On March 31 this year, the war in Afghanistan took a gruesome turn when a new law placed women of the Shia minority under the absolute control of their husbands. A woman was forbidden to refuse her husband’s demands for sex, leave the house without his permission or go out unaccompanied and without a head-to-toe burqua.
This is the country that George W Bush invaded, with Australia’s help, in 2001 to bring “democracy” and “liberate” women from the Taliban’s misogynist rule. Eight years later, it remains a religious, patriarchal society where forced marriage is common — 60% involving girls younger than 16. Last year, 47 women burned themselves to escape abusive husbands. The “democratic” leader installed by Washington is President Hamid Karzai. According to The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, life for women under his coalition government of warlords is worse than under the Taliban.
Protest was swift. On April 15, 300 women — mostly young — marched with large banners in Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul. They faced off 1,000 counter-demonstrators who shouted threats and attacked them with stones. The young protesters shouted back: “We don’t want a Taliban law, we want a democratic law and we want a law that guarantees human dignity.” An international outcry forced Karzai to scrap the law. However Afghan feminists expect another attempt, next time targeting the majority Sunni population.
Opening Pandora’s box. The war has inflicted unspeakable repression and misery upon the Afghan people. In Kabul, 500,000 are homeless. Most Afghanis are displaced, living in camps with little or no access to food, drinking water or health services. Infant mortality is the second worst in the world and the country has the lowest life expectancy — just 44.5 years. One-third of the population depends on food aid. Less than six percent have electricity. Each month, up to 100 are wounded or killed by mines and unexploded artillery. Added to this is even more misery for women — 87% report domestic violence. One-third of Afghanistan’s under-18-year-olds, mostly girls, cannot go to school. Ninety percent of Afghan women are illiterate. Female suicide, most often by self-immolation, is on the increase.
As Karzai signed away Shia women’s rights, Obama doubled U.S. forces to Afghanistan. Like his predecessor, he strong-armed allies to raise their commitments. Australia announced a 40% increase in its troop numbers. Great Britain also upped its contribution. Meanwhile corporate mercenaries continue to profit.
Stand by our Afghan sisters! Feminists everywhere must show our rage — at both the patriarchs and this obscene war. Follow Iranian women’s lead! In the U.S., Australia and all complicit countries, we must demand the immediate withdrawal of the “saviours” in uniform from Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Organise in our communities, unions and movements to stop the pilfering of our tax dollars and redirect this wealth toward decent healthcare, education, housing, welfare support and jobs for all. Fight woman-hating fundamentalism — at home, in Afghanistan and everywhere. We need to rebuild the anti-war movements in our countries. Put feminism front and centre. Shine the light on the unflinching bravery of fighters like the young women of Kabul, the desperate need of women everywhere for peace, justice and liberation, and our crucial role in bringing it on.