Afghanistan Wars and Women’s Rights

The United States has a new opportunity to change direction in Afghanistan… We believe that this time, with the leadership of President Obama … women and girls will not be left on the periphery, but placed in the central focus of our new policy.
— Feminist Majority press release1

As an historian and teacher of women’s rights, a former feminist organizer, and one who considers herself leftist/progressive, I can only be horrified at an American foreign policy which is unleashing horrible violence on the men, women and children of Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. And since the policy is being carried out by Democratic President Barack Obama and his Democratic majority party, I can only be horrified at him, Nobel Peace Prize winner(!) or not, and at them. You think? Well apparently there are many who identify themselves as feminist and progressive who do not agree.

Take the Feminist Majority, for example. Here is a group dedicated, according to their website, to “women’s equality, reproductive health and non-violence.” [Emphasis mine.] They were founded by veteran feminist leader Eleanor Smeal in 1986, to represent the then 56% of American women who said they were feminists. They publish Ms. magazine, and campaign for women’s health and education, global women’s equality, women’s leadership, and gender balance in politics. Ah. How do you get gender balance in politics? Apparently by being absorbed into the Democratic party to the point where your web page sings odes of praise to the magnificence of President Obama and Vice Present Biden, and of course Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—herself not exactly a shining example of promoting “non-violence.”

The melding with the Democrats has now led to the Feminist Majority becoming an advocate for Obama “ending terrorism” in Afghanistan, with, of course, a focus on human (and women’s) rights. And the Feminist Majority, along with NOW (National Organization for Women) is also campaigning for “Afghan women and girls” by supporting the passage of Senator Barbara Boxer’s Afghan Women Empowerment Act, S229, on their websites. The bill, now in committee (foreign relations), cites the lack of rights women have had under the Taliban, and then says “Despite efforts by the U.S. government … to improve [their] lives,” Afghan women apparently still “lack access” to most of life’s necessary resources.2

It’s all very well to want to empower and improve life for and make a central focus of Afghan women. But supporting the government’s war efforts, through support of the Democratic party’s huge expansion of the Afghan war, should not be part of it. As Tom Hayden wrote last July, Afghan women will not be liberated by an “invading, bombing, imprisoning American army.” The Taliban will not change its anti-feminist fundamentalism because of that army—and the U.S.-backed Kabul government has recently passed a law insisting women obey their husbands “in sexual matters.”3 So much for empowerment. Supporting that government, and expanding that war, means supporting the Democrats’ increased funding for U.S. troops. And that is going to mean more death, destruction and chaos for said Afghan women and girls.

Becoming enmeshed in the campaigns of the Democratic Party is a huge mistake. About 20 years ago, I wrote a book called Iron-Jawed Angels4 which details the dramatic campaign of the radically feminist National Woman’s Party of the early 20th century. Controversially, they modeled their political drive after the British suffragists who insisted on working against the party in power which was doing nothing for its issue: women’s suffrage. Similarly, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton eventually concluded in their earlier women’s rights campaign, that being identified with a particular political party, instead of with feminist issues, would only hurt and dilute their cause. Susan B. Anthony said in 1878 that “women should stand shoulder to shoulder against every party not fully and unequivocally committed to Equal Rights for Women.”5 Equal rights for women will not be advanced by women being subjected to bombs and occupation.

Throughout American history “third party” issue-oriented parties on the right and left, have been absorbed into the powerful vortex of the two-party system. The most extreme example would be when the farmer and labor-led Populist party, amidst much resistance by its members, succumbed to William Jennings Bryan and was sucked into the Democratic Party—which then went down to defeat at the hands of the Republicans in 1896, arguably the time when Big Business took control of our politics for good.

I experienced party takeover of feminism personally at the commemoration of the 1848 Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Conference, held in 1998. Most of the speakers were (female) Democratic party operatives. During one of the speeches celebrating the wonderful feminist accomplishments of the Democratic party, I foolishly made some sort of joke to the woman standing next to me about the irony of President Clinton and feminism in light of Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, etc. She was not only indignant but also somehow totally not understanding how I could utter such disloyal perfidy. The disgraceful blind loyalty of Gloria Steinem, NOW’s Patricia Ireland and Eleanor Smeal, et. al. ad nauseam, with Clinton and against any of those pesky women who were allegedly victims of Clinton’s very nonfeminist attentions, was unbelievable to me.6 But these famous feminists had all very much become Democratic party insiders. Sexual harassment? Charges of rape/assault? Why believe (all of) these unreliable women? Bill Clinton was their man. Feminist equaled Democratic Party: end of story.

As long as feminists—or “progressives”—cannot imagine an American political world which is not divided into Democrat and Republican, and now there really is no difference between the completely corporate-run two parties, their issues will be totally subsumed by the parties’ only function, which is to stay in power and maintain their own gravy train, while sustaining the money behemoth which runs America.

