Recent reports by both human rights groups and Afghan officials indicate that violence against women in Afghanistan is on the rise and that this has been the trend since the beginning of the occupation of Afghanistan by the U.S. and other Nato countries.
A report published in April 2009 by the women’s rights organisation Womankind said that 80 percent of Afghan women suffer from domestic violence. Other reports put this figure as high as 87 percent. Afghan minister of women’s affairs Hassan-Banu Ghazanfar recently said that it effects 90 percent.
November 25 marked the International Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women. This violence is global and not particular to Afghan women. In the world as a whole the vast majority of women face violence in one or another serious form during their their lifetime. The facts about violence against women even in the most developed countries are shocking. Rape, physical and sexual abuse by the husband or boyfriend, harassment and worse at work places, the trade in women and sex slavery are only some of forms of anti-woman violence. These facts suggest that this is not just a remnant of the past but that world capitalism even in its most developed stage is a source of oppression, discrimination and violence against women.
So there is not single country in the imperialist-dominated world where women have escaped from oppression and violence. This article focuses on Afghanistan not only because these women have suffered severe oppression by the various fundamentalist rulers over the last three decades, and not only because the level of violence and other sorts of oppression is so extreme, but also because the imperialist powers have occupied the country under the pretext of liberating Afghan women.
Their political representatives still shamelessly claim that whatever else might have gone wrong with their plans, at least this is their one great achievement. Now after nine years of occupation we are in a position to measure the results of that so-called liberation by the imperialist occupiers.
Many of the published reports and investigations about violence against women in Afghanistan cite beating, harassment, forced marriage, rape, preventing women from going to the hospital and to school, forcing them to do hard labour, taking their children away from them and depriving them of any voice in family and social affairs.
According to the previously mentioned Womankind report, 60 percent of marriages in Afghanistan are forced. And nearly 57 percent of girls are forced into marriage before they are 16 years old.
The situation is especially severe in areas controlled by the Taliban, where public punishment is delivered for disobedience to patriarchy. According to the BBC Persian service, in August in Badghais province in north-western Afghanistan, “a 48 year-old widow whose husband had been killed a few years earlier and who became pregnant by another man was accused of an illicit relationship and sentenced to 200 lashes and then death. The death penalty was carried out by a Taliban commander who shot her in public. According to a police official in Badghais, the man had promised to marry her. According to the same report, the man was also arrested but was released after paying a fine to the Taliban.”
Amnesty International on 16 August confirmed that in the north-eastern province of Kunduz a couple was stoned to death in a village under Taliban control. The young couple were accused of running away because their parents opposed their marriage.
Last summer a picture on the cover of Time magazine revealed just how horrendous the situation can be. In Oruzgan province the Taliban accused an 18-year-old named Ayesha of leaving her husband and sentenced her to ghesas (an Islamic punishment that means cutting off part of the body). This sentence was carried out by her husband, a Taliban fighter, who sliced off her ears and nose and left them in a mountainous area.
The Western official media uses this kind of news and has especially highlighted the crime against Ayesha to argue that the Taliban are the source of violence against women in Afghanistan. This is an attempt to justify the occupation. And more than anything it was used to counter the opinion of people in the U.S. who favour an American withdrawal. The Time magazine picture of Ayesha was accompanied by this headline message: “This is what happens if we leave Afghanistan.”
Now Ayesha has been transferred to the U.S. for plastic surgery to rebuild her nose and ears. But the problem is that the Taliban are not the only force who support and carry out violence against women. There are thousands of Ayeshas in the areas under Taliban control and also under the occupiers’ control who have lost parts of their body or their lives. Even if they are still alive, their real life has been stolen from them.
This imperialist war propaganda might be able to deceive some people abroad but in no way can it justify the occupation in the eyes of the majority of people of Afghanistan who have also experienced the brutal violence of the U.S. and other occupiers, not only against women but also children, the elderly and the whole population.
The fact is that the imperialists can hardly conceal the blood on their hands from violence against millions of people all over the world, including and particularly the women in Afghanistan. None of this can be washed away by plastic surgery for Ayesha.
