Withdrawal of Troops Affecting Women in Afghanistan

Now that the elections are over, President Obama has been sworn in for a second term, and everyone knows what dress the First Lady chose to wear to the inaugural ball, it is time to discuss one of the most important topics in U.S. foreign policy: the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. In particular, policy makers need to be realistic about the effects this event will have on women within the country. Considering Secretary Panetta’s recent decision to allow women to serve in combat roles in the U.S. military, it is appropriate that this issue should be discussed. After all, women in Afghanistan have been serving in a defensive role, in some capacity, since the day they were born.

Under the Taliban regime, women were forced to adhere to strict purdah practices that prevented them from gaining an education, seeking health care from a male physician, or even leaving their home without a male guardian. They constantly lived in fear of honor killings, acid attacks, or even worse if they dared defied the rules of Sharia Law. With the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 by U.S. forces, there has been a slow relaxation of harsh policies regarding women’s rights in Afghanistan. Women have been able to become entrepreneurs, politicians, soldiers, and police officers in an effort to step out of the shadows that they have been forced to hide in for so long. Now that NATO and U.S. forces are planning to leave the country earlier than expected, it is conceivable that women within Afghanistan would be afraid about their future. Will they be forced to return to their homes never again to know the freedom that they have been enjoying over the past 11 years? Will their daughters be required to drop out of school and denied the opportunity to create a better future for themselves?

It is important to note that women played a major role in our counter-insurgency efforts in Afghanistan. They were great sources of human intelligence because they knew the insurgency groups better than American soldier. They knew the fighters, the hideouts, and the tactics, and they were willing to talk to female Allied soldiers. Female police officers were also integral to our mission because they performed special tasks could not, such as searching the home or frisking other women. Women, such as the deceased Lieutenant Colonel Malalai Kakar, have risked their lives in an effort to improve conditions in Afghanistan, and the U.S. must ensure their efforts were not in vain.

So how can the United States, in particular the Obama Administration, convey to the women of Afghanistan that a physical withdrawal from the country does not mean abandonment? First, and most importantly, policy makers should acknowledge the affect that the withdrawal will have on women and convey that to the American people. Even though the public is war weary, it cannot cast aside the plight of the Afghani women. Second, the U.S. must not allow the Karzai Administration to renege on women’s rights within the country. The mandatory quotas for reserved seats for women in political office must not be overturned. Furthermore, they should encourage the development of a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security in Afghanistan similar to the one developed by the White House in 2011. Third, and finally, NATO forces should continue to train female Afghan security forces even though they are beginning the transition. It is important that these women be prepared to serve when the Afghan National Security Forces assume responsibility and control of security for the country.

The women of Afghanistan are counting on the United States to advocate for the human rights that have been denied to them in the past. We must not let them down. We must demonstrate through our words and our actions that withdrawal from Afghanistan does not mean an abandonment of the fight for the civil liberties of the women in the country.

—By LE

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2 thoughts on “Withdrawal of Troops Affecting Women in Afghanistan

  1. WomanStats says:

    “women in Afghanistan have been serving in a defensive role, in some capacity, since the day they were born.” Amen to that!

    One would hope the president would actually give an address about this important topic . . . I do not understand why this issue is not being addressed in a very public fashion by our leaders. Does their silence mean we have decided it is unrealistic to care what happens to these women? If so, I weep not only for the women of Afghanistan, but for our own country.

  2. CPC says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot on this dilemma lately, as my dad and I have been exchanging emails on the topic, him being on the ground as a member of the USAF in Afghanistan currently and me taking a class on Muslim Feminisms and women’s social movements. On the one hand, I want our country to do good and help the women of Afghanistan. They had a pretty crummy deal under the Taliban, and I think they are entitled to a different life. On the other hand, I find the justification of “saving Afghanistan’s women” for the war in Afghanistan is deeply problematic, both from a false justification (that’s not why we went to war…) and from a neocolonial perspective (Narayan’s statement of “white men saving brown women from brown men” or the justification used in many colonizing circumstances during the 19th-20th century). I also think there is a difficult line to walk in regards to cultural relativism (we don’t want to impose our culture on them, imposing democracy, etc.) while at the same time not sitting blindly by while gross human rights abuses are being perpetrated (or maybe democracy is the ideal political situation).

    I think the most important thing is not treating our country as the savior of the world’s women. Saying something like: “The women of Afghanistan are counting on the United States” without actually talking to the women of Afghanistan (I don’t think you mention any primary sources/quotes from actual Afghani women) is lofty and seems a little pretentious to assume. Are they really counting on us, or are they pretty annoyed that we destroyed and upended their country yet again? I don’t know the answer to that actually, and I’m sure it is very nuanced and depends on who you ask. However, I also don’t think the answer is, like the previous comment, to not care about what happens to these women.

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