Afghan Women: A Political Football for Western Feminists


AfghanIt all started back in 2001 with Laura Bush when she gave the rallying cry, “Afghan women know, through hard experience, what the rest of the world is discovering: The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists”, which was one of the justifications for the US military invasion of Afghanistan.  Of course after the legitimacy of the invasion was accepted by the majority of Americans, Bush had little to say about the treatment of Afghani women under a newly installed and US backed government, even though it’s record of women’s rights was as deplorable as it was under the Taleban.  The lip service of the feminist movement given to the plight of Afghan women has been insulting to Afghani women who view with a certain disdain the paternalistic attitude some Western women bring to the discussion of women’s rights for people that are  as far removed from the West as can be.

Now comes word, Afghan women are again in the cross hairs of the feminist movement, with one group, the Feminist Majority Foundation, lending its moral support for the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, stating as one of its objectives: Increase security and safety for Afghan people, especially women and girls, by increasing the number of US combat troops in Afghanistan.

Addressing this point other more politically aware feminists had this to say:

First of all, coalition troops are combat forces and are there to fight a war, not to preserve peace. Not even the Pentagon uses that language to describe U.S. forces there. More importantly, the tired claim that one of the chief objectives of the military occupation of Afghanistan is to liberate Afghan women is not only absurd, it is offensive.

Waging war does not lead to the liberation of women anywhere. Women always disproportionately suffer the effects of war, and to think that women’s rights can be won with bullets and bloodshed is a position dangerous in its naïveté. The Feminist Majority should know this instinctively.

Here are the facts: After the invasion, Americans received reports that newly liberated women had cast off their burquas and gone back to work. Those reports were mythmaking and propaganda. Aside from a small number of women in Kabul, life for Afghan women since the fall of the Taliban has remained the same or become much worse.

Under the Taliban, women were confined to their homes. They were not allowed to work or attend school. They were poor and without rights. They had no access to clean water or medical care, and they were forced into marriages, often as children.

Today, women in the vast majority of Afghanistan live in precisely the same conditions, with one notable difference: they are surrounded by war. The conflict outside their doorsteps endangers their lives and those of their families. It does not bring them rights in the household or in public, and it confines them even further to the prison of their own homes. Military escalation is just going to bring more tragedy to the women of Afghanistan.

The U.S. military may have removed the Taliban, but it installed warlords who are as anti-woman and as criminal as the Taliban. Misogynistic, patriarchal views are now embodied by the Afghan cabinet, they are expressed in the courts, and they are embodied by President Hamid Karzai.

Paper gains for women’s rights mean nothing when, according to the chief justice of the Afghan Supreme Court, the only two rights women are guaranteed by the constitution are the right to obey their husbands and the right to pray, but not in a mosque.

These are the convictions of the government the U.S. has helped to create. The American presence in Afghanistan will do nothing to diminish them.

Sadly, as horrifying as the status of women in Afghanistan may sound to those of us who live in the West, the biggest problems faced by Afghan women are not related to patriarchy. Their biggest problem is war.

….in the eight years since the U.S. invasion, opium production has exploded by 4,400 percent, making Afghanistan the world capital of opium. The violence of the drug mafia now poses greater danger to Afghanistan and its women than the rule of the Taliban.

Some of the biggest drug-traffickers are part of the U.S. puppet regime. To make matters worse, corruption in the Afghan government has never been so prevalent — even under the Taliban. Now, even Western sources say that only pennies of every dollar spent on aid reach the people who need it.

If coalition forces are really concerned about women, these are the problems that must be addressed. The military establishment claims that it must win the military victory first, and then the U.S. will take care of humanitarian needs. But they have it backward.

Improve living conditions and security will improve. Focus on security at the expense of humanitarian goals, and coalition forces will accomplish neither. The first step toward improving people’s lives is a negotiated settlement to end the war.

The U.S. presence in Afghanistan is doing nothing to protect Afghan women. The level of self-immolation among women was never as high as it is now. When there is no justice for women, they find no other way out but suicide.

Columbia Professor Lila Abu-Lughod, a woman of Palestinian descent, writes: “We need to be suspicious when neat cultural icons are plastered over messier historical and political narratives; so we need to be wary when Lord Cromer in British-ruled Egypt, French ladies in Algeria, and Laura Bush, all with military troops behind them, claim to be saving or liberating Muslim women.”

It’s sad to see western feminists being used as tools for the military occupation of a country, but it shows how political affiliations of the left and the right converge when it comes to certain policies such as military expansion and imperialism over poor people who are far removed from the West’s reality.

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