Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
Companies Cash in on Patriotism
Media War Without End
Anthrax, Drug Transnationals And TRIPs
Bioterror And Biosafety
Feminist Analysis and the Crisis
A Country Abandoned
Richard alan Leach
Are You A Patriot?
The New World Order Rule â€¦
The Politicization of Terror
Shake, Rattle, and Rolling Over â€¦
On Terror And War
There are no articles.
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Feminist Analysis and the Crisis
(This is a slightly corrected version of the article published in the 12/01 issue of Z.)
Cynthia Enloe, feminist scholar and author of several books and articles about women and the military, suggested that it is useful to ask, "Where are the women?" A casual observer of recent events might be justified in responding: There aren't any. Or at least not too many.
True, there is Condoleeza Rice. But she is mostly surrounded by men in suits spouting macho rhetoric about "ending states" (Under Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz) and using cowboy metaphors to describe how we will catch Osama bin Laden "dead or alive" (President Bush). The Taliban, of course, is all men. As is the Northern Alliance. The terrorists are all men. All the main players in the unfolding tragedy are men-including (at least according to the pictures in the papers) the heroic firefighters who rushed into a burning building to save people they did not know. Not to mention the brave men working to get the much needed food aid into Afghanistan.
But the women are there. You just have to look beneath the surface to find them.
Before the Taliban took control of Kabul, many Afghan women played important roles in public life. Women constituted 40 percent of the doctors in the capital, 50 percent of the civilian government workers, and 70 percent of the teachers. Under the Taliban, they were not even allowed to leave their homes unless they were accompanied by a male relative. They were forbidden to work or go to school. Banned from the job market but forced to eke out a living due to the death or incapacitation of their husbands, many Afghan women turn to prostitution.
A report on the website of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (www.rawa.org) reminds us of the conundrum of an Afghan woman navigating public life, employing different identities to sustain her life and avoid death: "The women who work in a [brothel] usually carry three types of identity cards. One ID showing them as a widow with children, is used to get aid from UN offices or Red Cross. . . Another ID, showing them as a married woman, is used for renting houses and so on. If Taliban arrests them for Zena (crime of sex outside marriage) they use their third ID showing them as a single women. Being single helps them avoid being stoned to death." They are now what Cynthia Enloe calls "womenandchildren"- innocent victims facing U.S. bombs, sealed borders, and starvation as the air strikes brought an end to the massive aid programs needed to help millions of Afghans survive the harsh winter.
"I haven't seen Osama. I don't know Osama. Why when things happen in the east, the west or the north of the world, do the problems have to come here and hit straight at the people of Afghanistan?" asked Farida, a 40-year-old widow and mother of 4 who was begging on the streets of Kabul, the Afghan capital. "I pray to my God that as soon as America attacks the first cruise missile hits my house and kills me and my family," the former teacher said from behind her all-encompassing veil. She recited a long list of woes including hunger and a lack of water and sanitation in her home, a ruined building.
Is this the female version of the suicide mission?
The conditions that produced steel-willed men who choreographed their own and thousands of others' instantaneous deaths also produce this, the wretched and hopeless Afghan mother praying for a fiery death for her and her children. If Farida and women like her do not die in the bombings, she will have to fight for scraps of food and scraps of self-determination. Starvation is a threat particularly felt by women, who have primary responsibility for their children.
Assuming they don't starve to death, there is another "grave health emergency now facing Afghan women," according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). "Thousands of pregnant women . . . lack shelter, food, and medical care, and unsanitary conditions pose a serious risk to these women and their infant children. Even before the current crisis, poor health conditions and malnutrition made pregnancy and childbirth exceptionally dangerous for Afghan women."
With the retreat of the Taliban, Afghan women now face likely torment from their U.S.-supported "liberators." According to Robert Fisk, writing in London's the Independent, the Northern Alliance (NA) is made up of known rapists and murderers. In the 1990s, they "looted and raped their way through the suburbs of Kabul.... They chose girls for forced marriages [and] murdered their families." RAWA called the Taliban's retreat a "positive development," but the Northern Alliance's takeover of Kabul is "nothing but dreadful and shocking news for about 2 million residents of Kabul whose wounds of the years 1992-96 have not healed yet" (11/13/01).
It's true, the Taliban's retreat may provide an opening for women. But while Afghan women's newly-revealed faces are captured on film by AP photographers, many -- the innocent victims of U.S. bombs and those dying more slowly of starvation -- are still thickly veiled. Their stories are masked by a mainstream media that is making a concerted effort to downplay civilian casualties, according to the media watchdog, FAIR.
