Let me get this out of the way up front:
The rights of women have nothing whatsoever to do with the future stability of the country of Afghanistan. As a result, the rights of women will not now nor ever be part of any kind of long-term security agreement with this country.
Please, feel free to doubt me, get angry, etc.
While you’re fuming, work off some of that excess energy by looking up “Saudi Arabia” on the Google.
Women of Afghanistan: You’re not going to be anywhere near any final document on security in this country.
And that’s sad.
Really, horribly sad.
Pragmatic and understandable given US interests in the region, yes, but still sad.
This recent article by ISAF’s media team makes that clear.
While Gass explained that decisions about the peace process and women and youth issues must be made by the Afghan people, he re-iterated that NATO and the international community’s commitment to continue to help Afghanistan through 2014 and beyond depends upon Afghanistan’s measurable progress in these areas.
Sounds like I’m contradicting myself, but that article’s focus is on a meeting between leaders in the women’s movement in Afghanistan and members of the High Peace Council. There’s no direct quote from Gass in the piece, and the only ISAF quote is this one:
“The luncheon offered Afghan civil society representatives from women and youth organizations an opportunity to voice their concerns to Afghan leaders in the High Peace Council,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Cdr. John Bright, a member ISAF’s Force Reintegration Cell who helped coordinate the afternoon.
Organize all the luncheons you want between women’s groups and the least effective peacekeeping body since, well, the current UN mission in Syria: it means nothing from a policy level.
“Opportunity to voice their concerns” is like saying you held a town hall meeting, and we all know how effective those are.
But…they’re in the SPA. With the signatures and stuff.
I know, women are mentioned in the Strategic Partnership Agreement in Section II, paragraph 4.
But those rights are already part of the Afghan constitution, rendering even more moot a pretty moot point.
And, then there’s this statement from a US official from last year. I’d reference the fact that the story’s author has since written a book on Afghanistan, but if you aren’t aware of that, then the echoes from your typewriter off your cabin walls are probably making you deaf anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.
A senior U.S. official involved in Afghanistan policy said changes to the land program also stem from a desire at the top levels of the Obama administration to triage the war and focus on the overriding goal of ending the conflict.
“Gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities,” said the senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations. “There’s no way we can be successful if we maintain every special interest and pet project. All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down.”
And in case you think I’m the only one who sees this:
Shortly after sending U.S. troops toAfghanistan in October 2001, President George W. Bush focused so intently on freeing Afghan women from the shackles of Taliban rule that empowering them became central to the United States’ mission there.
More than a decade later, as his successor Barack Obama charts a way out of the unpopular war, Afghan girls are back in school, infant and maternal survival rates are up and a quarter of the parliament’s seats are reserved for women who at least on paper have the same voting, mobility and other rights as men.
But Obama rarely speaks about that progress, delegating discussion of women’s rights to his secretary of state and other top diplomats so he can focus on narrower goals for Afghanistan: uprooting the militants there and getting out.
Women in the parliament means…well, nothing, really.
There are those (myself included) who would make the argument that the future of women in Afghanistan is somewhat brighter due to the fact that there are women in the government, particularly in parliament.
Unfortunately for the future of women in Afghanistan, the evidence that women in positions of power equals good things just isn’t there. At least not the good things we’d like to hope will be there.
Joshua Foust and Melinda Haring make that point clear in their piece for Foreign Policy.
Western governments and NGOs spend millions of dollars annually trying to increase the number of women in elected legislatures. But counting the number of women in a parliament does not actually tell you how free, fair, or representative that political system is; it just tells you how many women are in parliament. It says nothing about their freedom to think and vote as they choose without fear of reprisal, which should be the primary measurement of parliamentary health.
The number of women in parliament and other positions of political leadership and influence in Afghanistan is often cited as a positive sign of progress here in Afghanistan.
I’ve made that same argument, as well, and while it does indicate that there is progress (any time women can be voted into office when only a few years ago they were banned from even going to school is a good thing), it does not indicate anything beyond what USAID and other donors desperately want it to mean: that the billions poured into this place are worth it, after all.
But if the women of Afghanistan who would vote for those women are still living under a patriarchal system that finds it acceptable to force women into marriage, where a woman can still be compelled to marry her rapist, are things really better for women in Afghanistan?
And are they going to get any better just because a woman has been voted into office?
Meet Fawzia Koofi, Western media darling.
