Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The women of Afghanistan are burning

Whenever I hear or read someone engaged in unreserved cheerleading for the NATO Afghanistan mission, sometimes accompanied by a very American OoRah!, one standard piece of justification proffered is "We're doing it for the women."


So, one would think that, five years down the road, things would have improved from the days when the Taliban was running the show in Afghanistan, pre-9/11, pre-invasion and regime change.

Notwithstanding that most of those who rattle their tambourines for the military status quo in Afghanistan, without so much as a question, are often the very same sources who cheered along the gutting of Status of Women Canada.

The claim that our presence in Afghanistan is "for the women" is, at the very least, ingenuous. It is, more accurately, a right-wing talking point repeated without substantive evidence.

It also suggests those same sources are not paying attention to the reality of Afghanistan.

Increasing numbers of Afghan women are committing suicide by setting fire to themselves to escape difficult lives, according to NGOs based in the country.

They say women forced into marriage or suffering chronic abuse are killing themselves out of desperation.


Delegates from countries like Bangladesh, Iran, India and Sri Lanka - which have similar female suicide rates - discussed the problem at a conference in Afghanistan on Tuesday.

Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission chief Sima Simar told the meeting: "It [self-immolation] is the final decision for women who don't have any other way to solve their problems."

One Afghan survivor, a 16-year-old girl, told the summit she had endured beatings from her drug-addicted husband, a man 25 years her senior and whom she was forced to marry.


Experts say many such women believe they have no protection from their abusers or the cultural practices that makes their lives unbearable.

"These are young girls at their most productive ages," Ancil Adrian-Paul, a spokeswoman for NGO Medica Mondiale, told the BBC.

"These young girls are killing themselves from frustration and because they feel that there is no way out for them."


Campaigners say illiteracy and an incompetent justice system contribute to women deciding to take their own lives, because they can see no way out of their problems.

Women and girls are also often given away to settle conflicts in the country.

A recent Human Rights Watch report said many gains made by women since the fall of the Taleban had since been reversed. (Emphasis mine)
It doesn't help that literacy programs in Afghanistan are suffering from under-funding and are now being cut altogether.

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) has been forced to cut almost all non-emergency aid to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

The cuts come as they struggle to cope with the emergency needs of almost 100,000 people displaced in recent fighting.

Women's literacy programmes, where women received food in return for attending classes, are being hit hardest.
The initial invasion of Afghanistan was a righteous military move, but from that point on, it has been a botched operation.

I could retrace the ground previously covered demonstrating the incredible interference by Rumsfeld and company which led directly to the failure of allied forces to close down the escape routes in eastern Afghanistan, but that is now a matter of record.

The truth is, the Bush administration's needless invasion of Iraq robbed Afghanistan of the appropriate reconstruction and stabilization efforts. The Taliban was never destroyed, and reports of the good work being done to rebuild Afghanistan, especially by the US, were, for the most part, mythical.

Five years later conditions in Afghanistan are worse; not better.

It doesn't help that for the past six years the foreign policy herd in the Bush administration has demonstrated an unbelievable level of incompetence and is in possession of the attention span of a Cocker Spaniel running loose in a field full of ducks.

Canada, which could once claim a much more internationalist foreign outlook than that of the Bush administration, has linked its foreign policy with the failed efforts of Bushco and is led by a minister who garners as much attention for a personal life reminiscent of a high-school teenager as he does for any effort to generate the illusion of an actual foreign policy.

The British military leadership has made it clear that there is a time limit to stabilizing Afghanistan and the effort required will be enormous. And they view the effort required as, not a pure military one, but positive signs of actual reconstruction and redevelopment. Something which has failed to materialize over the past five years.

We're doing this for the women of Afghanistan?

Then we're doing a lousy job.

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