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Women, the Taliban and sex based rights

Written By: - Date published: 10:38 am, August 16th, 2021 - 66 comments
Categories: afghanistan, feminism, gender critical feminism - Tags: ,

In this post I use the terms women and girls to mean biological females. I avoid the use of the word gender because it can mean biological sex, gender roles, gender identity, or some conflation of those, and almost no-one bothers to say which they mean when they use it. If you are commenting, please make sure you make clear the meaning of the words sex and gender that you are using.

I’m going to try and explain here why what is being done to women in Afghanistan is because they are biologically female, and why gender identity should not be prioritised over or replace sex based rights or conventions in law and society. The short version is that the Taliban don’t give a shit about gender identity in how they are treating women.

Here’s a description on twitter by freelance foreign correspondent Kim Willsher of what she saw done to women in Afghanistan when the Taliban took over Kabul in 1996,

It was catastrophic for women and girls in the city. Within days all women were ordered back into their homes and told not to come out without a male relative accompanying them. Working women, even those in high ranking positions including judges and magistrates, were ordered to stay home. Women who did venture out were told to wear a burqa: the Islamic fashion of the day was a long blue pleated nylon garment that covered from head to toe and had a small thick woven panel across the eyes.

It was so completely dehumanising, people started referring to women as “burqas” as in: “Look, there’s a couple of burqas over there…” The “morality police” would patrol the streets and markets with batons hitting women who showed any flesh as they walked (toe, ankle, wrist…)

Afghan women suddenly found they had no access to health care. They were not allowed to be seen by a male medic, but all the female medics had been sent home. A grief-stricken pregnant woman whose baby had died in the womb was turned away from the hospital.

Girls were told there would be no more school. There was to be no more sports, no games, no music, no dancing… As a female reporter, interviewing became problematic: Mullah Omah, the head of the Taliban, had decreed that the sound of a woman’s voice should not reach the ears of his men.

I was lucky: I got to fly home.
The Afghan women and girls who risked their lives by just speaking to me, had nowhere to go.
It was a catastrophe for Afghan women and girls then. It will be a catastrophe for them now.
Here’s what’s happening now. This report at the Guardian from a young woman journalist (anonymous) fleeing her home and life in the north of Afghanistan as the Taliban take over,

I am still on the run and there is no safe place for me to go.

Last week I was a news journalist. Today I can’t write under my own name or say where I am from or where I am. My whole life has been obliterated in just a few days.

I’m not safe because I’m a 22-year-old woman and I know that the Taliban are forcing families to give their daughters as wives for their fighters. I’m also not safe because I’m a news journalist and I know the Taliban will come looking for me and all of my colleagues.

The Taliban are already seeking out people they want to target. At the weekend my manager called me and asked me not to answer any unknown number. He said that we, especially the women, should hide, and escape the city if we could.

We managed to get to my uncle’s car and started driving towards his house, which is 30 minutes outside the city. On the way we were stopped at a Taliban checkpoint. It was the most terrifying moment of my life. I was inside my chadari [Afghani Burka] and they ignored me but interrogated my uncle, asking him where we were going.

They were let go, but were still unsafe in her uncle’s village which is under Taliban control

… they said the Taliban knew I’d been taken out the city and if they came to the village and found me there, they’d kill everyone.

We found somewhere else for me to hide, a home of a distant relative. We had to walk for hours, with me still in my chadari, staying away from all the main roads where the Taliban might be. This is where I am now. A rural area where there is nothing. There is no running water or electricity. There is barely any phone signal and I am cut off from the world.

Most of the women and girls I know have also fled the city and are trying to find somewhere safe. I cannot stop thinking and worrying about my friends, my neighbours, my classmates, all the women in Afghanistan.

All my female colleagues in the media are terrified. Most have managed to flee the city and are trying to find a way out of the province, but we are completely surrounded. All of us have spoken out against the Taliban and angered them through our journalism.

Right now, everything is tense. All I can do is keep running and hope that a route out of the province opens up soon. Please pray for me.

