The US and Allied forces withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of a war that had come to “have no clear purpose” was one of the most sensational and dramatic events in modern times. Images of would-be refugees of the war-ravaged country clinging to the sides of American cargo planes proliferated across the internet, penetrating the minds and cultural awareness of a population that has long ago become weary with the directionless war and its by now, well known existence as an umbilical cord to the military-industrial complex.
These striking images embodied the final desperate acts of a population that had been thrust into a semi-global conflict, had local conflict scaled and armed to a level previous unimaginable and then finally, abandoned and left to deal with a supercharged Taliban that thanks to 2 decades of military escalation at the hands of thoughtless imperialists.
Like any calamity, ecological, economic, cultural or any of the other myriad ways people can become disadvantaged and disenfranchised, women and children will be and have been disproportionately disaffected by this withdrawal. The Taliban initially agreed to respect women’s rights, “within the framework of Islam”, at first providing a small glimmer of hope that the Taliban would cooperate with NGOs and other global institutions to at least not regress on the gains women had made in the 20 years of US occupation.
What has since transpired has been a relatively rapid and wholesale un-doing of the civil and political rights gained during the time of the US occupation with women been banned from working with aid groups still operating in the country and escalating on violence towards women teaching in the vast rural regions, a trend still present during the US occupation but increasing in scale post the pullout and forcing women to stop all-together. The UN claimed in a report, March this year, that 20 years of progress towards women’s rights had been effectively undone by withdrawal with women being unable to enter amusement parks, gyms, public paths and other public areas and being completely banned from entering into secondary and tertiary education at all. This represents a clear and existential threat to the political and philosophical rights of women, not just in Afghanistan, but in all majority Islam countries in the region as extremist views of Islam and their proponents become emboldened by the continual regression in Afghanistan. It is important to remember that this has real, material impacts on all of us.
All of our fates are tied together through a vast and imperceptible system of ideology, economics and politics and the denigration of any peoples, anywhere in the world is a real and material blight on our own existence and one that should spark feelings of solidarity. On top of this are the implicative, non-political and economic effects of the withdrawal. As an extremely poor and war-torn country, Afghanistan relies heavily on international aide to support its relatively large population. Afghani’s generally live in large and multigenerational households and have, over the course of the 20 year war, been losing husbands, brothers and sons to the conflict. This coupled with the regressive, patriarchal structure of Afghan society means that women are even more reliant on men for any form of autonomy and economic needs. As US and other international support agencies withdraw funds and support, the first in line to pay the price will be women and children. With no friendly government to administer support programs, financial and other forms of aid will never reach those who need it more now than ever even as financial and economic embargoes are levied against recalcitrant governments, democratically legitimate or not. Women and children will be disproportionately affected as those at the bottom of the pile and in a society that dramatically devalues the lives of its women, it isn’t hard to do the math of the impending and current plight of these true victims of the withdrawal. Trickledown works, just in the other direction. It is critical to remember, that the women of Afghanistan are victims of two oppressors. Yes, the Taliban is a heinous and extremist tyrant state that is systemically and without pause, regressing and eradicating the hard-fought and inherent rights of women in Afghanistan. This almost does not need to be said. Equally, 40 years of interventionist and imperialistic medaling in the Middle East by neo-Imperial powers (Russia and the US) has done little to prevent the rise of extremist coalition after coalition and in most instances, exacerbated and aggrandized these groups and then proceeded to handle the situation with incompetence that would make one think they wanted the war to go on for 20 years, all whilst using the specter of Islam at home and at broad to justify the continual “adjustment” of governments and imposing more “structural adjustments” via its attack dog, the IMF. Backed and driven by the military industrial complex, the US “Super power” failed to prevent the rise of the Taliban and other extremist groups, either directly causing their ascendency into power, or indirectly supplying the Taliban and other groups, through immoral and damaging war-profiteering methods. Like in its homeland, the US has exacerbated a growing issue in hyper-conservative extremism in the Middle East, demonized an entire religious-cultural group, failed to achieve any form of workable outcome for the real people of Afghanistan, especially its women and children, and now, been forced to finally withdraw, creating one of the prolific and most visible human-rights crisis in our modern times, all while spending 2.1$ Trillion USD with literally nothing to show for it.
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TED- Women’s rights in Afghanistan: what worked, what didn’t, and why