Afghanistan: In Present, Past, and Future

As mounting protests sweep through Egypt and tensions rise across the Middle East, last weekend Bloomberg published U.S., Afghan Study Finds Mineral Deposits Worth $3 Trillion highlighting that the initial deposit of minerals in Afghanistan thought in June 2010 to be worth $1 trillion dollars now totals $3 trillion. The New York Times also reported United Nations and Afhanistan officials were signing a formal agreement to end the, “recruitment of children into its police forces and ban the common practice of boys being used as sex slaves by military commanders.”

A vast swath of minerals and resources. War. Child soldiers. Is this Congo or Afghanistan? Women for Women International’s Factsheet for the upcoming 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day cites that 75% of civilians killed in war are actually women and children. Yet, Women for Women International (WfWI) exists to help women and children survivors of war rebuild their lives and has been on the ground in Afghanistan and Congo implementing programs since 1993. This year the organization is hosting their second call to action in a campaign called Join Me on the Bridge. Held on March 8, 2011 to mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, women will gather all over the world on bridges in that shared call for peace.

This year also marks the ten year anniversary of September 11, 2001, the day which provoked the War on Terror and initial invasion of Afghanistan. Late last year, after Afghanistan elections took place and the US announced plans for a 2011 slowdown and 2014 pullout, myriad articles focusing on Afghanistan were published by mainstream news sources reflecting life for the Afghanistan women and children who remain alive.

In Nicholas Kristof's What About Afghan Women?, the New York Times reporter and human rights advocate shares that although less women wear the full burqa, they keep them on hand “just in case.” Kristof also shares that most women he interviewed, “favored making a deal with the Taliban — simply because it would bring peace. For them, the Taliban regime was awful, but a perpetual war may be worse.”

“Oppression,” Kristof says, “is rooted not only in the Taliban but also in the culture.”

Nancy Hatch Dupree, cofounder of The Louis and Nancy Hatch Dupree Foundation, which is dedicated exclusively to “nation building through information sharing and to raise awareness and broaden knowledge about the history and culture of the people of Afghanistan throughout the United States,” has spent most of her life studying Afghan culture.

Recently honored as archivist of the year, Dupree was quoted in 2009 by the Global Post commenting on the U.S. Military and diplomatic approach in Afghanistan. “They make strategies for people who they don’t talk to... They sit behind the fortress with razor wire walls... They don’t seem to realize the strategy has to be about the people,” Dupree said from her home in Kabul.

Last November, Canadian Journalist Sally Armstong’s To the Women of Afghanistan made an outright call for Afghanistan women to push for rights.
Women of Afghanistan, it is time to go to the barricades.

Now is the hour to claim your rights. Negotiations are under way in earnest; the Taliban are at the table, so are the warlords and bandits, tribal elders and the president. There’s not a woman in sight. Yet everyone knows you are the ones who can yank Afghanistan into the 21st century.

You’ve been denied everything from human rights and jobs to health care and education. You refer to your illiteracy as being blind because as one woman said, “I couldn’t read so I couldn’t see what was going on.”

Education of children in Afghanistan has been vehemently disrupted by the war as well as Taliban violence. According to It Takes a Village to Raise a School, published last September, New York University Professor Dana Burde cited a CARE report that shows community-based schools are less terrorized than the 1,000 schools bombed since 2006 that have left less than one percent of Afghan girls in some southern provinces in school and active education. Suicide bombers target girl's schools more often.

In December, National Geographic’s Afghan Women posed the questions: “Why do husbands, fathers, brothers-in-law, even mothers-in-law brutalize the women in their families? Are these violent acts the consequence of a traditional society suddenly, after years of isolation and so much war, being hurled into the 21st century?”

On January 16, 2011, renowned journalist Ann Jones and author of Kabul in Winter published In Afghanistan, a Woman's Place is at the Peace Table, in which she wrote about the United Nations Security Council: Resolution 1325, but also declared peace and a violent-free society post-conflict are not always in unity. “From the standpoint of civilians, a war is not always over when it's ‘over’ and the ‘peace’ is not necessarily a real peace at all. Think of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the notorious rape capital of the world, where thousands upon thousands of women have been gang-raped even though the country has been officially at peace since 2003.”

As the US plans to fully withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, there is no doubt Afghanistan women must take the lead to change culture, policy, and legislation in favor of their rights, but supportive action across the world will only help. Priya Basil, author and advocate for peace, recently shared in an interview what drove her to take action and form Authors for Peace (AfP), an organization that houses authors from around the world who come together online to read from their work, express thoughts on peace, and use AfP as a platform to actively voice their political concerns.

Priya says, “Writing about the illegal arms trade in my second novel, The Obscure Logic of the Heart, affected me deeply. I was shocked by the scale of the trade, and the consequences of the conflicts that are perpetuated by the unregulated flow of illicit arms. Highlighting the problem through a fictional story was one way of expressing my concern, but it didn't feel like enough. I felt I must try to be more active and vocal in my criticism of the arms trade: Authors for Peace was born from the idea that one message, echoed by multiple voices, would magnify the force of any statement and have a greater impact. And, indeed this has been the case.”

In the face of so much powerful greed, violence, and cultural oppression what can you actually do? Join the call to action for peace around the world, by signing the WfWI petition for peace in Afghanistan or take part in Women for Women International's Join Me on the Bridge Campaign. Shawna Ketter, a human rights advocate and mother of three with a career, is leading an event in Montreal where 200,000 steps will be run to honor rape victims in Congo.

Shawna shares, “I am hoping that people will have their own ‘enough moment’ and unite with women all over the world in the fight against war. I really have faith that this can be something historical. We as women just need to make the choice to make it happen.”

Join Me on the Bridge events are being planned on five continents, in 24 countries, and in 9 different time zones on March 8, 2011.

Photo credit: Flickr/US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan