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How the Afghan War Has Undermined Women's Rights

The Most Dangerous Place in the World to be a Woman

by PAT KENNELLY

Here in Afghanistan, the United States is spending $2 billion dollars a week on war under the guise of improving Afghanistan. In Chicago at the NATO summit, Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright and several influential female leaders came together and publicly claimed an American and NATO troop presence in Afghanistan was warranted in order to continue to improve the security of women. The problem is that these influential women are calling for the very thing that makes Afghan women insecure. Further, they are endorsing Afghan leaders who attack women’s rights.

Over the last ten years, the U.S. and NATO poured trillions of dollars into the occupation of Afghanistan, opening over 400 military bases around the country. From these bases NATO forces launch hundreds of night raids per month and dozens of drones fill the sky. These NATO operations have caused greater insecurity for women. They create countless widows, destroy homes, and foster a psychological terror that women are not safe and secure, even in their own homes.

It is not only the war that undermines the security and human rights of Afghan women, but the very war making politicians whom NATO supports. In March, President Karzai endorsed a nonbinding edict by Afghanistan’s religious authorities, stating that women are inferior to men, women cannot refuse to have sex with their husbands, and women should wear full hijab.  The edict stated, “men are fundamental and women are secondary,” adding women should avoid “mingling with strange men in various social activities such as education, in bazaars, in offices and other aspects of life.” Further, it sanctioned physical violence claiming “teasing, harassing, and beating women” was prohibited “without a Shariah- compliant reason”. Implementing this type of structural discrimination against women further erodes Afghan women’s human rights.

Every day Afghan women beg in the streets and struggle to cope with the mental, emotional, and social pain of living in a war zone. This past winter while billions were spent on NATO military operations hundreds of Afghan women watched their children freeze to death because of a lack of adequate shelter and fuel. In Kabul alone 100 children froze this past winter. Additionally, Afghan women face the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world.

In recent visits to schools, orphanages, and Afghan NGOs, ordinary Afghans did not identify specific ways that NATO or the Karzai government have improved the status of women in Afghanistan. In fact, ordinary Afghans noted that more and more women are suffering from mental illness. Consequently, more and more Afghan women are turning to suicide and self-immolation rather than continuing to live in the current situation.

It is because of all of these factors that in 2011, the Thomas Reuters Foundation identified Afghanistan as the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman.

If Clinton and other world leaders are on the side of improving the security of Afghan women, they should not endorse and support the war and the leaders who are actively engaged in violating women’s rights. If Americans are genuinely concerned about this issue, we need to ask why we are using war to promote these goals. Better yet, we should not further insult and harm Afghans by using women as an excuse to continue the war in Afghanistan. We must be honest and acknowledge that we can not safeguard women’s human rights by making war and supporting individuals that violate human rights.

Pat Kennelly is the Associate Director of the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking and is participating in the peacemaking efforts organized by the Afghan Peace Volunteers and Voices for Creative Nonviolence.  He writes from Kabul, Afghanistan and can be contacted at kennellyp@gmail.com