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This is not a war for women’s rights

Posted by Peace Action West on August 3rd, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

The cover of last week’s Time magazine is deservedly catching some heat. It’s a picture of an 18 year old Afghan woman named Aisha whose nose and ears were cut off by her husband and his brother because she ran away from her abusive in-laws. The thing is, the photo itself is stunning. Aisha looks steadily into Jodi Bieber’s camera and though badly disfigured, is captivating –  she doesn’t look like a victim. It’s the headline, “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan,” and the article (or at least the portion of it available online) that are so misleading.

Time’s Managing Editor, Richard Stengel, had this to say:
The much publicized release of classified documents by WikiLeaks has already ratcheted up the debate about the war. Our story and the haunting cover image by the distinguished South African photographer Jodi Bieber are meant to contribute to that debate. We do not run this story or show this image either in support of the U.S. war effort or in opposition to it. We do it to illuminate what is actually happening on the ground.

He makes his claim to a balanced contribution to the debate, but the emotionally charged cover (which will be seen by far more than will read the piece) is worth a thousand propogandist’s words. You can email letters@time.com to let them know what you think about the cover. Include your name, phone and address and they may publish it in their letters forum. Or if you prefer instant gratification, click here to comment online. And please let us know if you send something in the comments below.

The writer, Aryn Baker, says that “for Afghanistan’s women, an early withdrawal of international forces could be disastrous,” and points to talks of reconciling moderate elements of the Taliban insurgency with the government. The implication is that continued U.S. military force is the answer to ensuring Afghan women’s rights and safety by defeating the Taliban. But it’s telling that the woman pictured was maimed just last year, eight years after the Taliban was ousted from power. Blogger Matt Yglesias points out, “it’s extremely disingenuous to act as if continued American military engagement in Afghanistan is the key to preventing further cases of girls like Aisha from being maimed for violations of retrograde notions of gender norms.”

“As David Petraeus put it in his remarks upon assuming command in Afghanistan: “We must demonstrate to the Afghan people, and to the world, that Al Qaeda and its network of extremist allies will not be allowed to once again establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan from which they can launch attacks on the Afghan people and on freedom-loving nations around the world.” That doesn’t say anything about what happens to young girls who flee from their in-laws. Protecting them was not among the things he exhorted his troops to do. And when he addressed himself to the people of Afghanistan he didn’t mention anything along these lines either.”

Also not addressed is that the war itself fuels the strength of the Taliban insurgency, and has put fundamentalists in charge. In this short video from Rethink Afghanistan, Sonali Kolhatkar, the Co-director of Afghan Women’s Mission explains how the war has failed to help protect women from fundamentalists:

“[Excerpt begins 3:44, emphasis mine.] You have to go back to the late 1970′s where the U.S. started funding Coxy soldiers in the fight against the Soviets during the Cold War. And the U.S. elected to fund the most misogynist, the most anti-woman, the most fundamentalist and extremist men, leaders of these militias. They called themselves the Mujahideen, and they were really the predecessors of the Taliban. The U.S .paid them billions of dollars, helped arm them, train them. And this was really the beginning of the end of women’s rights in Afghanistan.  [... ]For the Northern alliance are most of the rest of these Mujahideen or warlords or war criminals, they are now dominating the Parliament. So we sort of rehired them to defeat the Taliban, after hiring them to defeat the Soviets. They became appointed as cabinet in Hamid Karzai’s cabinet, in return for defeating the Taliban. This is sort of political payback. [...] When President Karzai first came into power, he installed an extremely fundamentalist judiciary in Afghanistan. [...]  That judiciary is imprisoning more women than ever before in Afghanistan. And they’re imprisoning them for running away from their homes, for refusing to marry the man that their family picked for them, for even being a victim of rape. [...] What has happened is the military occupation in Afghanistan has made the country more fundamentalist by legitimizing the Taliban opposition. And this has made women suffer more.”

From “Silence is Violence, End the Abuse of Women in Afghanistan“, a 2009 report from Human Rights, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan:

“On the issue of rape, UNAMA’s research found that although under-reported and concealed, this ugly crime is an everyday occurrence in all parts of the country. It is a human rights problem of profound proportions. Women and girls are at risk of rape in their homes and in their communities, in detention facilities and as a result of traditional harmful practices to resolve feuds within the family or community. In some areas, alleged or convicted rapists are, or have links to, powerful commanders, members of illegal armed groups, or criminal gangs, as well as powerful individuals whose influence protects them from arrest and prosecution. In the northern region for example, 39 per cent of the cases analyzed by UNAMA Human Rights, found that perpetrators were directly linked to power brokers who are, effectively, above the law and enjoy immunity from arrest as well as immunity from social condemnation.”

How can conditions for Afghan women improve when the US-backed government is overrun with corrupted officials and fundamentalist warlords who hate women, and have allowed and in some cases even encouraged this kind of violence? Not only are Afghan women suffering from fundamentalist atrocities, but are losing their lives and loved ones to the war. They are witnessing the killing of their innocent children and relatives by U.S. and NATO forces.

“We are sandwiched between three powerful enemies: the occupation forces of the U.S. and NATO, the Taliban and the corrupt government of Hamid Karzai,” says Malalai Joya, author of “A woman among warlords” and an Afghan voice on the plight of her people .

What do you think of the cover? And be sure to let Time Magazine know as well: letters@time.com.

Also check out the full Rethink Afghanistan video on women and the war below:

Manuela Saftoiu Kumar contributed to this post.

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to “This is not a war for women’s rights”

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