Debunking the Myths About Women's Rights in Afghanistan

Paper gains for women's rights mean nothing when 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.
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Afghan women continue to face horrific violence, despite one of the oft-stated goals of this war. And yet proponents of the war continue to use recent incidents of rape, abduction, and brutality toward Afghan women as further justification for US military escalation. In order to reveal the truth about how the war has impacted Afghan women, we must hear from these women themselves, as well as from experts on Afghan women's rights and the dire situation on the ground. That is the focus of part five of Rethink Afghanistan, and what FireDogLake blogger Siun captured brilliantly in her recent blog post.

McChrystal Digs In, Afghan Women Say Get Out by Siun

The quagmire of Afghanistan becomes clearer each day as reports filter out that the grand surge in Helmand is stymied and Afghan townspeople are not so pleased with their "liberation."

Yet, while an uproar in the UK over their casualties this week -- 15 dead in 10 days -- grows, (see "renowned British military historian Correlli Barnett ... in the pages of the very conservative Daily Mail" (h/t Steve Hynd of Newshoggers) Gen McChrystal continues to up the expectation that he will be asking for more US troops and more billions when he completes his strategic review:

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Sunday that when he gives his assessment to the Obama administration next month of what is needed to defeat the Taliban , he won't be deterred by administration statements that he cannot have more U.S. troops.

One of the central talking points justifying our ongoing war has always been talk about protecting or saving the women of Afghanistan. Both the right and the left have used this argument as a rationale for continuing -- yet few ever listen to the wishes of actual Aghan women.

After the US air strike killed more than 140 Afghan civilians in Farah province, Malalai Joya, the MP for Farah who was forced from Parliament by the US backed warlords noted:

The Afghan ambassador in the U.S. said in an interview with Al Jazeera that if a 'proper apology' is made, then 'people will understand' the civilian deaths. But the Afghan people do not just want to hear 'sorry.' We ask for an end to the occupation of Afghanistan and a stop to such tragic war crimes...

It is a shame that so much of Afghanistan's reality has been kept veiled by a western media consensus in support of the 'good war.' Perhaps if the citizens of North America had been better informed about my country, President Obama would not have dared to send more troops and spend taxpayers' money on a war that is only adding to the suffering of our people and pushing the region into deeper conflicts.

A troop 'surge' in Afghanistan, and continued air strikes, will do nothing to help the liberation of Afghan women. The only thing it will do is increase the number of civilian casualties and increase the resistance to occupation.

To really help Afghan women, citizens in the U.S. and elsewhere must tell their government to stop propping up and covering for a regime of warlords and extremists. If these thugs were finally brought to justice, Afghan women and men would prove quite capable of helping ourselves. (emph. added)

More women's voices were heard this week in the statement of Sonali Kolhatkar, co-cirector of the Afghan Women's Mission and Mariam Rawi is a member of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan:

...The U.S. invasion has been a failure, and increasing the U.S. troop presence will not undo the destruction the war has brought to the daily lives of Afghans.

...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...

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.

... 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.

The authors also have a few sharp words for the Feminist Majority Foundation and it's Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls:

On its foundation Web site, the first stated objective of the Feminist Majority Foundation's "Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls" is to "expand peacekeeping forces."

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.

For more background on the reality of conditions for Afghan women, read the report released this week on the situation of women in Afghanistan from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. It is devastating - and reminds us that conflict zones inevitably add risk to the lives of women and children.

Rethink Afghanistan is helping to support the efforts of the Afghan Women's Mission and you can too - click here for more information.

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