Despite pressures from sequential oppressive governments, the women of Afghanistan have not been invisible. The pro-democracy, pro-women's rights Revolutionary Association of Women from Afghanistan (RAWA) has worked diligently to make their plight known. Afghan women risk the death penalty for their organizing work. Yet, according to Kathleen Richter in a Z Magazine article, it has about 2,000 members, half in Afghanistan and half in Pakistan. RAWA runs clandestine home-based schools for girls and boys in Afghanistan, operates underground mobile health teams in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and organizes income-generating projects for Afghan women. It also provides human rights organizations with reports about violations carried out by the Taliban and other fundamentalists, and produces educational cassettes, holds poetry and story nights, and publishes a quarterly magazine.
However victimized Afghan women are by government and religious rules, they have cobbled together a peace and justice movement even as they cobble together a fragile day-to-day existence. Afghan women and men, not western rulers, contain the seeds of their own liberation. In our approach to solving world problems-like that of apprehending the terrorists and punishing the governments that harbor them- we might find it useful to ask, "Where are the women?" And not just that, but, "What are they saying?"
In the United States
If there's one thing feminism has taught us recently in the United States it is to watch out for that word "unity." Since that's all we're hearing these days ("United We Stand"; "America United," etc.), it's worth taking a moment to see what gets collapsed out of existence when we are all "one."
When Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) bridged the gap between the major parties, saying, "We are resolved to work together, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans," some might argue it wasn't much of a stretch anyway. But he added, "Tonight, the president asked for our unity.... We will do whatever is needed to protect our nation. Nothing is more urgent."
Calls for unity and assertions that there is one set of interests to protect in "our nation" dismiss the huge divides that exist in this country-across race, class, gender, geography, ethnicity, sexuality, and religion. Many social movements that have as their focus the dismantling of institutions that generate racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia are aggressively silenced and marginalized as everything about the "American way" is promoted as the equivalent of freedom and democracy.
Jerry Falwell expressed the fundamentalist Christian version of Tom Daschle's insistence on unity when he sputtered that the terrorist attacks were caused by "pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen'."
Because his statement was so absurd and his finger-pointing included enough mainstream elements as to be considered impolite, Falwell had to retract and apologize for his statement. Yet it revealed something about what is behind the calls for unity. Falwell was wrong that feminists and gays and lesbians caused the terrorist attacks, but he's right that those of us who contest institutionalized white supremacy, patriarchy and the marketplace challenge U.S. unity and thus destabilize U.S. power.
Whether they use Falwell's extreme words or
Daschle's polite ones, U.S. leaders are using the terrorist attacks as an
opportunity for the United States to consolidate power, and that includes
further marginalizing the social movements that have contested the workings and
end-products of U.S. institutions.
While pagans and abortionists are not welcome, women do have a special role to play in helping consolidate U.S. power. Although mostly we are supposed to stay silent, we are finally hearing direct role-modeling from Laura Bush about how we can help out during our country's time of need. During a recent interview with Larry King, the First Lady lamented that "she may have lost a little of him because he gave more of himself to the country," according to a UPI report "It's unbelievably stressful," she continued. "I thought today he looked a little tired."
A moment's lament is acceptable, but only if it quickly morphs into cheerleading. "But he's doing great," the First Lady added. "He's very resolved. He's doing very well."
"The fact is," she said at one point, "is that most of us are safe. Nearly all of us are safe. Our children are safe in their schools. We need to reassure them, of that.
"I know that people are getting back on planes and flying again, which I'm glad about," she said.
She ended the interview with an encouraging note: "I want to get across the message that that I think people need to go about their daily lives and start feeling secure again, and certainly help make their children feel secure as they go about their daily lives."
The wifely and motherly role during a time of crisis is to admire our men, bravely suffer their understandable preoccupations, reassure the children, and breathe a sigh of relief for the return of our daily routines. We can celebrate the little things and not concern ourselves with the bigger issues like whether our country's policies will lead to genocide in Afghanistan. All of which leads to the second most important thing for women to do: Get back to shopping. Never mind that stockholders are divesting, airlines are laying off people by the tens of thousands, and the rich are scaling back and protecting their wealth. Never mind that millions of Americans don't have disposable incomes and millions more get along without the benefit of health or life insurance. Never mind all this, it's women's patriotic duty to go to the mall. Z
Cynthia Peters is the Boston coordinator of the East Timor Action Network, and a freelance writer.