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Afghan Women: Enduring American "Freedom"
In January 2002, George W. Bush said in his State of the Union address, The last time we met in this chamber, the mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes, forbidden from working or going to school. Today women are free...
Almost a year later (October 11, 2002), Bush again congratulated himself: We went into Afghanistan to free people, because we believe in freedom. We believe every life counts.Every life matters. So were helping people recover from living under years of tyranny and oppression. Were helping Afghanistan claim its democratic future.
The U.S. campaign in Afghanistan was called Operation Enduring Freedom. With all this talk of freedom, it is important to ask the question, how are Afghan women enduring American-style freedom? When we think of womens rights in Afghanistan, we think of the imprisonment of the burqa, the traditional Islamic head- to-foot covering that the Taliban forced women to wear.
George Bush certainly seems to subscribe to this view. But many Afghan women wore the burqa before and after the Taliban. In the rural areas of Afghanistan, the majority of women covered themselves. Contrary to what President Bush would have us believe, the problems facing Afghan women run far deeper than clothing. Food security, access to healthcare, and safety from physical violence are key aspects of womens rights that the U.S. intervention has largely ignored or even jeopardized.
Winter Brings Starvation
This winter thousands of Afghans, devastated by 3 years of drought and 23 years of war and civil unrest, will be facing starvation. Take the Badghis province of Afghanistan for exampleone of the poorest. Roughly 50 percent of Badghiss approximately 400,000 population cannot obtain enough food this winter. Fatema, a resident of Bagdhis, doesnt know how she will feed her six children this year. Her 15-year-old son is the only one in the family who can earn any money and he does it by selling grass for fuel and food. They are among the millions of refugees that have returned to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, the millions who have been counted as a measure of success by the UN of the U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom.
What good is an uncovered face if it is starving to death? Womens rights are human rights: survival is more important than clothing and survival has been the most difficult challenge facing women both before and after the U.S. action in Afghanistan.
Womens Health in Crisis
A recent report released by the U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) entitled Maternal Mortality in Herat Province: The Need to Protect Womens Rights, said, The rate of maternal mortality in a society is a critical indicator of the health and human rights status of women in a community. The report documented 593 maternal deaths in every 100,000 live births, with the majority of the cases in rural areas. This maternal mortality rate is far worse than in all of the countries neighboring Afghanistan.
The second worse neighboring country is Pakistan, with 200 deaths per 100,000 births. A researcher with PHR concluded, What appears to be simply a public health catastrophe in Herat Province...speaks of the many years of denial and deprivation of womens rights in Afghanistan. Today one of the most vulnerable groups of women in Afghanistan are widows. In Kabul there are an estimated 40,000 widows who have lost their husbands in the decades of war in Afghanistan. Nationwide, the number of widows is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands, since about 1.5 million Afghans were killed during the ten year Soviet occupation and the cross fire from warlordism that followed in the early 1990s.
While the plight of Afghan widows has improved psychologically, the main problems of finding shelter, food and income remain the same, says Awadia Mohamed, the coordinator for CARE International in Afghanistan. Indeed, in some cases they have worsened. Widows have very limited access to food and health services despite the absence of the Taliban. In fact, 51 percent of widows surveyed reported being unwell, of whom 57.6 percent had fever, 13.6 percent had diarrhea and 10 percent leish- maniasis wounds.... Furthermore, calorie intake was insufficient, with most of the women and their children subsisting on little more than bread and tea, resulting in malnutrition problems and micro- nutrient deficiencies.
Warlords Threaten Security
Practically speaking, since the Taliban fell and warlords of the past returned to their old fiefdoms, they resumed fighting one another, exactly what they were doing when the Taliban first came to power. According to Agence France-Presse, Northern Afghanistan remains plagued by factional and ethnic rivalries despite loose allegiances between warlords controlling the area, most of whom have offered pledges of support to the central Afghan government (Violence in northern Afghanistan deterring refugee returns: UN, Agence France-Presse, October 20, 2002). Such clashes are frequent and deadly, in the northern and eastern part of Afghanistan.
The media fail to report prominently that many of these warlords, now members of the Northern Alliance, were first empowered by the United States in the 1980s to repel the Soviet invasion and again during the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban.
