Women and Afghanistan

Since September 11th, there have been numerous reports of the oppressive conditions under which the women of Afghanistan live. Women are not allowed to have jobs or attend school. They cannot leave the house unless accompanied by a close male relative. They must wear a burqa (a robe covering the entire body, including the head and face). Women may not be treated by male physicians or nurses. Since the prohibition on female employment extends to the medical profession, it is thus nearly impossible for women to receive medical attention. Taliban edicts require that windows in houses with female occupants be painted black.

These horrifying laws, however, didn’t spring into existence when the first plane plowed into the World Trade Center. The Taliban proudly advertised these policies throughout the years when they were allies of the US government. As long as the Taliban was receptive to a World Bank-backed oil pipeline, they were free to beat women with metal cables for letting their ankles be seen – without a peep of protest by those same US politicians who are now rallying the troops under the banner of human rights!

And now history repeats itself. The US is currently supporting the Northern Alliance as “freedom fighters” against the Taliban, just as they once supported the mujahadeen (Warriors of God) against the USSR. But what is the Northern Alliance’s position on women’s rights?

Before the Taliban assumed power, military leaders who are now members of the Northern Alliance controlled parts of the country. In 1992, when Rabbani, Sayyaf, Massood and other Northern Alliance leaders finally captured Kabul, one of their first acts was to ban the female newsreaders from appearing on television. Two years later, and still before the Taliban took power in Kabul, the United Nations reported that women in the capital were being told to quit their jobs and wear the full-length burqa. Women who didn’t comply were liable to be raped by members of the various militias that prowled the city (Thomas Walkom, Toronto Star, 10/17/01).

In their efforts to court the favor of the western nations, the Northern Alliance is no longer as openly repressive as the Taliban on women’s issues. They allow some girls to study at girl’s schools, and sometimes they allow women to wear less than the full burqa. But while those aspects are marginally better, the overall situation for women in an Afghanistan controlled by the Northern Alliance would not be substantially improved. The general attitude of Alliance leaders is clearly against allowing women to be an independent, employed, and educated section of society.

Now the US is increasing its military aid to the Northern Alliance, and those American guns aren’t only being used to kill Taliban soldiers. There are numerous reports of mass rapes occurring during the military campaigns of Northern Alliance groups. These reports come not only from the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International; but even the US State Department’s 1996 report on human rights referred to events where “Massood’s (the Northern Alliance leader’s) troops went on a rampage, systematically looting whole streets and raping women.” Of course, the US still supported the Taliban in 1996 and was ready to criticize opposition groups.

Now now that the Alliance is on “our side,” no mention of their offenses against women appear in the corporate media – only reports of their “heroic actions” against the Taliban. We’ll have to wait until the Alliance begins to cross the interests of US big business before their newest atrocities start coming to light. That wait is too long for the women of Afghanistan.
Justice #27 November 2001