Which brings me to the questions I have about Fawzia Koofi, or at least the objection I have for the fawning media that’s presenting her as the solution to nearly all of Afghanistan’s problems at once.
I have nothing against her personally, and she’d probably make a fine President, if she makes it that far.
But what do we really know about her?
Let’s get away from this argument for just a few minutes: “But, she’s a woman…and she should be President. Because…Taliban hates the womens.”
Koofi presents the same problem that we now have with Hamid Karzai: we assume that because she likes some of the same things we do, that she’s a viable alternative to whatever male candidate may be in the offing.
From her website, under the section titled “Mission,” this (I’ve added some paragraph breaks for readability):
Fawzia main focus area has been human rights, especially women’s and child rights. Afghanistan also suffers from rampant corruption and she has been advocating for integrity, accountability and upholding the rule of law.
With all the challenges, the fact she managed to make her presence felt in parliament, by participating in debates, initiating legislation and suggesting resolutions to address insecurity, rule of law and other challenges that her government is faced with it, is a giant leap for women in Afghanistan.
Some of the key women’s initiatives that she has championed include the improvement of women’s living conditions in Afghan prisons, by approving resolutions, with her efforts a commission to work on the issue of violence against children is established, the commission is chaired by Afghanistan first vice president, is tasked to draw a short term and long term strategy to address violence against children especially sexual abuse of children which is increasing recently in Afghanistan.
She also advocates for amendment of laws that suggests savior punishment for perpetrators of child sexual abuse.
She has worked with other human rights activist on the shia personal status law, with her support women were mobilized for advocating and asking their rights through putting pressure on the government to amend this law which puts women on more discriminative environment, with lots of pressure and lobbying finally government has brought amendments to this law.
She promoted women and girls education, by advocating for access to good schools, as well as creating opportunities for non formal education for out of school children in her constituents, Badakhshan province.
She’s a fan of women’s rights. And helping children. What else?
So we know what her social agenda is.
What about her political one?
Her website makes this clear: she likes freedom and women’s rights.
But what about once she gets into office?
Remember when Obama promised he’d close Gitmo?
Jerome Starkey’s excellent piece makes it clear that, while she’s a feminist at heart, she’s still having to make the same deals anyone else would have to make in order to maintain her position and move ahead here. In fact, his is the only article I was able to find in Western media that even remotely touches on anything but how great it is that she’s come as far as she has as a woman in Afghanistan.
Now 36, she is the heir of a pseudo-aristocratic political dynasty which, in just two generations, has served under the Shahs, the communists, the Mujahidin and now Karzai. Two of her brothers were police commanders. She had to cajole them to let her go to school, to permit her to stand for parliament, and it took her four years and $20,000 to persuade them to agree to her marriage to the man of her choice. One is retired and the other now lives in Denmark, but she is still dependent on their support to maintain her political power base.
“She’s a feminist, she would call herself that,” says a European friend. “But at the same time she is a conservative village girl from the wilds of one of the most conservative parts of the country.”
It’s all well and good for her to be forging a path for the women of Afghanistan, but what kind of deals has she had to make to be where she is, and survive? It’s clear she’s still relying on old family ties that pre-date even the Russians, and still needs the political strings her brothers can pull to get things done.
None of this is surprising in the shark tank that is Afghan politics, but who’s she allied with?
Who will she owe if she ever wins the presidency of Afghanistan?
Or, if she doesn’t win, but brings her bloc to bear to support the next President, what kind of influence will that have on Karzai’s successor?
Watch the throne. Karzai sure is.
Indications are strong that whoever’s on the throne in Kabul is going to be Karzai’s creation, but if that person has Koofi’s support, is that better for Afghanistan just because she’s a woman?
It’s not her gender that concerns me, it’s the American approach to interventions and the future of governments in general: we operate constantly under the “anybody but that guy” approach, and if we add gender to the mix, well, she’s definitely the better option.
In 2012, the party line is that Karzai’s bad, that we don’t like him now, but not so long ago he was the American hope for the Afghan dream: the unifying force that would bring all the tribes together in peace, harmony, and mutually beneficial agreements.
In other words, everybody gets to make a lot of money.
Now, Karzai’s courting the Chinese, criticizing the US at nearly every turn, asking us to leave our billions and go, and we’ve got exactly what we put in place: a man with ambition who was more than willing to let us help him get to where he wanted to go all along.
Koofi might be the best thing for Afghanistan, but let’s make sure we’re basing that decision on something besides, “Well, at least she’s not Karzai.”