Another report indirectly sheds light on the situation for women under the U.S.-led occupation. “New research in Afghanistan shows that the number of women committing suicide in this country is increasing. Young women committing suicide by setting fire to themselves first seemed to be a problem in Herat province and partly in Qandahar and Nimrooz, but now it has spread to most provinces and particularly the northern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan.
Faiz Mohammad Kaker, Karazi’s advisor on health and sanitation, said at a news conference that 90 percent of these suicides are due to depression or mental problems. He also put the number of the women who suffer from severe depression at 28 percent, which is a very high figure. He said that approximately 2,300 Afghan girls and women between the ages of 15 and 40 who suffer from depression commit suicide every year.” (BBC Persian service, 31 July 2010)
Why are depression and mental problems so widespread among women and so severe that they led to many suicides? Could it be anything but the kind of life that these women are subjected to? Even Kaker did not try to hide it, or better said, could not hide it. He said, “The continuation of the civil war and violence in Afghanistan, displacement, early marriage and forced marriage, rape, domestic violence and broad poverty are the causes of mental problems and depression in Afghanistan.”
A new phenomenon in Afghanistan is that the number of women using drugs is on the rise. According to the figures released by the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission, more than 120,000 women are now using drugs, particularly opium.
Why is the number of women drug addicts and suicides increasing? Is it not that poverty and violence against them is increasing? Doesn’t that mean that the U.S. and other imperialists countries have made the situation even worse for women?
There is no doubt that women suffered in almost unbelievable ways when the Taliban and other Islamic fundamentalist groups were in power. But isn’t it true that the occupation has made the situation more complicated for women? Hasn’t it added to the problems and hard lives of women in Afghanistan, just as the U.S.-led occupation has indisputably done in Iraq? The available reports and figures, and even the research carried out by pro-imperialist forces and Karzai government officials, all suggest that it has.
And we know that the figures are far from complete. We are not talking about the violence of air bombardments, or the night raids, or the random killing by occupation soldiers. In all of this, as in family life, women are the main victims.
The Western imperialists are responsible for this. In the 1980s they supported, trained and financed the Islamic fundamentalists to use them in their global fight with the rival Soviet imperialist bloc. They supported these Islamic fundamentalists when they seized power after the Soviets were driven out. The West chose to remain silent for the following two decades while their Afghan allies committed atrocities against women. As the Taliban fought to come to power to enslave women, there were many reports that the U.S. was involved in backing them through the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service. And then when the U.S. decided to fight the Taliban, once again the people of Afghanistan and particularly the women had to pay for it.
The only way that the U.S. can try to make themselves look good in Afghanistan is by trying to compare the situation for women in certain areas now with the way it was or is under the Taliban. This in itself is an implicit admission of how horrible the situation for women is throughout the country. However even in this revolting comparison it is not clear who is the “winner”.
What the U.S. and the Karzai government they installed point to as their big achievement is that they have opened schools for girls and allowed women to go to work. Some women are employed as the government officials or members of parliament and even a handful as police. All this was forbidden by the Taliban.
But Afghanistan has been an Islamic republic where sharia (religious law) takes precedence since its current constitution was adopted to give religious cover to the occupation. The Karzai regime has adopted sharia-inspired laws related to marriage and the family that give men the right to prevent their wives from leaving the house. It is illegal for a wife not to give in to her husband’s sexual demands.
The Karzai’s government habit of freeing men imprisoned for committing gang rape is so notorious that it even provoked a protest by the United Nations. In an interview with the BBC Persian service, Sima Samar, now the head of the Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan, declared, “the government institutions are a serious obstacle to women’s rights in Afghanistan.”
But the U.S. and other Western imperialists have not finished punishing Afghan women. Now that they have decided to explore negotiations with the Taliban, we can be sure that whatever pretence of women’s “rights” that may remain will be sold out if the U.S. can obtain some “political solution” for its failing war. This course of action has been denounced in advance by several women’s rights groups operating under the occupation.
The lesson that can be taken from this is that no imperialists or other reactionary forces can free women; they are the main oppressors of the people of the world including women. Liberating the women in Afghanistan was only a pretext to invade for their own imperialist interests.