(TRIGGER WARNING ON SOME OF THESE LINKS!)
So you know how I like to repeat that Nellie McClung maxim about no nation rising above its women?
This was the subject of today's treeware column which laments the loss of Canadian life and waste of our tax dollars on playing whack-a-mole with terrorists. The longer Afghanistan lives with brutality, the more likely its sons, suffering from disease, poverty and other privations, will join up with the Taliban.
This I truly believe -- and I am not the only one.
But first a word about a controversy surrounding the Feminist Majority Foundation which, critics say, has been co-opted, in the name of women's rights, to support US President Barack Obama's planned escalation of operations in Afghanistan.
Over a decade ago a young woman approached me on the California Senate floor with a petition against the Taliban. Women are being repressed, tortured and killed by religious fundamentalists, she said. I signed on. The Taliban seemed like a Ku Klux Klan aimed at women. I was disgusted that the State Department and oil companies would negotiate with them over pipelines, with cursory regard for women's rights. I still feel that way.
But I had no idea then that I was joining The Feminist Majority in a coalition with the Pentagon to invade and occupy Afghanistan. Given the respect I have for Ellie Smeal and Kathy Spillar, among others, it's still hard to believe that they think Afghan women can be liberated by an invading, bombing, imprisoning American army. It's hard to believe that Predators, drones, Special Forces, detention camps and foreign occupiers are solutions to Taliban fundamentalism. Even the US-supported Kabul government showed its real character this year by passing a law requiring women to obey their husbands in sexual matters, in violation of the country's own constitution and international norms.
A top United Nations official this month told a Kabul audience "that violence against women is not being challenged or condemned." This was eight years following the Bonn Agreement which included human rights at its core. In northern areas under Western occupation, the UN report found that in 39 percent of rapes "that perpetrators were directly linked to power brokers who are, effectively, above the law and enjoy immunity from arrest as well as immunity from social condemnation."
It's safe to say the Kabul government will not be recognizing any NOW chapters among its local non-governmental organizations in the foreseeable future.
Lest you think this sort of criticism is coming only from peacenikky former husbands of Jane Fonda, here's Sonali KolhatKar, co-director of the Afghan Women's Mission:
Recently prominent liberal voices in the United States have expressed the view that the US war in Afghanistan is being waged to help secure the rights of Afghan women. The Feminist Majority, a prominent women's organization in the US responded today to my critique of their pro-war position, co-authored with Mariam Rawi, a member of RAWA. The FM response was originally published under the title, "Why the Feminist Majority Foundation Supports Engagement in Afghanistan," and later changed to "Why Is the Feminist Majority Foundation Refusing to Abandon the Women and Girls of Afghanistan?" In it, Eleanor Smeal and Helen Cho assert that "As long-time peace activists, we did not support the bombing of Afghanistan after 9/11." But the FM also never came out against the war in Afghanistan as they did against the war in Iraq. Instead they called for full inclusion of women in any post-war government. That silence meant tacit support of the war. Today that support for war continues by equating the security craved by all Afghans with the war being waged by US troops. While I fully agree with the FM that the US must stop supporting warlords, and pour resources into development and aid I disagree that dropping bombs, fighting ground offensives, imprisoning Afghans, and all the byproducts of war are somehow making women safer.
So, with that as background, here's my column, with some links:
The past couple of weeks have proven to be the most deadly ever for NATO troops.
The past couple of weeks have proven to be the most deadly ever for NATO troops.
Canada has already taken a disproportionate hit, both in "blood and treasure" as the military types like to say. This month alone, the number of our dead climbed from 120 to 125. As for the treasure, we're somewhere around $9 billion, including projections for the next two years.
Our troops are stretched, our equipment is tired, and polls show that Canadians want out in 2011 – if not sooner – as Parliament has resolved.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is stepping it up, as perhaps it should have before then-U.S. President George W. Bush decided he wanted Iraq's Saddam Hussein deader or less alive than Osama Bin Laden.
If you recall, among the other slogans used to sell us on Afghanistan was "women's rights." That despite how women such as Canada's intrepid Sally Armstrong and, in the U.S., Mavis Leno (Mrs. Jay), had been attempting to focus attention on the plight of women under the Taliban for years.