The oppression being described by those two women is sex based. The Taliban recognise women as a sex class, and choose to control them on that basis. They use concepts and beliefs about gender roles (i.e. that roles in society should be assigned on the basis of sex) to control women. They do this because they’re misogynistic, but also because they need to enforce their cultural and religious beliefs as widely as possible in order to maintain control of Afghanistan. This is why women are are married off. If one is living with a Taliban husband, it makes it much harder for those women to raise their children in any other way, let alone as feminist. Women as a class will also naturally tend towards egalitarianism because of their biological role in bearing and caring for children.

The basis of sex-based oppression historically has been about the systematic control of women’s reproductive and other labour.

If this were about gender identity, if ‘woman’ was determined by self-ID, or being a woman or man was determined by how one feels internally, women in Afghanistan would be able to identify as men and thus would no longer be oppressed. The thing that all women have in common, that the Taliban recognise, is that they’re biologically female, and in this case, they’re the sex class that bears children.*

In the West the gender activist movements want to replace recognition of sex based rights with gender identity. There is an idea that this will end gender roles, but what we are seeing is an increase in gender roles at the social level eg the design of marketing kids toys is reverting back to pink for girls, blue for boys, and there are boys toys (trucks/rockets/guns) and girls toys (dolls, princess costumes, toy kitchen sets). And pink/blue is an obvious design feature of gender activism.

Think what is happening in Afghanistan couldn’t happen in ‘civilised’ countries? Do you believe women’s rights here are secure?

How will we be able to even define women’s rights once sex is replaced by gender ID and we no longer count women’s experiences?

In New Zealand, we’re a bastion of women’s rights, right? And we are very lucky relative to the rest of the world, but remember Roastbusters, where young women were being sexually assaulted and the rape culture among men and the police meant almost nothing was done about it? And how a decade later we’re hearing about the high rates of rape and sexual harassment of girls at a Christchurch girls high school?

In the past few weeks, we have a prominent political woman in New Zealand being called a burqa cunt repeatedly by politicised liberals on twitter (kudos to the few pro-gender lefties who saw the problem with this and spoke up, but the silence from the NZ left on this is deafening. And it’s not an isolated event).

In Scotland one of the leading rape crisis centres said last week that women who have been raped and are accessing their services can expect to be re-educated on their bigotry if they ask for or demand a woman support worker or counsellor (thus excluding trans women RC workers. Women’s right to choose is to be constrained).

In the same week that what is being done to women in Afghanistan is breaking into the consciousness of the English speaking world, the UK Labour Party has issued a statement asserting that,

We don’t believe the oppression of women derives primarily from our biology but from (anti-)social factors which lead to women being treated as second class.

The Taliban are anti-social I guess, and to be reeducated. A key point here is that this position removes power from women as a sex class and assimilates us into a system that says everyone will be equal if we adopt sex blindness. Who stands up for women then?

I could go on, but it’s deluge. There are more issues happening around gender/sex, including serious legislative and social change, than I can keep up with, and most of it is not being openly debated in the mainstream media or political spaces.

Lest we believe that women in the West are secure, in the US women’s rights hang by the Roe v Wade thread, fundamentalism is on the rise, and the current political respite is from the Trump years that saw the rise of a political class that would easily revert back to controlling women on the basis of sex (they also hate trans and other gender non-conforming people). In New Zealand, we had a decade of FJK with embedded misogyny and protofascism. That hasn’t gone away, the people that believe those things are still among us and many are still in power.

In a future likely to feature major social and political disruptions due to climate and ecological crises, I want my rights as a woman to be hardwired into our institutions and law, and not to be left to the vagueness and fragility of a social dynamic in its infancy that most people don’t understand and haven’t had a part in developing let alone agreeing to.


*Men are also affected, especially gay men (biological males attracted to other biological males). I don’t know what happens to trans people in Afghanistan, and I fully support an end to their oppression as well. I believe the best way to achieve this is to recognise sex based rights and gender non-conformity without removing sex based rights.

66 comments on “Women, the Taliban and sex based rights ”

  1. RP Mcmurphy 1

    tell it like it is for godsake. in that society women are chattels and are subject to ownership.

  2. Anker 2
    • Great article Weka. Terrifying for the women of Kabul and all people there. I hope they are safe.

    I think there is no place for complacency about women’s sexed based rights…..

    it has been a real shock to me how many progressive men and women hav shut down debate over the gender critical/gender ideology debate. Ignoring that women as a sex classed are vulnerable to exploitation and control.

    it shocks me to see the science being ignored. To know women are being ignored by the Minister of Women. I was really struck by the Shadow Minister of women Nicola Griegg saying she had read every email, listened to everyone who’d written to her. She is about the only women in Parliament who has had the decency and respect to do that. Tinetti and the women in the Greens have treated us with contempt

  3. That_guy 3

    I missed the prominent political women twitter spat.

