RELIGION: Afghan women have a long tradition of fighting for their rights and taking leadership

dWeb.News Article from Daniel Webster dWeb.News

dWeb.News Article from Daniel Webster dWeb.News

RELIGION: The Conversation] — Since the Taliban retook Afghanistan, the question in most Western media was “ What will happen to Afghanistan’s women ?”

Indeed. This is a serious concern that deserves international attention. Many restrictions have been imposed by the Taliban on women .

At a similar time, however, most of the Western media coverage seems to be reinforcing ideas that the U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan helped expand the rights of Afghan women , while erasing years of violence and corruption on their lives.

This framing echoes similar post-9/11 calls to action by many well-meaning Americans on behalf of Afghan women. Punditscontinue asking , why did the U.S., NATO allies and Afghanistan abandon Afghanistan and its women too quickly?

We are concerned that this rhetoric portrays Afghan women as the victims in need to save ,, suggesting that all women in Afghanistan experience life the same, regardless of their political resistance.

We know through our research, advocacy and experiences that a diverse spectrum of women-led groups are fighting for human rights, both now and historically.

RELIGION: Do Muslim women need to save again?

The West colonial powers have a long history in appropriating women’s rights movements from the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia for their geopolitical purposes.

Indian scholar Gayatri Spivak was among the first to write about this phenomenon, in reference to British rule in India. In her 1988 essay, she explains how this white savior rhetoric was used to justify Western rule in the name of liberating Muslim, Hindu or pagan women from their “repressive” societies. This savior disposition was described as “White men saving brown wives from brown men”

Scholar Leila Ahmed described this dynamic in her 1992 book “Women and Gender in Islam,” when she notes instances in which imperial British agents in Egypt used women’s rights as a rhetorical device to further their colonial rule, while undermining those rights through the violence of colonial occupation. Ahmed mentions Lord Cromer, the British consul general of Egypt who supported Egyptian women’s rights, but opposed the suffragist movement in Egypt. He supported conservative-leaning viceroys and advocated anti-women, anti-gay laws.

Anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod in her 2013 book “Do Muslim Women Need Saving?” also cautions against the savior narrative, which she argued reduces Muslim women to a monolithic group who are all repressed by a draconian version of Islam, and in need of some form of militarized intervention, packaged as humanitarianism.

RELIGION: Women’s movements in Afghanistan

Afghan woman, like all women of any nation, cannot be categorized into one category. They have a plurality of aspirations, commitments and visions for the future shaped by their socioeconomic identities, religious affiliations or lack thereof, location in the country and ethnic identity.

The Afghan women’s rights organizations and movements are far from homogeneous. They can be communist, secular, moderately religious or more conservative.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Afghanistan underwent a series of liberal reforms started by the government and social works programs that radically increased the active participation of women in arts, culture and politics.

The women’s movements were emboldened by the 1964 ratification of the equal rights amendment act in the Constitution of Afghanistan. Afghan women demanded more rights at that point. Shortly thereafter, women began protesting against veiling, which had been socially mandated. The government worked to ease the restrictions.

During the Soviet-Afghan War and occupation that lasted from 1979 to 1989, many Afghan women fought and demonstrated against the Soviets, despite being targeted, beaten or killed for their activism.

Two of the most prominent women who were killed for their resistance were Nahid-i Shahid, often known as Nahid the Martyr; and Meena Kamal, the founder of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, an organization founded in 1977 in opposition to foreign interference in Afghanistan and corruption in the Afghan government. Shahid was killed by the Soviet-backed puppet regime after protesting the Soviet occupation in 1980. Kamal is said to have been assassinated by a Jihadi leader in 1987.

In recent decades, women professionals have used their skills to resist repressive edicts. The Taliban, for example, in 1996, was forced to reinstate Suhaila Siddiqi, a female heart surgeon, so she could operate on members of the group.

In the post-9/11 era, U.S. military intervention was coupled with development aid designed to revitalize Afghan society, including women’s empowerment. Many women participated in new educational and professional initiatives, as well as development projects in the arts, media and athletics.

By 2003, in the first elections following the ousting of the Taliban, a U.S. and United Nations mandate in the post-9/11 Afghan Constitution required that women comprise 25% of the Parliament and occupy positions as heads of ministries and governorships.

RELIGION: US military

Over the past two decades, the political clout of the Taliban and other warlords and extremists in Afghan society has been strengthened, with real consequences for women.

In spite of countrywide protests, the U.S.-backed Afghan government invited many of the same leaders and warlords that the Taliban had displaced back to power. These warlords wreaked havoc on the population by using their government positions as fiefdoms to grow their base and to divert international funding to themselves.

The effectiveness of development projects was reduced and the gains lost were undermined by increasing corruption. As media reports pointed out, while the lives of some women in urban areas, especially Kabul, improved, those of women in other parts of the country became unbearable. Rural women were often subject to drone surveillance, night raids, and aerial bombings.

The Taliban, similar to their first ascent to power, promised to rid the country of the warlordism and kleptocracy in the U.S.-supported government. They also imposed restrictions on women’s rights due to their harsh interpretations of Islam.

RELIGION: The path forward

We argue that it is important to remember the work of many Afghan women reformers and human rights activists over the last 20 years so as to better support their aspirations for social transformation.

Many Afghan women, such as Shaharzad Akbar, chairperson for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Fatima Gailani, director of the Red Crescent Afghanistan, Malalai Kakar, the head of Kandahar’s Department of Crimes against Women, Fawzia Koofi and Malalai Joya, both former members of Parliament and women’s rights activists, as well as Suraya Pakzad and Habiba Sarabi, also women’s rights activists, have dedicated their lives to working for women’s rights.

Afghan females are not passive victims and must be saved. They have a rich history in resistance and political dissent. The global community should listen to Afghan women’s voices in order to support their dreams for a better tomorrow.


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