The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) spelled out last year what empowering war lords will do for Afghanistan: The Taliban and Al-Qaeda will be eliminated, but the existence of the NA [Northern Alliance] as a military force would shatter the joyful dream of the majority for an Afghanistan free from the odious chains of barbaric Taliban. The NA will horribly intensify the ethnic and religious conflicts and will never refrain to fan the fire of another brutal and endless civil war in order to retain power (RAWAs appeal to the UN and World community, November 13, 2001).
Rather than heed the words of RAWA and others, the U.S. engaged the services of the Northern Alliance, with the CIA paying warlords $100,000 each to gather armies (Caught Off Guard, the CIA Fights to Catch Up, Cloud, D. S., April 15, 2002, Wall Street Journal).
Today, the three vice presidents of Afghanistan are all members of the Northern AllianceGeneral Mohammad Fahim, Karim Khalili, and Haji Abdul Qadeer. Moham- med Qasim Fahim, a former Mujahadeen warrior, is now Defense Minister of Afghanistan. The Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who received a plaque of appreciation from U.S. forces for help against the Taliban last year, can add ethnic cleansing to his achievements. Dostums troops recently forced 180 Pashtun families (people who are the same ethnicity as the Taliban) from villages in northern Afghanistan in early October. Some of the women said they had been raped by his men and had their homes looted (Pashtuns driven from northern Afghan villages, October 7, 2002, Reuters).
While Afghan women are desperate for security and for the International Security Armed Forces (ISAF) to be expanded from Kabul to all of Afghanistan, the U.S. continues to deny this. Even Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, a puppet of the U.S., has asked for the ISAF to be expanded to all of Afghanistan, so that warlords can be disarmed and a transition to peace can begin. Instead the U.S. has been focusing on training a national army of Afghans which is undermined by the fact that Afghan Defense Minister Mohammed Qasim Fahim has a private army of 18,000 men (Afghans ask: Whose army is it? David Buchbinder, October 17, 2002, Christian Science Monitor).
With the U.S. empowering warlords, and undermining the ISAF expansion, there is little hope for peace and security in the country. Afghan women will pay the highest price as they have always done.
In March of this year the Washington Post happily ran a story headlined The Girls Are back in Afghan Schools. One could almost hear the collective sigh of relief across America. But are the media reporting the recent spate of attacks against schools in Afghanistan? Schools have been burned down in Kandahar, Wardak, and Sar-i-Pul. In the seventh incident in a series of attacks on girls schools in Afghanistan, gunmen forced a school in the Wardak province that served 1,300 girls to close. In recent weeks girls schools have been burned and bombed (UNICEF denounces violent attacks on schools in Afghanistan, October 17, 2002, UN News Service).
Saving Afghan Women
It is crucial for us to understand that womens rights are always politically manipulated by the powerful, to justify almost anything. In the late 1970s, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and claimed to be saving Afghan women. Then, they began assassinating men who opposed the invasion, leaving thousands of women widowed. The U.S.-backed Mujahadeen (many of whom now comprise the Northern Alliance) claimed to be saving women from the godless communists. Then, they raped women, forced them into marriages, and tortured their husbands. The Taliban took over from the Mujahadeen, claiming to save Afghan women. Then they forced them to stay at home (for their own good), stop going to school, and be denied access to medical care. Finally, George Bush came riding on a white horse to save Afghan women. Perhaps it is time to rethink promises made by powerful men to save Afghan women.
Afghan women dont need saving. They know perfectly well how to save themselves. The brave work of RAWA in the fields of education, health care, political agitation and demands for secularism, democracy, and womens rights is a testament to this. The West does not hold a monopoly on these issues. What Afghan women need is for the U.S. to stop imposing freedom through bombs, stop backing human rights violators and warlords, and stop hindering the security forces from expanding to the rest of the country.
To express solidarity with Afghan women, we need to understand what affects them, starting with what we are responsible for and have the power to changethe use of bombs and warlords as tools of U.S. policy. We need to begin treating Afghan women with dignity and not reduce them to a piece of clothing. Afghan wo- mens rights are a crucial part of the equation of Afghanistan. One year later, it is clear that Afghan women are not free they are enduring American freedom.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
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VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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