The Biggest Danger to Women's Rights in Afghanistan
Posted on: Tuesday, July 28, 2009
When people in the US talk about the scourge of violence against women in Afghanistan, discussion tends to stop cold at one word: culture. As if culture is some sacred terrain upon which we dare not tread. The flawed syllogism goes like this: misogyny is endemic to Afghan culture. We can’t criticize that culture without reinforcing a racist agenda and justifying US military intervention. Therefore, we can’t take a stand against misogynist violence in Afghanistan.
We can argue the assumptions embedded in that logic, but ultimately, the culture conversation misses the point. Afghan culture may be misogynist, but so is every culture. There’s nothing unique about the suffocation of women’s potential to live as full human beings, backed up by extreme violence and justified by religion and nature. The difference between Afghanistan and any other place is the extent to which women have succeeded in winning rights and transforming culture in the process.
What, then, is obstructing progress for Afghan women? For one thing, women who seek to exercise their basic rights are systematically hunted down and killed. A new United Nations report grimly confirms what women in Afghanistan have been telling us all year: women are being harassed and even assassinated for holding jobs, speaking out for their rights or simply appearing in public without a male chaperone. Women politicians, teachers, nurses, artists, aid workers, journalists and other professionals are being targeted by ultra-conservatives aiming to create a society in which women have no rights and no role in public life.
Despite the danger, Afghan women continue to demand their rights. Remember the hundreds of women who took to the streets of Kabul in April? They took their lives in their hands to protest a new law sanctioning marital rape.
Ultimately, though, Afghan women’s prospects for transforming their society are undermined by the US-led war. In fact, many Afghan women activists identify the war as the biggest danger to women’s rights in Afghanistan
Over the past eight years, uncounted numbers of women and their family members have been killed, displaced and terrorized. The war has had a disproportionate impact on women, who have had to sustain family life and meet everyone’s needs for food, water, childcare and a host of other services through years of violence, constant insecurity and grinding poverty. In addition to endangering women’s lives, the war has eroded the political space for women to advocate for their rights.
That’s why the Feminist Majority Foundation’s endorsement of the US war in Afghanistan is so perplexing. The FMF rightly argues that the US owes a tremendous debt to the people of Afghanistan, having induced 30 years of war and misery there. They’ve got the history right, but the conclusion wrong. US guns, bombs and military occupation cannot bring about a society based on human rights. However, a US commitment to education, sustainable agriculture and equitable economic development just might.
Those kinds of policies are what’s needed to reinforce a beleaguered but vibrant Afghan women’s movement, including courageous activists involved in securing food, housing, healthcare and education for women and families, defending women’s shelters, holding peace demonstrations, demanding women’s full participation in public life and fighting for interpretations of Islam that support women’s rights. No foreign military occupation is going to do those things. Afghan women themselves will have to do it.
Through our Afghan Women’s Survival Fund, MADRE is working to support the women who risk their lives to defend women’s human rights. For more information about the Fund and how you can help, click here.
*Cross-posted on Afghan Watch and myMADRE, the MADRE Blog.
Archives"Press Room" Home March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 June 2007 May 2007 April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 July 2006 June 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 April 2005 March 2005 November 2004 October 2004 April 2004 March 2004 January 2004 December 2003 October 2003 September 2003 June 2003 April 2003 January 2003 September 2002 June 2002 January 2002 November 2001 October 2001 September 2001 August 2001 January 2001
Kat Noel, Website & Media Coordinator
PHONE: +1 212 627 0444
MADRE & Our Partners Make News
Haiti: the neoliberal model imposed on the country is failing its citizens (The Guardian, February 5, 2014)
Human rights group slams Iraq over treatment of women in prison (Miami Herald, February 2, 2014)
New Ways to Evaluate Impact (Stanford Social Innovation Review, January 24, 2014)
Poverty, Homelessness and Gender Violence Remains High Four Years After Earthquake (Uprising Radio , January 17, 2014)
Empowering Haiti's rape survivors (CNN, January 14, 2014)