But Western leaders did not care, not until it came in handy as a casus belli.
Then those burqa-bound women became part of the propaganda, a sign of progress, a reason to keep on fighting.
"The U.S. military may have removed the Taliban, but it installed warlords who are as anti-woman and as criminal as the Taliban," write Sonali Kolhatkar, co-director of the Afghan Women's Mission, and Mariam Rawi, a pseudonymous Afghan feminist.
"Misogynistic, patriarchal views are now embodied by the Afghan cabinet, they are expressed in the courts, and they are embodied by President Hamid Karzai."
Yes, there has been lots of good news about girls going to school and women in Parliament – although the latter are mostly pro-warlord and keep silent.
But really, these things mean nothing if they are immolating themselves rather than being married off to old men, if they are attacked with acid on their way to class, if they are imprisoned for being raped only to be raped by their jailers, if they are killed for being outspoken.
All these things are happening now, aggravated by relentless war that displaces and impoverishes people. There's no clean water, no sanitation. Children are diseased and hungry.
Widows, with no marketable skills and less literacy, are forced into prostitution. (And how many NATO soldiers are their customers?) A woman is lucky to make it to 40.
Or not so lucky.
And yet there's still legislation in the works that will force the minority Shia women to have sex with their husbands or else starve, a bill that the ever-smiling Karzai approved in order to win the coming election.
In the new documentary Rethinking Afghanistan, human rights activist Ann Jones, author of Kabul in Winter, recalls Faisal Ahmad Shinwari, the chief justice from 2001 to 2006, declaring that women have two rights.
"One, every woman has the right to obey her husband," she quotes him as saying. "Two, every woman has the right to pray, though not in the mosque. That is reserved for men."
Estimates are, we will be spending $3 billion over this year and next. That's assuming, if experience is any indication, that costs don't spiral.
What a waste.
The only way to bring security is protect the women and children, not with bombs and bullets, armour and airplanes, but with secure schools, clean wells, steady supplies of food and legislation that punishes men, not women.
That's how you change a country.
Canada can do much better.
Not much more to say except that I have been hearing, as usual, from both sides of the debate, including from Canadian military personnel. Some agree, some don't.
What the more intelligent emailers all concede however is that there has to be a better way -- even if, as one corporal suggested, Canada starts buying up the poppies to make morphine and legalizes pot to buy Afghan's stash of hash.
Here's part of one of his emails to me:
Is there a bigger solution to everything? I feel there is, it does involve us sticking it out there, but it involves a gradual step away from violence and a large step towards development. In Southern Afghanistan there are no jobs, thus no reason to go to school. Children are drawn to the Taliban not only because of anti-NATO sentiments, but because they have no income and the Taliban offer money for killing NATO soldiers. If we provide these people with an economy they will eventually have a need for education, and then we can start to teach them equality as they become more developed. In my personal view, the West should subsidize Afghan opium production and buy opium to create morphine and other medical substances that we use in our hospitals already; this way we take away the initiative from the Taliban to use opium for their gains, we do not take income away from the farmers(and possibly create more income for them), and it creates other jobs. I also believe if Canada legalizes marijuana it could save Afghanistan, if we simply subsidize Afghan dope we create another form of income that helps them out, I think we could also get the Dutch on board with this as they have a vested interest in this mission too and one of their biggest tourism selling points is marijuana and Amsterdam. Foriegn countries putting money into Afghanistan for these reasons would create an economy, a need for bankers and managers and other skilled professionals, teachers to teach those skilled professionals, schools to house those teachers and so on. And once we have schools we could start pushing for change in equality. Unfortunately I'm just a lowly Corporal in the Canadian Forces so what I have to say carries no wieght, and this sort of change goes way higher then the Military, but this is what I think needs to be done, and if our parliament ever stops squabling and starts working together on the issue I think change can be made and it's better then cutting and running and it's better then increased violence.
It's an idea.
Sure maybe it sounds crazy.
But it's no crazier than what is going on now.
In fact, less so.
Thank you Corporal, for your service, your sacrifice and your emails.
If you want to help the women of Afghanistan, here are some ideas. But first, write your MP and prime Minister Stephen Harper, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, NDP leader Jack Layton and BQ leader Gilles Duceppe. Tell them that Canada has to straighten Karzai out.