Afghan girls poisoned in second anti-school attack

(Reuters) – More than 120 schoolgirls and three teachers have been poisoned in the second attack in as many months blamed on conservative radicals in the country’s north, Afghan police and education officials said on Wednesday.

Districts of Takhar Province

The attack occurred in Takhar province where police said that radicals opposed to education of women and girls had used an unidentified toxic powder to contaminate the air in classrooms. Scores of students were left unconscious.

Afghanistan‘s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), says the Taliban appear intent on closing schools ahead of a 2014 withdrawal by foreign combat troops.

“A part of their Al Farooq spring offensive operation is … to close schools. By poisoning girls they want to create fear. They try to make families not send their children to school,” NDS spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said.

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education said last week that 550 schools in 11 provinces where the Taliban have strong support had been closed down by insurgents.

Last month, 150 schoolgirls were poisoned in Takhar province after they drank contaminated water.

Since 2001 when the Taliban were toppled from power by U.S.-backed Afghan forces, females have returned to schools, especially in the capital Kabul. They were previously banned from work and education.

But there are still periodic attacks against students, teachers and school buildings, usually in the more conservative south and east of the country, from where the Taliban insurgency draws most of its support. Continue reading

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Best and Worst Places to be a Woman

A few days to the 101st International Women’s Day (March 8), an Independent on Sunday investigation has produced a list of the statistically best – and worst- places to be a woman nowadays. Some names on the list may take you by surprise, so read through before making any decisions about relocating!

1. Best place to be a woman: Iceland

Iceland has the greatest equality between men and women, taking into account politics, education, employment and health indicators.

The worst is Yemen, and the most dangerous is Afghanistan.

2. Best place to be a politician: Rwanda

Rwanda is the only nation in which females make up the majority of parliamentarians. Women hold 45 out of 80 seats.

The worst countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, Oman and Belize, have no women in parliament.

3. Best place to be a mother: Norway

Norway is the world’s best place to be a mother, with low risks of maternal mortality – one in 7,600 – and skilled help at nearly all births.

The worst is Afghanistan, where a woman is at least 200 times more likely to die during childbirth than from bombs or bullets.

4. Best place to read and write: Lesotho

Literacy rates among women in Lesotho exceed those of men, with 95 per cent of women able to read and write, compared with 83 per cent of men.

The worst country is Ethiopia, where only 18 per cent of women can read and write, compared with 42 per cent of men.

5. Best place to be head of state: Sri Lanka

Women have run Sri Lanka for 23 years.

Dozens of countries, including Spain and Sweden, have never had a female head of government.

6. Best place to be a woman in the arts: Sweden

The Swedish Arts Council has launched initiatives to improve gender equality in the arts. The Swedish Film Institute mandates that film grants be distributed evenly between men and women and there are quotas for women in film production.

7. Best place to be a top dog: Thailand

Thailand has the greatest percentage of women in senior management (45 per cent).

The lowest is Japan, where 8 per cent of senior management positions are held by women.

8. Best place to give birth: Greece

Greece is the world’s safest place to give birth, with a one in 31,800 risk of dying in childbirth.

The worst place to have a baby is thought to be the world’s newest country, South Sudan. There are fewer than 20 midwives in the whole country.

9. Best place for economic participation: Bahamas

The Bahamas holds the top spot globally for economic participation and opportunity for women.

The lowest-ranking country, Yemen, has closed only 32 per cent of its economic gender gap in the same period.

10. Best place to be a journalist: Caribbean

The Caribbean is the region with the highest proportion of TV, print and radio news stories reported by women (45 per cent).

The worst region is Africa, with 30 per cent of stories reported by women.

11. Best place for the right to choose: Sweden

Sweden permits women to have abortions without restrictions for the first 18 weeks of pregnancy and there are no mandatory consent requirements.

El Salvador, the Philippines and Nicaragua are among the worst because of a ban on all abortions.

12. Best place for labour force participation: Burundi

Burundi in sub-Saharan Africa ranks first for labour force participation and is the only country where the female labour force participation rate (92 per cent) is higher than that of men (88 per cent).

The worst country is Pakistan, where the labour force is made up of four times as many men as women.

13. Best place to earn money: Luxembourg

Luxembourg shares the top spot (with Norway) for estimated earned income. When income is capped at $40,000, women and men are as likely to earn the same amount.

The lowest female earners are in Saudi Arabia, where women earn $7,157 to men’s $36,727.

14. Best place to go to university: Qatar

In Qatar six women are enrolled in tertiary education for every man.

The worst country is Chad, where three times as many men are enrolled as women.

15. Best place to live long: Japan

Women in Japan can expect to live longest (87), beating men by seven years.

Female life expectancy is shortest in Lesotho (48), but only two years less than men.

16. Best place to be a lady of leisure: Denmark

Women in Denmark have more time for leisure, spending only 57 more minutes each day on unpaid work than men.

Mexican women have it hardest, spending four hours 21 minutes more on unpaid work than men.

17. Best place to be an athlete: US

Five of the top 10 highest-paid female sporting athletes in 2011 were from the US.

The worst country, Saudi Arabia, has never sent a female athlete to the Olympics and bans girls from sports in state schools.

18. Best place to leave your husband: Guam

The Micronesian island of Guam has the highest divorce rate in the world.

Guatemala has the lowest.

19. Best place to drive a car: India

New Delhi is the best place for women wanting to break into the male-dominated world of taxi drivers. An NGO in the country’s capital launched an initiative to train women in the first radio-taxi service run only by women.

The worst country is Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world to ban women from driving.

20. Best place for high-skilled jobs: Jamaica

Jamaica has the highest ratio of women in high-skilled jobs, such as legislators, senior officials and managers. Almost 60 per cent of these roles are filled by women.

Yemen comes last. Women there take up only 2 per cent of high-skilled jobs.