Afghan Women – Occupation is Not Liberation

The U.S. and NATO invaded and occupied Afghanistan in October 2001. One excuse given for this invasion was that women in Afghanistan needed to be liberated. In fact, U.S. foreign policy towards Afghanistan has never had anything to do with championing the rights of women but rather manipulating the issues to further U.S. economic interests.

Before the 1970s, Afghanistan was a slowly modernizing society. While definitely not a paradise for women, there were some opportunities. Women made up half of Afghanistan’s university students, 40 percent of its doctors, 70 percent of its teachers, and 30 percent of its civil servants.

In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, protecting its interests in the region. The CIA responded by building up an army, arming Islamic groups and recruiting Muslims from around the world, including Osama Bin Laden. After the Soviets were defeated and left Afghanistan, there was a civil war between various factions of warlords.

Out of this chaos, a deeply conservative religious movement called the Taliban was created, opposing the warlords and demanding an end to the conflict. In 1996 they took control of the government. While in power, the Taliban imposed harsh repression on the population but particularly for women, banning their education, and forcing them to cover their whole bodies in burqas. The U.S. was more than willing to work with the Taliban up until 1997. A senior U.S. diplomat said during this period, “The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis did. There will be…no parliament and lots of Sharia law [strict Islamic religious law]. We can live with that.” This relationship only became a problem when the Taliban did not agree to allow the U.S.-based company, Unocal, to construct oil pipelines through Afghanistan.

The U.S. and NATO invaded Afghanistan in November of 2001 and this has been devastating for the population but especially women. The new government under President Hamid Karzai has been just as brutal as the Taliban. In 2012, the new government passed a “code of conduct” that denied women the right to appear on the street without a male guardian. It also legally allowed wife beating. In 2012, a report by Human Rights Watch found that 60 percent of Afghan women were imprisoned for so-called “moral crimes” like fleeing abusers, leaving a forced marriage or having sex before marriage. Another report showed that 87 percent of Afghan women interviewed had endured physical, sexual or psychological violence.

Currently, women are still forced to cover up from head to toe in a burqa in most public places. Many families are so poor that they sell off their daughters to be married, or into brothels, many which serve U.S. military personnel. Less than a quarter of girls go to school and those that do face the threat of violence from religious fanatics. The situation for women has become so miserable that even according to official statistics, 2,300 women commit suicide every year.

Despite the repression, there are Afghan women who refuse to be silenced. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) have demonstrated against the Soviet Union, the warlords, the Taliban and the U.S., while opening up secret schools and job training centers for women and orphanages for refugee children.

The reality is that the invasion and occupation did nothing to help Afghan women. It is clear that the U.S. has never had any interest in defending the rights of women in Afghanistan and is perfectly willing to collaborate with the most brutal forces whenever they serve its agenda. The only action that truly has potential to improve the lives of women is women’s own struggle themselves.