    I do think that elements of the left have failed to distinguish between genuinely anti-trans bigots and people who are pro-trans-rights but have reasonable and evidence-based questions about the interface of trans rights and the rights of women and the rights of children.

    And damn, yes, buying shoes for your kid; there are the shoes, then there are the shoes-that-have-glitter-and-a-bow-and-pink-and-unicorns. Whatever society is doing to ask "why do the girls need the pink glitter bow shoes", it's clearly not working.

    Awful situation in Afghanistan.

    • weka 3.1

      Not a spat but intentional activist bullying. A gender activist calling a a gender critical feminist a terf c*nt repeatedly, and asking the followers to do the same, which they did. Some of those comments have now been removed by twitter, but the activist still has "[name of feminist] is a terf cunt" in their twitter handle.

    • weka 3.2

      I do think that elements of the left have failed to distinguish between genuinely anti-trans bigots and people who are pro-trans-rights but have reasonable and evidence-based questions about the interface of trans rights and the rights of women and the rights of children.

      This. Massive own goal by the left, as UK Labour are finding, women members not only leaving the party but then acting against the party. Left wing women who would otherwise be supporting trans rights.

      • esoteric pineapples 3.2.1

        I think the same thing is happening with left wing men in New Zealand.

      • Visubversa 3.2.2

        Yes, The British Labour Party has identified as unelectable. Women are departing as they will not be told that supporting same sex attraction is not acceptable in today's Labour Party.

  4. Sabine 4

    Well said Weka. Thanks for writing this.

  5. RedLogix 5

    Appreciate the commentary on the Afghanistan tragedy – although I think it's a stretch to draw a straight line between the Taliban and John Key.

    To keep this brief – and hopefully constructive – sexual dimorphism means that women are fundamentally more physically vulnerable and all societies have evolved rules and social codes to adapt to this reality. That the Taliban cling to an especially brutal and medieval version of this code, pre-dating industrialisation by about a millenia, is of course deplorable and terrifying for the women exposed to their threat right now.

    What has shocked everyone is that most people expected that after 20 yrs of occupation, trillions of dollars of expenditure and buckets of blood, that the Afghan government might have stood for six months or maybe a year – not two weeks. The only reason why Kabul is not a bloodbath right now is that the Taliban want to capture the place, not burn it to the ground. That tells you something fundamental about the country – it's poor, landlocked and trapped in a geopolitical timewarp.

    With the Americans no longer interested and now gone home – suddenly geography reasserts it's ancient grip on this benighted land. On our present track this may be but the first example of many to come in the next decade.

    • The key to understanding all this is knowing who funded / armed / trained the Taliban. It may well be that a deal has been done with a view to unlocking the mineral wealth of the country – ideological/economic solutions become the preferred strategy when military ones fail. Let the Taliban take the country with the promise of trade deals which necessitate them maintaining essential infrastructure and not terrifying too many of the populace into fleeing – and gain the useful by-product of a trade-compliant Islamist state on the border with China. As is always the case, women and their children are deemed to be minor collateral damage in the pursuit of profit and geo-political advantage.

    • Adrian Thornton 5.2

      "What has shocked everyone is that most people expected that after 20 yrs of occupation, trillions of dollars of expenditure and buckets of blood, that the Afghan government might have stood for six months or maybe a year – not two weeks."

      " The only reason why Kabul is not a bloodbath right now is that the Taliban want to capture the place, not burn it to the ground."

      Wouldn't that be more to do with the fact that they meet no opposition..in-fact as far as I can make out they just walked right on in…

      What seems to missing from this immediate western analysis is the very fact that the Taliban meet almost no resistance in retaking the entire country…could it be that a large part of the Afghani population reject outright western democratic modernity as imposed by the USA, UK and their allied invaders? if this proves to be true, and I don't know if it is, then what right has any other country got to impose their political ideology onto them at all?

