BY NICOLE COLSON
"Many people outside the country believe that Afghan women and girls have had their rights restored. It's just not true" — that's the conclusion of Human Rights Watch official Zama Coursen-Neff, co-author of a report released in December that details the abysmal situation for Afghanistan's women since their "liberation" at the hands of the US military.
According to the report, in many parts of the country, the situation is as bad — in some cases, worse — since the fall of the Taliban. "Women and girls are still being abused, harassed and threatened all over Afghanistan, often by government troops and officials", Coursen-Neff told Reuters in December.
During the US war, the Bush administration claimed that its victory would liberate women from the oppression they suffered under the Taliban. But they didn't mention the records of their allies — like Northern Alliance warlord Ismail Khan, who has been responsible for forcing women back into burqas in the western region of Herat. Khan's forces have set up both a religious police and a "youth police" to haul women and girls to hospitals for gynecological examinations for the purpose of "chastity checks".
"Only the doors to the schools are open", said one Herat woman quoted in the Human Rights Watch report. "Everything else is restricted."
Health care for women in Afghanistan continues to rank among the worst in the world, with more Afghan women dying during childbirth than any other country, except Sierra Leone.
"Outside the capital, Kabul, and large once-cosmopolitan cities like Mazar-i-Sharif, parents continue to sell their daughters to future husbands, women are not allowed to run shops and when they go to a restaurant, they must eat separately from men", reported the San Francisco Chronicle. "Even in Kabul, where women travel by car more than by donkey, they are more likely to squat in the trunk than to sit comfortably inside the car like men."
In November, the Afghan Supreme Court dismissed a female judge for not wearing an Islamic headscarf when she and 14 other female government officials met with US President George Bush and Laura Bush as part of a celebration of the "liberation" of Afghan women!
Although some women and girls have been able to go back to school or work, many are still cut off from any independence. In late October, several girls' schools in and around Kabul were attacked with rockets and grenades. At least a dozen more have been burned to the ground in arson attacks.
And in a gruesome development, recent reports suggest that young Afghan women are increasingly so desperate to escape arranged marriages that they turn to self-immolation. According to the Los Angeles Times, an average of three young women a week are brought to the regional hospital in Herat after setting themselves ablaze. Hospital staff say that the typical victim is 14 to 20 years old and is trying to escape a marriage arranged by her father — often to an older man who has another wife and children.
For those who don't commit suicide, a bleak future awaits. In October, a woman named Nargiz told the San Francisco Chronicle that, though she used to be a schoolteacher, she now doesn't work, shares a house with her husband's other wife, shuns male strangers and hides her face under a burqa whenever she leaves her husband's compound.
"Now, in the new, liberated Afghanistan, Nargiz speaks more timidly", reported the Chronicle. "'Life is good,' she says, looking shyly at the carpet on the floor. 'I am used to my burqa now.'"
[From Socialist Worker, weekly paper of the US International Socialist Organisation. Visit <http://www.socialistworker.org>.]
From Green Left Weekly, February 12, 2003.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.