up spending the whole day there. Which I should have expected but anyway…
OK, I hate bureaucracy too, so I forgive you. Tell me about your project involving gay people in Vietnam. Why is that an important enough subject to photograph so extensively?
In Vietnam, there is talk of legalizing gay marriage. This would make Vietnam the first Asian country to do so, so it’s a big deal, but I don’t see it happening any time soon. People like to say they are open-minded, but they don’t act like it. For example, every time a story about a gay couple is in the press or on TV, either their faces are blurred or they pose with their backs to the camera. And those stories almost always have to do with drugs, AIDS, or some sort of sexual scandal. When it comes to movies, homosexuals are either idealized or, again, presented as sexual deviants. You never see the actual people. You don’t see that they are real people. I thought it’d be nice to change that.
The Female Fighters of Kurdistan
From Boudica of the British Celts to Corporal Klinger, few things unsettle the male mind like a lady in arms. The Kurds of Northern Iraq have long recognized this principle and incorporated it into their quest to build a Kurdish homeland in the overlap between Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. Fighting alongside their male comrades in a region not exactly known for its progressive stance on women’s rights, the female Peshmerga guerillas of the Kurdish Liberation Movement built a reputation for themselves in the 70s and 80s as demure diaboliques with the deadly poise of Leila Khaled or Tania-era Patty Hearst.
Having secured the northern third of Iraq for themselves in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, the Kurds have spent the last two decades divesting themselves of their guerilla jamjams, building up a stable and booming economy in their semi-autonomous little hamlet, and generally enjoying not being in the middle of the current Iraq War. Up in the hills abutting Iran and Turkey, however, the struggle for a Greater Kurdistan continues for boy and girl alike.
The successors to Iraqi Kurdistan’s old rebel militias are a milk-besodden Alphabits bowl of various Maoist, quasi-Maoist, and won’t-say-they’re-Maoist-but-come-on guerilla armies. You’ve got the PKK, the PJAK, the KCK—all of whom have slightly different tactics, territories, and ideologies but the same ultimate goal and, secretly, a lot of the same personnel. More importantly, they are all completely gender-equal, just like Mao wanted it. From the highest command to the lowest potato peeler to the ghillie-suited sniper on the front lines, dudes and dames do it the same.
We picked the youngest of these new Kurdish guerilla groups, PJAK, the Free Life for Kurdistan party, and drove up to their outpost on the Iranian border to see how their female fighters are helping their people draft a definitive answer to the Kurdish Question that’s vexed Middle-Eastern politics for the last century. And hopefully find an answer to our own Kurdish Question. Which is, What the fuck is the Kurdish Question?