      • RedLogix 5.2.1

        I'm reluctant to derail the post onto that theme. Suffice to say the OP implies that the are plenty of people in that nation who wouldn't agree with you.

  6. Chris T 6

    It is an insanely horrible situation there for females left their to have to deal with.

    Good post Weka.

    Problem is when a dude (in my case me) brings up this clash you kind of just get called a male TERF

  7. Stuart Munro 7

    The situation is challenging for those of us who pretend to enlightened values. What should NZ's response be?

    Of the limited options available to us, offering asylum to some Afghan refugees might be the most practical. Certainly what passes for journalism in this country argues that an infusion of professionalism is needed here as urgently as some people need a refuge.

  8. DukeEll 8

    The taliban are one of the pointy ends of the problem with the Islam based military enforced governments rife through the Middle East and Asia.

    as long as western culture is hated and attacked and it’s enemies are given more leeway than we, those women in these uncivilised societies will never know the relative safety women in the west tenuously enjoy. The overlap between GC and anti-western culture proponents cannot be overlooked

    • Chris T 8.1

      Pushing it to see how women in the wests grasp on safety is "tenuous" but agree on the other points

    • weka 8.2

      "The overlap between GC and anti-western culture proponents cannot be overlooked"

      Please explain. Because it looks like you are saying that GC positions are like the Taliban.

      • DukeEll 8.2.1

        Sorry Weka. fat fingers on the iphone deleted the "Anti-" in front of GC as well as taliban. i did not mean to align GC Feminism and the Taliban

        • weka

          thanks for clarifying, appreciate that.

          "The overlap between anit-GC and anti-western culture proponents cannot be overlooked"

          Can you give some examples?

          • roblogic

            Agree with DukeEll's sentiment. There seems to be a movement afoot in western culture that would destroy modernity and everything sacred if it does not bow to the TWAW mantra.

            denial & subversion of science
            rejection of women’s rights
            a strange obsession with gender stereotypes
            aggressive indoctrination of children
            mutilation of genitalia
            vilification, abuse & violence against critics
            rejection of secular pluralism – intolerance of other belief systems
            culture of fear and intimidation
            lots of self righteous beardo’s

    • Obtrectator 8.3

      Would you – and all the other alphabet-soup addicts – mind spelling out your less well-known abbreviations at first time of use? The web is no help at all with deciding which of about 10000000000 meanings of "GC" is intended here.

  9. francesca 9

    Ironic that when in the 70s ,the socialist Afghan government decreed that all girls should be able to attend school ,the US funded Islamic fundamentalists who opposed such blasphemy, to overthrow that government and send the Russians who supported it packing.

    Now their crocodile tears are flowing.

    • Molly 9.1


      • Tiger Mountain 9.1.1

        Soviet Imperialism delivered for a short time, a better deal for Afghan women in many respects than US Imperialism ever managed.

        Things would likely be very different if Afghan socialism had been allowed to proceed.

  10. pat 10

    what Afghanistan clearly demonstrates is the folly of attempting to impose values from without…..the Afghanis are the only ones who can change their predominant cultural norms,

    And this in no way detracts from the disaster that continues to befall this country (and many others)

    • weka 10.1

      "the Afghanis are the only ones who can change their predominant cultural norms,"

      how do you see that working for women?

      • pat 10.1.1

        In all honesty, in the short term badly….but as stated it has to come from within….sufficient Afghanis have to stand up and fight for that which they deem important enough…and that may mean civil war, or partition, but thats their decision to make.

        Consider…Afghanistan pop. is around 38 million and the Taliban military force is estimated to be 80,000

        • Molly

          That perspective ignores the disruption and negative impact of allied occupation.

          That occupation in many ways created a void that the Taliban was conditioned to fill. The result is not purely a cultural outcome, it is a grossly misaligned cultural faction being given both the tools and the opportunity for dominance and oppression.

          • pat

            I heard an Afghani journalist (based in UK) on RNZ this morning making a similar argument …the US had provided an environment that allowed (in particular) woman to freely express themselves and after 20 years had betrayed them by pulling out….no mention of the fact that it was their own family members that allowed the Taliban in the first place, and again…..and no recognition that those US troops are somebodies son/daughter.

            Everyone looking to blame somebody else.

          • Gypsy

            "That occupation in many ways created a void that the Taliban was conditioned to fill."

