Violence against women is “epidemic.” Eighty-seven percent of women complain of domestic violence. Half of those cases involve sexual violence. Sixty percent of marriages are still forced. Fifty-seven percent of brides are still under the legal age of 16. What would you call this massive use of force, complete with torture, if not “war” – an ongoing war against women.
BY ANN JONES
Posted by Bulatlat.com
Vol. VIII, No. 30, August 31-September 6, 2008
Urging in Afghanistan: Too Much, Too Late?
Despite George W. Bush’s claim that he’s “truly not that concerned” about Osama bin Laden, the administration is erecting 10 “Wanted” billboards in Afghanistan, offering rewards of $25 million for bin Laden, $10 million for Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and $1 million for Adam Gadahn, an American member of Al Qaeda, now listed as a “top terrorist.” That’s 10 nice, big, literal signs that the administration is waking up, only seven years after 9/11 and the American “victory” that followed, to its “forgotten war.”
When I wrote this piece for TomDispatch in February 2007, I’d been working intermittently since 2002 with women in Afghanistan – women the Bush administration claimed to have “liberated” by that victory. In all those years, despite some dramatic changes on paper, the real lives of most Afghan women didn’t change a bit, and many actually worsened thanks to the residual widespread infection of men’s minds by germs of Taliban “thought.” Today, Afghanistan is the only country in the world where women outdo men when it comes to suicide.
To transfer those changes from paper to the people, “victory” in Afghanistan should have been followed by the deployment of troops in sufficient numbers to ensure security. Securing the countryside might have enabled the Karzai government installed in the Afghan capital, Kabul, to extend its authority while international humanitarian organizations helped Afghans rebuild their country. As everyone knows, of course, that’s hardly what happened.
Now, a promised new American surge in Afghanistan threatens to be too much, too late. Bent on victory again, Americans are easily manipulated by false information to call in air strikes and wipe out whole villages – men, women, and children – even with no enemy in sight. (In 2007 alone, the U.S. dropped about a million pounds of bombs on the Afghan countryside.) Just the other day, masses of men took to the streets to protest the death of 95 civilians, including 19 women and 60 children. Masses of men once grateful to the U.S. for overthrowing the Taliban, and hopeful of American help in rebuilding the country, are now turning against the Bush administration’s ever more lethal occupation.
You don’t see women among the protesters because they are at home behind closed doors, confined, just as they were before the American “liberation.”
The war against the Taliban took a brief intermission after that American “victory,” but the war against women went on without interruption. Earlier this year Womankind Worldwide, a British nongovernmental organization, issued a report entitled “Taking Stock: Afghan Women and Girls Seven Years On.” The news? Violence against women is “epidemic.” Eighty-seven percent of women complain of domestic violence. Half of those cases involve sexual violence. Sixty percent of marriages are still forced. Fifty-seven percent of brides are still under the legal age of 16. What would you call this massive use of force, complete with torture, if not “war” – an ongoing war against women.
The current state of Afghanistan’s female parliamentarians reveals a lot about the real conditions of women in that country. Many of them have proven to be merely the servants of the warlords who paid for their election campaigns. On the other hand, a few, the independent outspoken ones working for change, come under relentless attack.
Malalai Joya, who famously (and rightly) denounced some of her colleagues as war criminals, was expelled and threatened with death. Shukria Barakzai, injured in a suicide bombing last November that killed six other parliamentarians, has now earned a suicide bomber of her own. She complained recently that while Parliament has sent her letters for the past three months informing her that she is the potential target of a suicide bomber, it hasn’t offered to protect her. When her complaint reached the internet, an Afghan man (apparently safe in Canada) responded that she should stay home and raise sons who could “do something” for Afghanistan. He called her a “cowhead.” That may be one step up from “cow,” but it’s still a long way from human being. Ann Jones, August 2008
Born in Afghanistan but raised in the United States, like many in the worldwide Afghan Diaspora, Manizha Naderi is devoted to helping her homeland. For years she worked with Women for Afghan Women, a New York based organization serving Afghan women wherever they may be. Last fall, she returned to Kabul, the capital, to try to create a Family Guidance Center. Its goal was to rescue women – and their families – from homemade violence. It’s tough work. After three decades of almost constant warfare, most citizens are programmed to answer the slightest challenge with violence. In Afghanistan it’s the default response.
Manizha Naderi has been sizing up the problem in the capital and last week she sent me a copy of her report. A key passage went like this:
“During the past year, a rash of reports on the situation of women in Afghanistan has been issued by Afghan governmental agencies and by foreign and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that claim a particular interest in women’s rights or in Afghanistan or both. More reports are in the offing. What has sparked them is the dire situation of women in the country, the systematic violations of their human rights, and the failure of concerned parties to achieve significant improvements by providing women with legal protections rooted in a capable, honest, and stable judiciary system, education and employment opportunities, safety from violence, much of it savage, and protection from hidebound customs originating in the conviction that women are the property of men.”
I’d hoped for better news. Instead, her report brought back so many things I’d seen for myself during the last five years spent, off and on, in her country.