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One of the significant movements which characterized the 20th was the feminism movement which advocated for equal rights for women. The success of this moment resulted in rise of women’s rights. This ascendancy resulted in better treatment of women in much of the developed world.
As a result of the calls for equality and the respect of rights for women, women were given similar privileges to men. No longer was the life of the women seen as secondary to men’s as they were afforded similar educational, political and occupational opportunities.
However, these positive results of the 20th century feminism movement were not reaped by all countries. Some countries still continue to treat their women in appalling ways. One such country is Afghanistan which has been noted for its violation of women’s rights. The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights which has taken a special interest in the plight of women in this country notes that Afghan women are subject to intensified violence (UNAMA 1).
Women in Afghanistan still lack rights, protection and freedoms that most women in the western world take for granted. As a result of this oppression and violence, some Afghan women have resulted to suicide as an escape from this repressive existence. This points out to the desperate situation that the women are in. As such, help from the international community is needed so as to improve the women’s rights situation in Afghanistan.
This paper shall argue that the U.S. which is a major player in Afghan affairs should do more to protect the human rights of women who have continued to live in oppression in Afghanistan. To reinforce this assertion, this paper shall discuss the oppressive and desolate environment in which many Afghan women are forced to live in.
Human Rights and the Afghan Women
The history of the Afghan women is a turbulent one with incidents of abuses and oppression being rife. These abuses were heightened during the Taliban rule which lasted through the 1990s. The Taliban was made up of Afghan men and boys who trained in Pakistan along with mujahedin to fight for the freedom of their country.
This “freedom fighters” were raised in refugee camps and trained in ultraconservative religious schools which instilled in them fundamentalist values. Once the Soviet forces had been expelled from Afghanistan, the Taliban group formed the government and according to them, their aim was to systemize Afghanistan to be the world’s most pure Islamic state.
To bring about these ideals, the Taliban enforced strict religious laws which greatly limited the rights and freedoms of women during its reign. It is for this reason that the Taliban have been the party mostly blamed for the mistreatment of women in the country.
The Taliban was most notorious for issuing edicts which resulted in the limitation of women’s rights and freedoms. One of the most contentious reforms during the Taliban era was as pertaining to marriage of children. According to the Taliban, it is “good and Islamic to marry your daughters off while they are young’ (Ellis 143).
In the modern age that we are living in, this is tantamount to child abuse and studies indicate that girls who are forced into such marriages have a higher chance of suicide or mental problems. The Taliban has were also responsible for the implementing a caste based system which resulted in women being considered second class citizens in Afghanistan. Wives and daughter were therefore treated in the Taliban era as the individual property of their husbands and fathers.
Taliban reforms also led to a ban on employment of women and a temporary halt to formal female education; these reforms were very retrogressive in nature. The Taliban religion police were also often accused of beating women with sticks in the street which undoubtedly led to a deterioration of the already bad situation for the women in Afghanistan.
While it is assumed that the Taliban were the only ones responsible for the abusive treatment of women in Afghanistan and therefore their fall would result in better treatment of women, this is not entirely true. Rawi asserts that religious fundamentalism which still exists in the Afghan community is the chief cause of misery for women. Due to this religious fundamentalism, most of the rural Afghanistan population is patriarchal and women are brought up to serve their male folks.
This fundamentalism results in women being restricted from holding jobs or even attending jobs and those who do are constantly threatened or at times even physically abused. The UNAMA reveals that an escalation of this condition has resulted in women been killed for “holding jobs that are seen to disrespect traditional practices or are considered ‘un-Islamic’” (1).
In 2004, the Afghan government under the leadership of Ahmed Karzai formulated a new constitution which among other things made provisions for equal rights for women. The new constitution also made provisions which would require that women be a part of the national assembly. A special women’s ministry was also created to bring about the rapid development of women affairs as well as fight for their rights.
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However, Rawi notes that these politically motivated moves did not translate to real changes in the lives of the Afghan women. Rawi reveals that the funding which the specially formed Women’s Ministry received was siphoned off by powerful warlords who held positions in the new government.
Another avenue in which the rights of women have been stifled is the parliament. Gopal explains that the reason for this is that the Afghanistan parliament is made up of warlords who were part of the mujahedeen. The mujahedeen was responsible for many atrocities against women including the killing and mass rape of women in Afghanistan during its reign in the 1980s.
It is therefore little surprise that a parliament which is made up of such elements proposed to pass a law that would “legalize marital rape, prohibit women from leaving the home without permission, deny them the right of inheritance and set the minimal female marital age to sixteen” (Gopal).
This legislation which was repressive to women sparked universal condemnation of the Afghan government and resulted in the suspension of this bill which is out rightly oppressive to women.
Role of the U.S.
Following the invasion of Afghanistan by the US in 2001, the then US secretary of state, Colin Powell, made a declaration that “the rights of women in Afghanistan will not be negotiable” (Rawi). With this statement, it was assumed that the U.S. would play a significant role in championing the rights of women which had been almost non-existent in Taliban run Afghanistan. To this end, the U.S. has played some role in ensuring that women rights are in place.
Owing to the role of the U.S. and the international community, the Taliban backed reforms have been condemned and in most cases removed. As such, Afghan women’s rights seem to have improved to some extent. However, these improvements have been localized to the urban areas and even then, they have been limited due to the Taliban influence.