            That's odd. I though the occupation removed the Taliban from control in Afghanistan.

            • KJT

              After the USA installed the Taliban.

              To fight an Afgan Government they didn’t like. Plus the Soviets.

              The repeated similarities with so many other Governments the USA toppled, such as Iran in the 50’s, and replaced with right wing crooks. To end up with an even bigger mess. You would think the USA would have learnt.

              • Sabine

                Been a war zone since 1979. Poor women and children of Afghanistan.

              • pat

                The US…or Pakistan?

                Either way you are suggesting the Afghanis are unable to think for themselves which somehow I doubt.

                • Gabby

                  A fair few are forbidden to think for themselves.

                  • pat

                    I dont think thoughts are able to be forbidden (yet)…expression of them perhaps so…hence "sufficient Afghanis have to stand up and fight for that which they deem important enough"

              • Gypsy

                They don't learn. They still have troops in Korea.

      • RP Mcmurphy 10.1.2

        obviously it doesn't mr weka. but some on the left are big on self determination and bashing the yanks so where is the middle ground? When the dust settles how about going to Afghanistan and trying to change the Talibans mind with gender theory. Anyway when the US gets tired of the next big flood of smack comin down the pike then expect to see another ingtervention.

        • weka

          what do you mean by 'gender theory', specifically?

          • RP Mcmurphy

            you the brains round here you work it out.

            [Maybe you didn’t read it or maybe you don’t care, but I said at the start of the post that people needed to be clear in how they were using the words sex and gender if they wanted to comment. You can either explain what you meant without the snark, or you can take a ban for wasting my time and being a wanker under my post, your choice. This debate is here for the long haul, I’m not going to let it be any harder than it is because some people want to play games – weka]

            • weka

              mod note.

            • RP Mcmurphy

              get a grip weka. those women are in dreadful peril because they want freedom to be who they want to be and enjoy the same rights as we do here in godzone. sliding around trying to split hairs as if their situation can be put to rights by talking about it is the conceit of people who have never had to face up to putting their lives on the line. if you ban me then you have lost any pretence of fairness and objectivity or moral authority.

              [commenting here isn’t a right. I asked for people to explain what they mean by sex and gender for clarity. Your refusal to do so is a problem because it suggests to me two things. One is you don’t respect the boundaries at TS that make debate here possible. And two, you refuse to bring clarity to a debate marked by the worst communication many of us have ever seen in politics. You’ve been here long enough to know how moderation works, and you’ve been banned in the past for trolling. One month ban now for all that and wasting my time as a mod and author. When you come back you are free to argue whichever politics you want, but you aren’t free to take potshots at authors or ignore moderation requests. I’d also suggest not trying to change your username again. – weka]

  11. Just watched the 12 noon AlJazeera news bulletin. In it they interviewed an American who had served in Afghanistan in 2008.

    He said he asked one man why he was fighting the Taliban. He replied, because my mother told me to. He was asked, why, with thousands of men fighting for the Taliban, presumably with their mothers' approval, his mother was different.

    His reply was so pertinent: "Because my mother can read!"

    She had read the Koran and knew the basis of sharia law is not really part of Islam.

    The point: education is the key – both in Afghanistan and for women around the world.

    Which is why the Taliban close girls' schools!

  12. Gypsy 12

    "She had read the Koran and knew the basis of sharia law is not really part of Islam."

    Not quite sure where you get that idea.

    "Sharia law is Islam's legal system. It is derived from both the Koran, Islam's central text, and fatwas – the rulings of Islamic scholars. Sharia literally means "the clear, well-trodden path to water". Sharia law acts as a code for living that all Muslims should adhere to, including prayers, fasting and donations to the poor."


    Even the organisation Muslims for Progressive Values (who claim Sharia is not Islam’s legal system) state that “the overall way of life of Islam, as people understand it according to traditional, early interpretations” and that it is “based on the Qur’an and things the Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) said and did.”

    • Stuart Munro 12.1

      This Washington Post article goes into the difference between Sharia law (which exists as guidance for the devout individual) and local Islamic law, which applies in different countries. In countries with relatively isolated or independent conservative communities, local law has tended to favour patriachal interpretations – though the Koran itself is rather protective of women's rights and interests.

