My Beautiful Wickedness

Freedom for Afghani women
September 28, 2008, 11:44 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Wasn’t that one of the things that was going to happen as a result of the ongoing war in Afghanistan? That oppressed Afghani women were going to be freed from the religious strictures imposed by the Taliban and permitted to again take up positions in civil society? That conditions for Afghani women as a whole were going to improve dramatically?

That doesn’t appear to be going so well. Not only are women who engage in civil life being shot as exemplars to warn against the presumption of equality, but the general infrastructural degradation that has accompanied a generation of war has forced widows and young women into sex work to keep from starving
to death.
A US State Department report on trafficking notes that Afghanistan is a major trafficking site for child sex workers and for involuntary servitude among women and children. That would be called slavery, except that the US State Department doesn’t want to acknowledge that we’re propping up a government that’s doing nothing about slavery.

Despite the US Army’s best efforts to build schools and reinvigorate civil education
(my cousin has helped to build three schools during his deployment so far), there’s widespread
attacks on girls who attend these schools. Parents are afraid to send their daughters to school,
even in areas putatively controlled by the US army. 85% of the women in Afghanistan remain illiterate and that’s the way the Taliban wants to keep it.

Afghani women have the highest birth rate in Asia and the second-highest rate of infant death in the world. They begin their child bearing around the age of 15 and they stay pregnant until they hit menopause or die, with very few months between their pregnancies. Women are dying at a staggering rate from the lack of health care; one out of six will die in childbirth and two more will die from health conditions related to ceaseless pregnancy and malnutrition. (There’s only one doctor and five nurses for every 100,000 people in Afghanistan, according to a 2007 report; if you’re really sick, you’re probably going to die.) This leaves a huge number of orphans to be raised by whoever picks them off the street. At what point does the world community recognize that these two things in combination constitute a POLITICAL problem of strategic interest to the US? Afghani women’s lack of access to fertility control methods is exacerbating the country’s headlong plunge into poverty and political unrest, as generations of crushingly poor boys and girls (no health care, no education, little food) will be easy marks for whatever religious demagogue rides into town. (Right now, only 13.5% of families have access to a steady and adequate source of income…this in a country where “adequate” is defined as $200 US per year.) Moreover, there is a generation of “lost kids” who have to be taken care of (usually by their older sisters, thereby perpetuating the cycle of women who won’t be able to go to school), and if the Taliban offers some food and a blanket to a five-year old boy on the streets of Kabul, who is going to be surprised if he grows up not questioning that this is a good organization? And if you have no parents and no money and no options, getting married before you are fifteen to a man more than twice as old as you (as about half the girls in Afghanistan do) probably seems like the only way to survive.

Domestic violence is on the rise among intact families, as the stress of constant war and poverty, the lack of civil justice for women and children (women’s complaints are not heard by the courts), and a culture that confirms men’s absolute sovereignty over their household has been left in place by a weak puppet government. The child brides of Afghanistan are an easy mark for brutality. In 2007, 50% of women reported that they’d been beaten in the last month. 38% mentioned that they were married off against their will — sometimes to pay a debt, sometimes to settle a feud, sometimes traded for cattle or guns.

If you think I exaggerate the misery, ask yourself: what would conditions for my life have to be for me to think that committing suicide by setting myself on fire would be the best thing left for me to do?

If I had a word of advice to pass on to the next Secretary of State, it would be simple: it’s the women, stupid. If we’re trying to restructure their society anyhow — and we are, make no mistake — then let’s just go the full monty. That probably puts me in bed with some strange bedfellows. So be it.


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