AWARD DATE: 2010
AWARD NAME: The Olivier Rebbot Award 2010
AWARD RECIPIENT: Lynsey Addario
AWARD RECIPIENT AFFILIATION: National Geographic
AWARD HONORED WORK: Veiled Rebellion: Afghan Women
Lynsey Addario’s photographs give us a comprehensive and intimate look at a largely unseen aspect of Afghan society — its women. Her images are unvarnished, intimate and far-reaching. Addario worked hard to gain access and in doing so produced a very important body of work.
"I took the bottle of petrol and burned myself," Fariba, who is 11 and lives in Herat, told me. "When I returned to school, the kids made fun of me. They said I was ugly." She now says, "I regret my mistake." The reasons for her action are unclear; Fariba claimed a woman came to her in her dreams and told her to burn herself. Many Afghan women burn themselves because they believe suicide is the only escape from an abusive marriage, abusive family members, poverty, or the stress of war. If they do survive, women fear being shamed or punished for what they did and may blame a gas explosion when they were cooking. Doctors know when the burns were intentional from their shape, location, and smell.
After traveling in remote areas where most women give birth at home, without even a midwife, I was relieved to visit the hospital in Faizabad, a provincial capital. The hospital's women doctors, nurses, and midwives work around the clock. These Afghan women, who trained both in Russia and Kabul, have the skills and equipment to deal with complications in childbirth, even though they barely have enough funds for rubber gloves and gowns. I photographed Kokogol, 25, delivering twins, with her mother by her side.
It's very delicate to photograph an Afghan wedding. The women are unveiled and often wear revealing dresses and heavy makeup. They are reluctant to share these images with the outside world. At this Kabul wedding the bride is Fershta, 18. She wears a green dress for the ceremony—a color associated with prosperity and paradise in Islamic tradition. The groom is Amin Shaheen, son of film director Salim Shaheen. The sober expression on his wife's face reflects the fact that marriage is an enormous milestone in an Afghan woman's life, not just a celebratory event.
I saw two women on the side of the mountain, in burkas and without a man. In Afghanistan you seldom see an unaccompanied woman. Noor Nisa, about 18, was pregnant; her water had just broken. Her husband, whose first wife had died during childbirth, was determined to get Noor Nisa to the hospital in Faizabad, a four-hour drive from their village in Badakhshan Province. His borrowed car broke down, so he went to find another vehicle. I ended up taking Noor Nisa, her mother, and her husband to the hospital, where she delivered a baby girl. My interpreter, who is a doctor, and I were on a mission to photograph maternal health and mortality issues, only to find the entire story waiting for us along a dusty Afghan road.
These two girls have been dressed up and made up for a relative's wedding in Kabul. Many Afghan women and girls put on makeup and spend hours at the hair salon for such an occasion. Young girls are able to show off their makeovers. But once a girl arrives at the age of puberty, she masks herself from men with a burka or hijab.
Many girls in Afghanistan get no education at all. Even those who do enroll in a school typically study for just four years. So these members of Kabul University's class of 2010 are definitely in the minority. Wearing hijab under their mortarboards and seated in separate rows from their male peers, the women pictured are graduates of the department of language and literature. The Taliban had banned the education of women, but classes resumed after the regime fell in 2001. This graduation was held under tight security at a hotel in Kabul because of an upsurge in terrorist attacks.
My first time in Afghanistan, the Taliban ruled the country. The only women on the street were beggars—usually widows or wives of disabled men. On many Fridays the Taliban performed public executions at the sports stadium in Kabul. Ten years later, at a rally for a presidential candidate in the same stadium, women participated—some in burkas, some not. In this picture, the women who did not want to be photographed covered their faces.
Lance Cpl. Elisabeth Reyes of the U.S. Marine Corps chats with Afghan women and their children at a clinic in Helmand Province, located in the south and considered one of the country's most dangerous areas. She is a member of the relatively new female engagement teams that accompany all-male foot patrols. These teams communicate with, and try to gain the trust of, Afghan women, who are not allowed to speak to men outside of their family in this conservative region. Reyes and other team members helped cordon off part of a clinic in the district of Now Zad to provide separate treatment areas for the sexes.
Empty opium pods litter the home of a woman addicted to the drug in northern Afghanistan’s Balkh Province. She says she collected the opium harvest as a child, became addicted at age 12, and has eaten and smoked the drug ever since. "Opium is my son, is my daughter," she says. "All winter I didn't have food. Opium was my food." Now she relies on neighbors to look after her. Afghanistan supplies most of the world's opium, used to make heroin. A 2010 survey by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that one million Afghans between age 15 and 68—8 percent of the population—are addicted to drugs. The number of opium users has risen by more than 50 percent since 2005, to 230,000.
In Esteqlal Hospital in Kabul, doctors tried to save 15-year-old Zahra, who had doused herself with petrol and set herself on fire after she was accused of stealing from her neighbors. The teenager, from Mazar-e Sharif, suffered burns over 95 percent of her body. She died three days after I took this picture.
A female inmate at a Mazar-e Sharif prison has just been released, prompting Maida-Khal, 22, to cry out because she is still trapped in her cell. When Maida-Khal was 12, she was married to a man of about 70 who was paralyzed. "I was so young, I couldn't carry him because he was so heavy, so his brothers would beat me," she recalls. When she asked for a divorce four years ago, she was imprisoned. "I am in jail because I don't have a mahram [male guardian]. I can't get a divorce, and I can't leave prison without a man." She says, with remarkable understatement, "I have had a difficult life."
Afghan women are offered pre-natal and anti-natal care, and are given counseling by Dr. Zubeida, a midwife from the mobile health unit funded by UNFPA, in Charmas Village, a remote area of Badakshan, Afghanistan, August 9, 2009. Afghanistan, a country with little infrastructure, few clinics or hospitals, and dismal roads leading to many villages, has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world. Restricted access, coupled with a culture that keeps women at home, and subsequently often out of hospitals, leads to a staggering number of maternal deaths per year.