Why Is a Leading Feminist Organization Lending Its Name to Support Escalation in Afghanistan?
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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.
More than 2,000 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2008. And disastrous air strikes like the one in Farah province in May that killed an estimated 120 people -- many of them women and children -- are pushing the death toll ever higher. Afghans who survive these attacks often flee to cities, where overcrowded refugee camps strain to accommodate them. Living in tents without food, water and often blankets, the mortality rate soars.
For those who do not flee, life is not better. One in three Afghans suffers from severe poverty. With a 1 in 55 chance of mothers surviving delivery, Afghanistan has been, and still, is the second most dangerous place for women to give birth. Afghan infants still face a 25 percent risk of dying before their fifth birthdays. These are the consequences of war.
In addition, 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.
In our conversations arguing this point, we are told that the U.S. cannot leave Afghanistan because of what will happen to women if they go. Let us be clear: Women are being gang raped, brutalized and killed in Afghanistan. Forced marriages continue, and more women than ever are being forced into prostitution -- often to meet the demand of foreign troops.
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.
Feminists and other humanitarians should learn from history. This isn't the first time the welfare of women has been trotted out as a pretext for imperialist military aggression.