Unveiling the Oppression of Afghan Women

By Nancy Reiko Kato, National Radical Women Organizer
This article first appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Sandwiched between news about the latest bailouts and round-ups of suspected terrorists, exuberant faces of Afghan women light up the front pages of the newspaper. Gone are the repressive burkas, the heavy head-to-toe veils that symbolized female submission under the Taliban. While I'm drawn into this snapshot of hope, I know that for now it is a temporary moment of happiness.

Bringing out Laura Bush to stand by her man and justify the destruction of Afghanistan because of the Taliban's horrific sexism was a nice touch, but let's be clear that liberating Afghan women is not the Bush administration's goal. The CIA spent $6 billion in the region throughout the 1980s to recruit, fund and train rightwing Muslim fundamentalists--including Osama bin Laden--to fight against the Soviet-backed People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan. Under the socialist PDPA, women were freed from bondage through access to education, outlawing of child marriages, reduction of bride prices, and land reform. The U.S. government showed no concern for Afghan women when their Cold War strategy paved the way for the repressive, misogynist Taliban rulers who forced women back into the home—uneducated and without rights. Nor are the Republicans or Democrats concerned that millions are facing starvation this winter because of the bombing campaign. Meanwhile in the United States, Christian zealots run free shooting doctors who perform abortions, torching women's clinics, assaulting gays and lesbians, and bombing queer nightclubs.

Replacing the Taliban with the Northern Alliance will also not guarantee women's emancipation. Condoleeza Rice, Bush's national security advisor, arrogantly advocates "nation building" as the way to install a new government in Afghanistan. She proposes pulling together yet another compliant (at least for now) regime made up of the 86-year-old former Afghan king and the Northern Alliance, a fundamentalist-led army with a history of plundering, violence and rape. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan has stated that "The Northern Alliance will horribly intensify the ethnic and religious conflicts and will never refrain to fan the fire of another brutal and endless civil war in order to retain its power…." Because Afghanistan is strategically situated between the oil-supplying Middle East and massive new markets for oil, the U.S. wants desperately to back a friendly administration in Afghanistan in order to control this valuable resource. But as U.S. foreign policy has proven, today's friend is tomorrow's foe.

If women in Afghanistan--or throughout the world for that matter-- are to have freedom, then we must get to the root cause of our repression. Women and young girls – from the free trade zones of El Salvador to the sweatshops of Haiti and San Francisco's Chinatown – are second- and third-class citizens because we live in a world driven by profit. Women workers fuel the capitalist system, with females and their families comprising 70% of the world's poor. Here at home, low-paid clerical workers at the University of California are offered 1% raises, while top administrators contemplate 25% wage hikes for themselves. Congress spends staggering sums on armaments while continuing to slash social programs, bankrupt pensions, and throw women off of welfare. Eliminating the gulf between rich and poor is the only real way to stop the violent effects of sexism, racism, homophobia, and national chauvinism.

The greatest act of solidarity we can provide to our Afghan sisters is to build a united, international, feminist anti-war movement which not only marches for peace in the Middle East, but calls for an end to capitalism, the regime that terrorizes working women and men with one insane war after another. The impetus to build such a movement is growing more urgent as the United States fashions a new police state to stomp out dissent, and scapegoat Arabs and Muslims. Only by linking arms with our working class sisters and brothers around the planet can the unveiled faces of Afghan women be transformed from a momentary snapshot of hope into a permanent victory for women's freedom.