Our Other Sisters has great sympathy with the families of the six British soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan last Wednesday. Many news agencies in Britain led with the headline last week that the tragedy marked the biggest loss of life since 2006 in the country. However, this fails to recognise the number of Afghan civilians, in particular innocent women and children, who have been killed due to the US and NATO occupation of the country. Our Other Sisters wants to know the scale of the suffering facing women and children in Afghanistan and how the US and NATO intervention has affected them.
News broke early this week about the attack in Kandahar, Southern Afghanistan, by a US soldier who killed sixteen civilians. Nine of those murdered are thought to be women, three children and the remaining five, men: all civilians.
Muslim feminist Mehreen Kasana tweeted: “If an Afghan did this on US soil, he’d be in Gitmo in a few hours. Nine children and three women among murdered.”
The Times in the UK also tweeted that the US soldier in question “abused the Afghan women before killing them.”
Official figures are unknown, but it is estimated that at the end of 2011, between 9,415 – 29,007 civilians had been killed, both directly and indirectly, as a result of US military action alone.
The demographics of the innocent civilians killed throughout the past ten years in Afghanistan cannot be clarified, but it is clear that women and children will continue to suffer in the country as a result of Western occupation.
It is bitterly ironic that there is an emphasis on the state of women’s rights in Afghanistan as a justification for military intervention.
Orzala Ashraf Nemat writing for the Guardian on International Women’s Day 2012 warned that ‘the signs of hope for Afghan women are fading faster than at any other time in the past few years.’
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan before the 2001 US invasion, girls were banned from going to school. Women were not allowed to leave home without a male relative escorting them.
Progress has been made, but can it be attributed to the military presence and occupation exercised by the US and NATO over the last 10 years?
Earlier this month, President Hamid Karzai took advice from an influential council of clerics in the country and endorsed a new ‘code of conduct’ which is detrimental to the campaign for women’s rights pervading Afghanistan.
The clerics advised that women should not work with men or mix at school.
It is believed that young Afghan women fear President Karzai’s endorsement of these new guidelines mark a step backwards in the struggle for women’s rights in the country. While the young and educated of Afghanistan protest against these new rulings, some Afghans support them, believing they are in accordance with Islam.
The regulations have not yet been passed as law.
If President Karzai and his government want to quicken the withdrawal of Western troops and are confident they can rule peacefully they should be encouraging female equality.
Not only would this benefit Afghan women, but it will in some ways convince US and NATO forces that some progress has been made.
Returning to the impact of the shootings, we must not forget that US soldiers were burning Muslim holy books at one of their military bases earlier this year. At least 41 people were killed in the subsequent violence.
The US soldier’s shooting spree was not a one off occurrence; a fundamental ignorance plagues the Western troops in Afghanistan, who don’t respect Afghan religion, culture or indeed the civilians themselves.
If women in Afghanistan really can hope for a brighter future, we must respectfully and quickly withdraw troops and allow female revolutions to burgeon within the country.
Women’s rights in Afghanistan must be driven by an internal desire for equality, not external military dictation.