Alex Blaze

Afghani Feminist Speaks Out on International Women's Day

Filed By Alex Blaze | March 08, 2011 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Afghanistan, chekeba hachemi, homonationalism, Laura Bush, nationalism, united states, war, women

Yahoo! News interviewed Chekeba Hachemi, a women's rights activist and editor of Afghanistan's only Chekeba-Hachemi.jpgmagazine for women for International Women's Day, today. While I don't know which year she's referring to, Afghanistan has consistently appeared on 10-worst countries lists for women. The other countries on that list are afflicted by plague, natural disaster, colonialism, dictatorships, and war. (translation by me)

The United Nations has declared the worst country in the world for a woman to live. Conditions are precarious, access to health care is almost nonexistent, which explains why Afghanistan has the second highest mortality rate in the world. Reproduction is not controlled by women, who don't have contraception and must submit to the wills of their often-violent husbands. At the heart of the family unit, there are numerous mistreated, insulted, and violated women. The lack of education and illiteracy keeps them locked in this state. What's worse, a few years ago a new plague struck the female population. With the rise of narcotic trafficking, more and more women suffer from drug addiction: 13% of Afghan women are drug addicts.[...]

No improvement can happen in a destabilized society where everyone experiences losses their culture and values. When the goal every day is to survive and to find a little dignity, it's difficult for communities to base themselves in solid foundations of social progress. Afghan woman, today, need direct and immediate help.

It's easy to forget that the US invaded Afghanistan almost a decade ago with an express purpose, among others, to improve living conditions for women:

Seeking to draw attention to the treatment of women and children in Afghanistan, the White House assigned President Bush's weekly Saturday radio address to First Lady Laura Bush, who said the war on terrorism was "a fight for the rights and dignity of women."

Her speech--the latest in a series of steps by the first lady toward a more public role--was coordinated with the release of a State Department report condemning conditions for women and children in Afghanistan under the Taliban and the Al Qaeda terror network.[...]

In Afghanistan, "we see the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us," Bush said.

Saying the campaign to protect women should not stop with the military success in much of Afghanistan, the first lady said the terrorists "now plot and plan in many countries."

"They must be stopped," she said. "The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women."

Immediately after her speech, the State Department released an 11-page report on the Taliban's "War Against Women." The report, issued by the department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said the systematic repression of women in Afghanistan was "particularly appalling."

That was in 2001. In 2010 Laura Bush was saying the same thing:

The haunting portrait of a young, disfigured Afghan woman on Time magazine's cover this summer issued a stark reminder that the stakes in Afghanistan are high -- and that the consequences of failure are brutal, especially for women.[...]

Bibi Aisha's story and the prevalence of intimidation and violence against Afghan women raise important questions for those working to establish this young democracy. Will Afghanistan embrace and protect the rights of all people? Or will it be a nation that allows the oppression of women to continue unabated?

These questions are central to the challenges confronting those who seek peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan today.

Here's the cover she was referring to:


Since we already know what happens when we occupy Afghanistan (see the cover above), why don't we pull out? We're not investing in the country, we're not helping people build democracy, and we're not improving anyone's living conditions.

One would think that, almost a decade after invasion, conditions would have improved for Afghan women. If war could improve women's living conditions and that was the original intent, one would think that Afghanistan wouldn't be the one of the worst place for women to live.

Instead, it's been a liberal excuse to advocate for more war, no matter how illogical as war renders human rights advocacy quaint. But certain Americans wanted to kill someone, and women's rights became a useful pretext. Few people with major platforms questioned the sincerity of a president who cared so little about women at home in caring about women abroad.

If anything, it shows how little people care about women's lives if they're willing to use such an argument in favor of a policy that decreases the quality of life of women.

Perhaps we'll come to an understanding that when people who don't care about a certain oppressed group advocate for violence in order to protect that group, they care more about enacting violence than they do about helping anyone who needs it.

And, again, we're reminded of the parallels between the way society tries to suppress women's autonomy and the way it tries to suppress queer autonomy. Homocons argue that Palestine needs to be occupied because Palestinians are homophobic; in a few more decades straight conservatives may be making similar arguments about the next country they want to invade.

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Have you seen pictures of Afghan women from the 50s and 60s? At least ones from urban areas? The countryside probably wasn't that much different from today, but women from higher social classes looked just like ones in the west. Intentionally so, as the country was undergoing a modernization phase.

I can't imagine being a woman in Afghan society.