Opinion: Concern raised for Afghan women

November 6, 2013


When the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan is completed next year what will happen to Afghan women? Will a resurgent Taliban return them to wearing burqas, withdraw them from schools and force them to live behind painted glass in their homes, permitting them to leave the house only when accompanied by a blood relative?

The Afghan constitution contains language that supposedly protects women’s rights and Afghanistan has signed several international human rights treaties that guarantee protection for women. Article 22 of the Afghan constitution reads, “Any kind of discrimination and privilege between the citizens of Afghanistan are prohibited. The citizens of Afghanistan, whether man or woman, has equal rights and duties before the law.”

To Westerners, this sounds good, but in Afghanistan, as in much of the rest of the Islamic world, religion can trump any constitution.

Mavis Leno (wife of “The Tonight show’s” Jay Leno) chairs a committee of the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) on Afghan women and girls. In a telephone interview, she tells me she is “worried sick” about diplomatic negotiations with the Afghan government and fears the Taliban could again leave women at a disadvantage: “Women are last in and first out. For years we have been the throwaways in any agreement.”

Leno doesn’t trust any agreement involving the Taliban: “I don’t believe they would consider themselves contractually, morally or in any other fashion bound by any agreements they made with us, or any of our allies. That is not their history and I don’t believe for one minute they are going to change because it’s their belief system.”

It’s another reason to leave a formidable contingent of U.S. forces in the country, as long as they can defend themselves and promote democracy and human rights for all Afghan citizens.

Leno and the FMF are offering college scholarships and training to the women and girls they bring to America. Currently, she says, between 20 and 30 are receiving help. Women from rural areas in Afghanistan are taught to be midwives, which not only saves lives, but gives the midwives “status” in their communities because they have acquired a useful skill.

While education for Afghan females has improved since U.S. troops removed the Taliban from power, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women reports: “Only 26 percent of Afghanistan’s population is literate, and among women the rate is only 12 percent. Among school-age children, 38 percent (4.2 million in real numbers) do not have access to schools, most of which are girls.”

Add to this the scarcity of buildings and other necessities, and adds Leno, “the dearth of textbooks, teaching materials and equipped laboratories” and the challenge would be great even without the threat of a Taliban return.

The Afghan parliament failed to pass a law prohibiting violence against women, which Leno sees as an ominous warning. The government, she says, has also “eliminated domestic violence centers, such as those run by Women for Afghan Women.”

The United States has invested billions of dollars and the lives of nearly 2,100 service members in Afghanistan. To allow Afghan women to be forced to return to subservience to a male-dominated religious fundamentalism would mean they died in vain.

This should not be an issue limited to a feminist organization. It should be something about which all Americans must care. We owe it to those who have died and were wounded. It can be our continuing gift, not only to Afghan women, but to all of humanity.

—Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.


Paul R Getto 4 years, 7 months ago

It’s another reason to leave a formidable contingent of U.S. forces in the country, as long as they can defend themselves and promote democracy and human rights for all Afghan citizens.

Maybe. Will you send your grandkids? This is a lost cause unless we can educate a generation or two of girls and women. US troops cannot assure this will happen. I am touched, Sir, with your concern for women. Will this extent to the USA as well?

Cait McKnelly 4 years, 7 months ago

I would applaud Thomas for this op ed if it weren't for a number of problems.
Cal Thomas is an evangelical Christian and commentator for FOX "News". He is anti-abortion, anti-reproductive rights, against equal pay legislation and advocates for many anti-woman stances within his own party. In other words, he supports many policies against AMERICAN women that he appears to decry in this article, that are against Afghan women..
This sets up a cognitive dissonance and appearance of hypocrisy that had to be pointed out.
Bottom line, he didn't write this because he is "pro-woman". He wrote it because he's anti-Islam.
Does that invalidate what he says in the article? No. The information is good. And perhaps he really is starting to look at women as real human beings with lives equal to that of men and with bodies and souls that are to be valued as born human beings.
But the truth is, leopards rarely change their spots.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 7 months ago

The USA military invasion and occupation cannot change lives for women in Afghanistan.

Cal Thomas does wage war against USA women. Sam Brownback wages war against women.

All people of Islam are NOT terrorists pure and simple. Most people of Islam do not war support war.

I say a lot of USA terrorists wear white collars and profiteer by way of the war machine. It is a blessing that all americans are not terrorists not by a long shot.

In fact a huge percentage of Americans do NOT support this war against Afghanistan or Iraq,Yemen,Pakistan,Iran or most anywhere in the world.

Bob Smith 4 years, 7 months ago

"All people of Islam are NOT terrorists pure and simple." Correct. At the same time, many of the terrorists going around shooting people, beheading people and blowing stuff up are people of Islam.

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