One important function of this corporate-run political system is to maintain and expand the American empire—for corporate gain, yes, but also for pure nationalistic greed and glory. Our reasons for being in Afghanistan do not seem to be topped by working for “human rights.” “Zoya,” an Afghan woman who is an activist with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, argues that Afghan women do suffer from the Taliban, but also from U.S. and NATO bombs; in fact the latter kill many more civilians than either Taliban or “terrorists.” She says American troops must withdraw immediately, because their presence only hurts any chance for a needed radical change in the political system in Afghanistan.7

So if you say you are a feminist who wants human rights in Afghanistan, it’s time to step back from the thrill of being an insider in Washington; it’s time to step back and think about if maintaining empire, sustaining occupation, and killing thousands of civilians is really what your “human rights” campaign is all about.

  1. Feminist Majority website, “Feminists Announce New Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls,” March 27, 2009. []
  2. Feminist Majority website, “Take Action Now to Help Afghan Women,” and National Organization for Women website, “Afghan Women and Girls Need Our Help.” []
  3. Hayden, Tom, “Pentagon Enlists Feminists for War Aims,” Huffington Post, July 18, 2009. []
  4. Ford, Linda, Iron-Jawed Angels: The Suffrage Militancy of the National Woman’s Party, 1912-1920, University Press of America, Lanham, MD, 1991. []
  5. National Woman’s Party Papers, Congressional Union pamphlet, 1915, Reel 22. []
  6. Mink, Gwendolyn, Hostile Environment: The Political Betrayal of Sexually Harassed Women, Chapter 4, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 2000. []
  7. Voices from Afghanistan: Afghan Women’s Activist Zoya Speaks Out on Eight Years of Occupation,” Democracy Now, October 9, 2007. []

Linda Ford is historian and sometime adjunct professor, and is the author of Iron-Jawed Angels: The Suffrage Militancy of the National Woman’s Party, 1991. She is currently working on a book about the history of women political prisoners in America. She can be reached at: gluntsi@morrisville.edu. Read other articles by Linda.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Canada Guy said on October 18th, 2009 at 5:20pm #

    The War in Afghanistan is over, it’s all about saving face now.

    http://watching-history.blogspot.com/2009/10/war-in-afghanistan-2001-201x.html

  2. Shabnam said on October 18th, 2009 at 5:49pm #

    Ms. Ford:

    Thank you for writing this article to inform the American public that what is happening with phony ‘feminist’ organizations and to remind Americans of their responsibilities against act of terror against the population of Afghanistan both males and females.

    American people are responsible for the disaster in Afghanistan, Iraq and other targeted countries because you do not care to find out that your government is using ‘women rights’ to speed up the destabilization project using American ‘feminists’ and ‘NGO’ to defeat forces of anti imperialism and Zionism in the targeted countries mainly Muslim countries . In this process many native traitors are used to implement their project through bombardment of civilians using depleted uranium, cluster and phosphorous bombs to kill our children to bring the country under submission and exploitation. The war crime activities are taking place to create rooms for the dominant culture of destruction known as ‘exceptionalism’ and supremacist belief that Islam is the inferior culture and the reason for inferior position of women. Many indigenous traitors have started to cooperate in order to receive $$$$ and Euro since job creation is very slow and difficult due to illegal sanctions that the Zionist and imperialist force bring upon these nations in order to destabilize and force people to cooperate with these war criminals to survive. They have done it in Iraq with more than 1.4 million dead, and are using the same method meaning starvation and destruction of thousands years of indigenous civilization to open up space for culture of destruction by phosphorus and cluster bombs to kill children to bring culture of ‘cleavage’ for Muslim women.

    The CIA is using different channels including phony ‘feminist’ organizations where have close cooperation with State Department and the Pentagon and phony ‘anti war’ organizations to spread divisiveness in order to prevent national unity among different ethnic groups in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The main problems of Afghanistan are poverty and illiteracy. This nation is in the state of imperialist wars for many decades and more correctly many centuries. The common enemy, US and its allies, secretly fund different groups using ethnic and religious divide to place people of Afghanistan against each other to weaken NATIONAL UNITY so these forces compete for resources killing each other in the process. We are witnessing the same political game against women in Afghanistan.