      Islamic scholarship is often employed rather in the fashion of lawyering on some issues, and, just as Christians found that the Devil can quote scripture, who gets to decide the reigning interpretation can be fairly important.

      • Gypsy 12.1.1

        Yet, that same WP article begins with describing Sharia as “Islam’s legal framework.”

    • Psycho Milt 12.2

      Absolutely. This is why there was such a shortage of Muslim leaders willing to declare Da'esh to be outside the umma – they knew very well that Da'esh were devout Muslims and were clearly operating according to Islamic traditions.

      Same applies to the Taliban. There's a reason devout young Muslims are flooding to the Taliban and not to the government forces – they know which side is the ones who are living up to their faith.

  13. Sacha 13

    For anyone who wants to tangibly help women in Afghanistan:

    • weka 13.1

      Thanks Sacha.

      I’m going to do a separate post so if anyone has additional resources on helping Afghani women comment here.

  14. weka 14

    I wasn’t joking about the pink and blue thing

    • Molly 14.1

      I suspect there is a high detrimental psychological price that is paid if you truly felt the need to curate/rewrite your own personal history in such a way.

      There is value in recognising your true journey, rather than retrospectively curating one. From my perspective, the service offered is somewhat predatory and may be harmful.

      • weka 14.1.1

        Possibly. I'm unclear on gender dysphoria and what helps. In large part because of the affirmation-only model being used in many professions now, and the suppression of research. I'd have less of a problem with the service if it wasn't enforcing gender role or sex stereotypes.

        • Molly

          Hence the words "suspect" and "may be harmful". (Although, I can't see how it is truly beneficial.)

          I agree on the harms of gender stereotyping.

    • Visubversa 14.2

      Yes, that is what you get in the Trans flag – pastel pink and blue – straight out of the sexist stereotyping isles of a cheap toy store.

  15. Jenny how to get there 15

    Taliban 2.0?

    Kiwi Journalist Charlotte Bellis in Afghanistan reporting live from the capital city Kabul, as the victorious Taliban take power, and other Westerners flee.

    Watch this space.

  16. Richard 16

    I really don't get want point this author is trying to make. Are Trans Rights Activists like the Taliban? Does the Author think the Taliban won't also immediately execute any Trans person living in Afghanistan (along with any Homosexuals and Apostates?)

    I have never actually had a Gender Critical activist robustly explain which rights women have are under threat from recognising Trans people's human rights. Why are these seen as oppositional rather than complimentary?

    • weka 16.1

      "Are Trans Rights Activists like the Taliban?"


      "Does the Author think the Taliban won't also immediately execute any Trans person living in Afghanistan (along with any Homosexuals and Apostates?)"

      No. Feel free to write and submit a post about the safety of trans and other GNC people, and homosexual people in Afghanistan under the Taliban. There's lots to be learned there that I suspect many of us don't know about. My post was about women, and why retaining analysis of sex class and legal rights based on that matters.

      "I have never actually had a Gender Critical activist robustly explain which rights women have are under threat from recognising Trans people's human rights. "

      There's plenty of discussion about taht on TS these days, stick around and join the conversation.

      "Why are these seen as oppositional rather than complimentary?"

      Because trans activists and lobbyists have successfully enforced No Debate, which means there's been a war instead of working through the conflict of rights. I don't see them as oppositional, I see them having been set up to be oppositional by some activists who believe that women's rights should take second place. Why would women put up with that? Of course they would fight that. But it's a left wing own goal to have created this war, because most GCFs are left wing women who other wise support trans rights.

  17. Jenny how to get there 17

    At their first official press conference in twenty years, which was held in the Afghan capital, Kabul, Kiwi Journalist Charlotte Bellis confronts the Taliban spokesperson, Zabiullah Mujahid, over gauranteeing the rights of women, especially girls to go to school.

    Charlotte Bellis reporting live from Kabul,(20 hours ago).

    @ 0.45 minutes

    C.B. "There is a lot of concern about whether woman will be allowed to work and girls can still go to school. What assurances can you give to women and girls that their rights will be protected?"

    Z.M. "Islamic Emirate is committed to the rights of women within the framework of Sharia. Women and men have the same rights, they are going to work shoulder to shoulder with us. We want to assure the international community there will be no discrimination against women. But of course, within our religious framework.

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