Threat to Afghani women’s health mars any rhetoric of liberation
October marks the eighth anniversary of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. Despite the general consensus that the U.S. and it’s allies–Canada, of course, included–are floundering in the fight against terrorism, and despite increasingly heavy troop casualties and deaths–save the tens of thousands Afghani civilians who have lost their life to the conflict–we’re asking for more, more, more: and are likely to get it. The New York Times reported this week that NATO has given generous support to U.S. General Stanley A. McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy, a plan which includes a large “surge” of troops into the country. While NATO ministers made clear that they only supported McChyrstal’s “assessment” of the situation in Afghanistan, and not necessarily the troop increase, this pat on the back may give Obama and the U.S. just what is needed to ask their allies to support more troops on the ground.
The war has become so much a part of our daily headlines that we often forget why we entered Afghanistan in the first place. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), during an October 7 interview with Democracy Now!, reminded listeners that part of former President George Bush’s pitch to U.S. law makers, the public and potential allies was to overthrow the Taliban not only to combat global terrorism, but in order to help liberate women of Afghanistan. Strange as it seems, Bush, a president notorious for his constant attacks on funding for women and children’s program in the U.S., sold a $3.6 billion a week war by touting women’s rights. And even more strangely: we bought it, and continue to buy it today, in the form of books and speaking tours spouting the new-found freedom of Afghani women post-Taliban and continued political rhetoric. Despite the fact that everything else in Afghanistan may be going down the crapper, we appease ourselves by saying that at least the women of Afghanistan are free.
It is undeniable that the Taliban was an extremely repressive regime, especially for women, whose rights and movements were heavily restricted and dependent upon their male-counterparts. While the recently adopted Afghan constitution boldly states that “the citizens of Afghanistan–whether man or woman–have equal rights and duties before the law,” the daily lives of the country’s women may not have improved as substantially as we would like to believe. Political rhetoric and promises are one thing: but the on-the-ground, day-to-day situation is another, especially with regards to health. For those of us who believe that health is an essential human right, it’s difficult to see women in Afghanistan as able to live free, independent lives under the NATO invasion. Despite billions being poured into the country, the health indicators remain some of the worst in the world: according to the UN’s IRIN news service, every 30 minutes an Afghan women dies during childbirth (Afghanistan has one of the highest levels of maternal mortality in the world); 87% of Afghan women are illiterate; up to 80% of Afghan women face forced marriages; and the country’s average life expectancy for women is 44 years. The World Food Program estimates that 7.4 million people–nearly 1/3 of the population–“are unable to get enough food to live active, healthy lives.” On top of little access to medical facilities and patriarchal domination, women in Afghanistan are stuck in the cross fire of NATO missiles and internal fighting.
Does this seem like liberation to you?
Speaking on October 7 on Democracy Now!, Zoya, a member of the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan, said: “Unfortunately, in the past eight years…with billions of dollars poured into the country, and with the tens of countries present in Afghanistan…we feel that there’s no positive change in Afghanistan. “…Today we see that women are suffering from different sides…from one side from the Taliban and from their rules and laws and from their suicide bombs, and from the other side, the US-NATO bombs…We notice, that during the past eight years, they killed more civilians than Taliban and terrorists.”
It’s time for us to stop defending the war in Afghanistan under the guise of liberation. Afghanistan isn’t a mess simply because of the Taliban–which, despite our best efforts to believe otherwise, still controls a majority of the country; nor is this mess rendered fixable by the regime’s downfall. For women, true liberation could occur if the billions NATO allies spent on missiles and mortar were spent towards education, housing, food and hospitals. While women’s lives are daily threatened by lack of basic necessities like food and water, we can’t continue to congratulate ourselves for helping to stem the tide of patriarchal domination. We’ve replaced the Taliban’s repressive stance towards women with a U.S.-led one, in which we do not prioritize women’s right to health, and instead further threaten it. Women’s liberation in Afghanistan has to be Afghani-lead; but this will not occur if their daily lives are occupied with sickness, and cut short at age 44. Poor health indicators stems any internal movement for liberation: and the best first step to achieving better health would be the end of our military threat to it.