    I agree with you when you write:
    {Take the Feminist Majority, for example. Here is a group dedicated, according to their website, to “women’s equality, reproductive health and non-violence.” [Emphasis mine.] They were founded by veteran feminist leader Eleanor Smeal in 1986, to represent the then 56% of American women who said they were feminists. They publish Ms. Magazine, and campaign for women’s health and education, global women’s equality, women’s leadership, and gender balance in politics.}

    The Feminist Majority, one arm of empire, is very active in Muslim countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan, Morocco and elsewhere. One of their ‘agents of change’ in Afghanistan is Dr. Sima Sama, who has recently received the feminist majority’s award of the year. The rival defender of ‘women’s right’ is Malalai Joya who became famous overnight when she caused an uproar at the Constitutional Loya Jirga by comparing Loya Jirga to a ‘zoo’ and its members to cows and dunky where is an insult to the culture of the region, and denouncing fiercely the warlords who were present, saying they “turned our country into the nucleus of national and international wars … [They are] the most anti-women people in the society who brought our country to this state.” She told the assembly, “They should be taken to national and international court.” ( Los Angeles Times, December 23, 2003)

    This insult has been supported by the western phony ‘human rights’ organization and the ‘left’ especially Trotskyite groups.
    This insult also has been bought well by the ‘left’ including ZMAG groups like Chomsky and Nomi Klien and they are doing a lot of publicity for her in the United States and countries in Europe. She, like the Iranian agents, has been showered by awards after awards; transferring thousands of dollars to Ms. Joya to compete against non-Pashtun group like Sima Sama who is placed in charge of women’s affairs in Afghanistan. She is from the minority Hazara ethnic group who were massacre by Taliban where supported and brought into Afghanistan by the United State, Pakistan ISI and money from the Saudi Arabia to destroy non Pashtun minorities like Persian speaking Tajiks and Shiite Hezara and other group like Uzbek.

    Malalai Joya from Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) cannot be trusted since she attacks non-Pashtun ‘Northern Alliance’, ethnic Tajik, Persian speaking, who fought against Taliban and lost thousands of its people. Malalai Joya Is a sectarian narrow minded individual whose main fight is against “northern alliance’ where she call them ‘Jahadi’ and fundamentalists who are mainly Tajik, non Pashtun groups to get the attention of Zionist forces in the West. There is a rumor that she is the product of ISI of Pakistan. Pakistan is doing anything to have strong influence in the power structure of Afghanistan like during Taliban. The policy of the United States is to place an enemy, like Taliban, on Iran’s border to box Iran in and speed up the destabilization process. Therefore, this policy is supported by the US and its allies, Pakistan, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

    The forces in Afghanistan must be united under same umbrella and demand the all foreign forces to get lost immediately from Afghanistan and ask the international community to help Afghan people. There is no other way. Any division amongst forces in Afghanistan is counterproductive. There should be national unity. Malalai Joya must stop blaming Iran and concentrate on the real enemy the US, Pakistan military and Israel. Thanks again for this article.

    http://www.humpjones.com/rear/entry/gloria_steinem_worked_for_the_cia_baby/

  3. Shabnam said on October 18th, 2009 at 7:40pm #

    Jundullah, a Baluch terrorist group supported financially and military by the United States attack Iran again to speed up the process of destabilization and extend the US/Israel war crimes to Iran like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon and Iraq.

    Jundullah has accepted responsibility for the deadly attack that rocked a security gathering in southeast Iran, killing 29 people and wounding another 28.

    The Jundullah terror ring, which is led by Abdolmalik Rigi, has claimed responsibility for the attack that targeted a unity gathering between Sunni and Shia tribal leaders in the borderline Pishin region, near the city of Sarbaz.

    Several top regional security officials such as provincial commanders of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) including Brigadier Nour-Ali Shoushtari and Brigadier Rajab-Ali Mohammadzadeh were also killed in the explosion.

    The explosion, which occurred at 08:00 local time (4:30), also claimed the lives of a group of tribal leaders and well known local figures of both the Shia and Sunni communities.

    The IRGC has condemned the attack as a gross act if “global arrogance” and a “horrific crime against humanity, carried out as revenge against the people who were working together to ensure the security of the region.”

    Jundullah is a Pakistan-based terrorist group closely affiliated with the notorious al-Qaeda organization.

    The terror ring has carried out countless bombings and other violent attacks in Iran. Some of the attacks for which it has claimed responsibility are the killings of at least 16 Iranian police officers in a 2008 attack, nine Iranian security guards in 2005, and another 11 in a 2007 bombing.

    A 2007 Sunday Telegraph report revealed that the CIA created Jundullah to achieve ‘regime change in Iran’, and said the US intelligence agency was trying to destabilize Iran by ‘supplying arms-length support’ and ‘money and weapons’ to the group.

    Another report posted by ABC also revealed that the US officials had ordered Jundullah to ‘stage deadly guerrilla raids inside the Islamic Republic, kidnap Iranian officials and execute them on camera’, all as part of a ‘programmatic objective to overthrow the Iranian government’.

    In a recent interview with Press TV, Rigi’s brother Abdulhamid also confirmed that the Jundullah leader had established links with the US agents.

    His brother said that in just one of his meetings with the US operatives, Rigi had received $100,000 to fuel sectarianism in Iran.

  4. alexus said on October 22nd, 2009 at 10:05am #

    bad people

  5. Concerned American said on November 18th, 2009 at 8:55am #

    AMERICANS ARE INNOCENT