The reality for women today in Afghan is still grim despite the promises that the U.S. made to the Afghans. The women still continue to suffer and their rights are constantly violated and the government is unable to ensure their safety due to lack of proper organization.
The Taliban still continues to deter moves to empower women since despite having been thrown out of power; the group is still active in the country. The Taliban has been said to be conducting covert activities aimed at undermining the little human rights that women have gained over the last 9 years.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees reveals that the Taliban has continued conducting covert activities in regions such as Kandahar where leaflets with messages such as “Stop sending your women to offices and daughters to schools. It spreads indecency and vulgarity. Stand ready for the consequences if you do not heed the advice” being distributed to the population (5). Such messages undoubtedly spread fear to the families and result in women being oppressed.
The U.S. can curb this by ensuring that the Taliban forces that are instilling fear by spreading these hateful messages are apprehended. By doing this, the U.S. can ensure that families are not intimidated into removing their holding their women at homes and refusing them the opportunity to attend school or go to work.
As has been noted, the Taliban has continued to undermine any moves towards liberating women in Afghanistan. While the U.S. and its international partners have tried to invest in the education of women in Afghanistan, their efforts have been thwarted by the threatening pamphlets distributed by the Taliban as well as physical attacks on schools.
A report by UNAMA documents that in areas where U.S. financed schools operate, parents do not send their female children to school for fear that they may be abducted by anti-government elements who wish to derail government efforts (16). It is therefore evident that the insecurity issue in Afghanistan plays a part in the denial of rights to education for women.
While women who are in high profile positions can be protected by bodyguards, other women such as teachers and nurses cannot receive the same treatment. The U.S. can reverse this situation by ensuring that there is adequate security in Afghanistan. This will result in more girls going to schools and therefore empowering them.
In some cases where women report that they have been threatened, harassed or attacked to the authorities, the law enforcement and judicial institutes lack the capacity to deal with this situation. UNAMA reveals that in some instances where cases get to court, the cases are not taken seriously and no proper records of the same are kept.
This results in the perpetrators of violence not being punished as a result of the dysfunctional system. As such, it can be aid that the Afghan authorities lack the available facilities to deal with the problems that women face even if they wished to. The U.S. can play a major role in reversing this situation by channeling funds to critical areas in the Afghan government.
The role that the elected government can play in ensuring the rights of women cannot be understated. As it currently stands, the government is weak and cannot fully control the country. This has resulted in a situation where the central government holds little influence in the rural society which is dominated by tribes.
This tribes are deeply patriarchal and “women are commoditized into a resource to be bartered, sold and fought over” (Gopal). While the government of Karzai has made attempts to improve the lives of women in Afghanistan, its reforms cannot be enacted in the areas of the country where the weak government has no presence.
It is only though a strong well functioning central government that the rights of women can be guaranteed. Issues such as forced marriages and early marriages which are prevalent in rural Afghanistan can only be dealt with if the Afghan government is strengthened. The U.S. can bring about the strengthening of the Afghan government through a number of ways.
By helping rebuild the infrastructure, the U.S. can enable the remote parts of Afghanistan to be opened up. Financial aid will also enable the Afghan government to set up government institutes in all areas therefore solidifying its presence. This will bring about positive changes for the women of Afghanistan.
Admittedly, the main objective of the U.S. in Afghanistan is to bring about stability in the country so as to prevent it from being a hub for terrorists. However, the U.S. has also purposed to create a better Afghanistan for its civilians. For this to be achieved, the rights of the women cannot be ignored since women are an integral part of the society.
Presently, the western influence in Afghan has had some significant positive impact on the lives of women. In Kabul which is the capital city of the country, women have been given freedom to attend school without fear of reprisal. Women also have jobs therefore giving them an opportunity to make a living. However, these positive changes are mostly restricted to the urban areas.
Considering the fact that the majority of women in Afghanistan live in the rural areas, the rights of women cannot be fully realized until the conditions in rural areas are changed. The U.S. has the necessary resources to ensure that this is achieved therefore guaranteeing the rights of women in Afghanistan.
This paper has set out to argue that the U.S. government should do more to bring about the improvement of the women’s right in Afghanistan and not allow the women to be sacrificed by the tribal costumes and be intimidated and threatened. This paper has showcased the human rights situation for the women of Afghanistan by discussing how women in Afghanistan are denied of their basic rights.
The women are not allowed to go to school, and are often treated as property and forced into abusive marriages. It has been revealed that women live in fear and have no freedom especially in the rural regions which are highly patriarchal.
While this paper has demonstrated that the conditions for women have improved significantly since the U.S. led invasion of 2001 which resulted in the fall of the Taliban, women’s conditions are still far from ideal.
The women of Afghan still face many challenges and some of them still lead oppressed lives. From the discussions presented herein, it is evident that the U.S. can do more to ensure that Afghan women have their rights respected. Only then can the Afghan women be truly liberated and enjoy freedom and prosperity as women in the free world do.
Ellis, Deborah. “Women of the Afghan War.” Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000. Print.
Gopal, Anand. “What You Should Know About Women’s Rights in Afghanistan.” 13. April. 2009. Web. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-you-should-know-abou_b_186225
Rawi, Mariam. “Rule of the Rapists.” The Guardian / UK. 12. Feb. 2004. Web. https://www.commondreams.org/
UNAMA. “Silence is Violence: End the abuse of women in Afghanistan.” Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2009.
UNHCR. “Chronology of Events in Afghanistan.” Ankara: UNHCR, 2002.