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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
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.