Women in Afghanistan – Circa 2009

September 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

Something different today, a more serious subject.

Tina Brown published an article on The Daily Beast today, “Let’s Not Abandon Afghan Women.” In the piece, she suggests that, amid all of the conversation regarding how the United States should best handle the current situation in Afghanistan – more troops or not – there is little or no discussion regarding the women of Afghanistan.  If troops leave, she says, the women will have been abandoned a second, the first time being after America funded the Afghans in a “proxy war” against the Soviets.

It was the use of the words “second time” that struck me.  Have you, like me, forgotten that there was a “first time,” or possibly you never knew.  I am aware that the movie Charlie Wilson’s War was meant as entertainment, and was certainly biased to some degree, but I actually learned something about the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the U.S. covert response.  The intentions were good.  The leaving, we learned with the benefit of hindsight, was not.  History.  It seems that at times our memories are short, and we need to be reminded, even of recent history (sometimes, again and again).

Maybe you, like me, had already forgotten about the acid attacks on young Afghan girls as they walked to school one morning in late 2008, which Dexter Filkins described in his New York Times article, Afghan Girls, Scarred by Acid, Defy Terror, Embracing School,” in January of this year. Two months after the vicious attacks, these brave girls defied the Taliban and resumed their studies at school, because the wanted to learn and their parents wanted them to learn.  Do we want to abandon them?

Earlier this month, there was an excellent six-part interactive series “Behind the Veil: Women in Kandahar,” which ran online at TheGlobeandMail.com (one of Canada’s national newspapers).  In the series, ten Afghan women were interviewed about their lives in Kandahar today.  The sessions were conducted in secret, by an Afghan interviewer prompted with questions from Canadian journalists.  A print article by Jessica Leeder kicked off the interactive series.   In the article she summarized the situation like this:

“Deteriorating security has forced Kandahar’s women to forfeit gains they only recently won: They are quitting jobs, dropping out of class and slipping on burkas. Despite constitutional guarantees, the status of women these days is little changed from that of their forebears.”

One of the women interviewed was quoted as saying, “We would rather have the Taliban’s time,” and  I wondered how that was possible.  And then I read.  The stories were tough and they were heartbreaking: of freedoms taken away, of forced marriages at a very young age,  and of a lack of education and economic opportunity.  These women had the courage to speak out.  Now that we know, can we turn away?

I don’t know if sending more troops to Afghanistan is the right thing to do or not – I am not naive enough to believe that I have even one-tenth of the understanding necessary to form a hard-and-fast opinion – but I do think Tina Brown is right when she asks, “are we really considering throwing Afghan women back into the darkness after their return to freedom?”

Imagine if it was you.

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