From A World to Win News Service

U.S. in Afghanistan Means Harsher Oppression for Women

Revolutionary Worker #1219, November 16, 2003, posted at

We received the following from A World to Win News Service

November 3, 2003. A World to Win News Service. Shortly after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell self- righteously declared, "The rights of the women of Afghanistan are not negotiable." Life in Afghanistan for women today shows that this was just a lie to justify the crime the U.S. was about to commit.

Women's lives did not become better after the U.S. invasion. They have become worse. This is one of the worst periods in the country's history for females.

Amnesty International recently released a report on violence against women in that country: "The risk of rape and sexual violence by members of armed factions and former combatants is still high. Forced marriage, particularly of girl children, and violence against women in the family are widespread in many areas of the country.... These crimes of violence continue with the active support or passive complicity of state agents, armed groups, families and communities."

A Human Rights Watch survey issued last July paints a similar picture: "Sexual violence against women, girls, and boys, is both frequent and almost never reported. Women, girls, and boys are ab- ducted outside of their homes in broad daylight and sexually assaulted. In some areas girls have been abducted on the way to school. Women and girls are raped in their homes, typically in the evening or night during armed robberies. One attack was seemingly intended to silence a women's rights activist."

After the invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Taliban, women across the country thought they would get at least some limited freedom. They thought they could at least lighten their Islamic covering if they wanted to, if not bare their heads completely, and leave their homes for work and school. They hoped they could take part in the social and political activities of their society. But instead a new and horrifying situation awaited them.

Islamic cover may no longer be compulsory by law, yet no woman can go out without it. The Taliban-era burqa covering the entire body from head to toe is generally common, and in most cases women have to wear a burqa to protect themselves against insult or rape. Slogans on walls throughout Kabul warn women to appear in public only when completely covered or face the consequences. As one NGO worker put it, "During the Taliban era, if a woman went to market and showed an inch of flesh she would have been flogged; now she's raped." (October 2003 Amnesty International report)

In the city of Jalalabad and Loghman province, government officials threatened to beat or kill women not wearing a burqa. Many women, especially in the rural areas, prefer to stay inside rather than risk rape, beatings or insults.

The main positive change for women after the Taliban--the return of many girls to school--is also running into obstacles. A year or two ago, some schools were burned down to deter local parents from enrolling their children. But now the threats are broader. In some areas soldiers and militiamen of the former Mujahideen groups (those who fought against the Soviet invasion with the help of the CIA and Western regimes) are discouraging girls from going to school. As Human Rights Watch noted, these men have grabbed many young girls on their way to school and kidnapped and raped them. This organized harassment has added to the worries and fears of the parents, so that returning refugee families who had sent their girls to school in Pakistan and Iran are now frightened and decline to send their girls to school in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch reports.

The real fact is that the schools are open, but many millions of girls are deprived of education. In fact, most girls and young women do not go to school in Afghanistan. The backyard literacy classes for girls that were commonplace during Taliban rule have returned in some parts of Afghanistan, like Jalalabad. In some cases, even these backyard classes have to be held very discretely, away from the eyes of the armed groups.

The pressure on women does not end with their sacrificing their education. Most women are potential targets for kidnap and rape by ex-Mujahideen soldiers.

Many cases of rape and sexual abuse of women are not reported because there is little support for fighting this in any part of society and none in the government--neither in the executive power (run by President Karzai) nor in the judicial system. In fact, the current rulers and their courts put the victims on trial, not the rapists. Women who are victims of rape or other abuse are often convicted of adultery ( zina ). If they don't end up in prison--and even if they do--their "disgrace" often leads to being ostracized by their family and society, and sometimes being killed by their brothers, father or husband. Under this repressive system, if they are raped, it often seems better for them to be silent.

"In Herat, of 67 detainees in the women's detention center, all but six were imprisoned or detained for zina crimes. The majority of married girls and young women interviewed by Amnesty International stated that they had either been forced into marriage or sold by their families at an early age. Many detainees stated that they had subsequently become victims of sexual and physical abuse." (AI report).

All this is evidence of a male-dominated system in every aspect. The state government, from the president to the courts, is part of the cause of the often unseen and untold suffering of the women of Afghanistan. Recent accounts from Afghanistan indicate an alarming increase in the number of girls committing suicide by setting themselves on fire, especially in Herat province in the western part of the country. Young girls have made it such a common act of defiance against forced marriage and other pressures that in October a conference on this issue was held in Afghanistan.

As days pass, the religious fundamentalists are becoming stronger and imposing the most medieval way of life on the people. They are trying to impose an Islamic state as the future of Afghanistan. That is one possible outcome with this sort of people in charge. That means more pressure on women and all the people, with efforts to control their minds, their way of life, their diet and even their way of dying.

These are only a few of the most horrendous features of the situation for women in Afghanistan under the U.S.-led occupation, which Western governments justified as bringing liberation and equal rights for women and democracy for the people.

Many of the present players of the government are ex-Mujahideen leaders who were notorious for their cruel activities against the people, during the war of resistance against the Soviet invasion and especially during 1992-1996 when they had political power and imposed a fundamentalist state on the people. Their fighting with each other led to the destruction of Kabul and other cities, while at the same time they were plundering, robbing and gang-raping women and boys, especially (but not only) those from rival groups. Later, when they lost power to the Taliban, many of them formed the Northern Alliance (a reactionary alliance against the Taliban), including the most brutal leaders from various minority nationalities. Now the U.S. and other imperialists have put them in charge again.

If anybody was hoping that the U.S., for all the harm it does, would at least bring some daylight for Afghanistan's women, they were woefully mistaken.

This is not just a matter of "Bushite" policies. It was inevitable that the U.S. and its allies would betray and make a mockery of their fine talk about women's liberation because their aim in invading Afghanistan in the first place was to further their own imperialistic interests, to control the region in the service of their global strategic objectives. No real liberation of anyone can come from an invasion by bloodthirsty imperialist powers.

This form of oppression of women that makes the women the property and thus the bearers of the "honor" of men is rooted in the feudal and semi-feudal system. The U.S. allies in Afghanistan are feudal landlords and warlords who are the embodiment and enforcers of this system. In fact the interests of these tyrants are tied up with the interests of U.S. imperialism and the allies, and they are the only reliable force for the imperialists. Most of the warlord armies, in their present form, were brought into existence by the help of the CIA and the ISI (Pakistan Intelligence Service) during the war against the Soviet occupation.

It is no surprise that they still act like beasts against the people. But the U.S. is happy with them. That is why Bush, Blair, Schroeder, and the other imperialist leaders are silent about the atrocities and inequalities. The U.S. ruling class believes that acting otherwise would endanger the fragile stability of their grip on Afghanistan. So they can easily live with it, just as they can with other tyrants that are in reality their flunkies and puppets. In fact, that is how they can live and breathe.

The real liberation of Afghanistan's women is possible only by overthrowing this semi-feudal and colonial system through what Maoists call a new democratic revolution that would put power in the hands of the people and defend the people's interests above all else. Then the people themselves will be able to smash all the oppressive relations and the reactionary traditions that enslave women and all the people. No one else can or wants to establish a system in which women are not the property or the "honor" of the men of the family. This is the society that the women of Afghanistan need and will fight for.