Obama has finally made a decision on Afghanistan which can pretty much be summed up as: “I make no decision and reject all the options you have given me.” Barack just wants to know which way the exit is. So basically the Administration’s decision on Afghanistan for now is more indecision.
While it has become the common desire to bring the troops home and call it a day with the seemingly never-ending Afghan War, support for the war amongst the American public is also at an all time low.
As the Obama Administration ponders the very real possibility of becoming the newest addition to the “graveyard of empires” (aka Afghanistan), there is one aspect of Afghan society everyone seems to have forgotten: the women.
Yes, Afghan women. Anyone remember them? It was only in their name that the war was fought in the first place, right? That and to find Bin Laden in some cave of course.
It was the plight of Afghan women that really served as an emotional tool to garner support for the US Invasion back in 2001. But with the allied forces never really investing accurately in humanitarian efforts on the ground (read: building schools, hospitals, roads), it did not take long for the security situation in the country, which really never extended beyond Kabul anyway, to deteriorate.
When there is no security, there are no women, mainly because they are locked up at home. In the absence of security, nothing much can flourish, especially not democracy. I recently read that one of the best indicators of how safe your society is can be measured by how safe women are.
In the case of Afghanistan, the situation for women has actually worsened under the watch of American soldiers. Violence against women has increased to the point that statistics now show over 70% of Afghan women and girls are victims of violence; girls’ schools are regularly bombed, teachers shot in front of their students, one if four Afghan women die in childbirth, and widespread campaigns exist to make vocal women’s rights voices vanish. Oh and the Taliban, who never really went away, are back. The situation is so bleak that major women’s rights groups, even in the US, have called for a full troop pullout.
But it can’t be that easy for us to wash our hands of Afghan blood. As civilian causalities mount, “smart bombs” continue to miss their target, the US policy in Afghanistan is misguided at best. In order for the US to make its strategy in Afghanistan work, it must take into account the rights of Afghan women and girls whose lives have really borne the brunt of over 30 years of war.
Yes, right now the US is supporting a President who pretty much stole the recent Afghan elections, and only months ago implemented a new law which basically allows men to deny their wives food if they refuse to have sex.
The point I am trying to make though is that while the current US policy in Afghanistan is a disaster, it can never be made right unless women’s needs- healthcare, education, increased political presence- are all seriously improved upon and invested in. And I am talking real basic level investments to start with.
You just cannot really rebuild a society that has seen as much war as the Afghan society by excluding 50% of the population- women. In the case of Afghanistan it is even more important to include women not only because that’s what we said we would do, but because it is the winning strategy.
There is still time to make a war gone/going horribly wrong go right, and that is by working with and investing in Afghan women. As President Obama takes his time and ponders his options, someone needs to bring women back into the equation. Then we can start talking about leaving Afghanistan.
*This post of mine was also published on The Huffington Post.