The 1992 election was called the “Year of the Woman” because the number of female senators tripled (from two all the way to six), and two dozen women were elected to their first term in the House, the largest number in congressional history. 1
Well, things have only been in an upswing ever since. Witness, for instance, the phenomenal gains by women in the 2020 election — a year dubbed by Brookings, a conservative think tank, as “The Year of the Woman Voter.” 2
I touched upon some of the high points in my July 21 article, “The Year of the Woman: Then and Now” (see note 1 in particular), but the focus was primarily on women gains in the political arena. Low and behold, now there comes Mika Brzezinski — a journalist, best-selling author, and co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe — and in collaboration with the Forbes magazine, we’re treated to yet another spectacular array of women’s accomplishments.
It’s all in “50 Over 50.” This time, however, it covers all walks of life and all sectors of the American economy. All told, it’s an impressive list by any stretch, and we ought to congratulate ourselves on slowly but surely closing the gender gap.
Perhaps the most disastrous consequence of our recent, all-so-abrupt pullout from Afghanistan — still unfolding! –is the plight of the Afghani women. It’s also the least talked about!
As is true of most Islamic-run communities and nation-states, women have traditionally occupied the lowest stratum of society. And although there was some progress in this direction — to improve this deplorable condition, most notably, in Egypt and Iraq 3 — it’s also fair to say that for the most part, women still bear the greatest brunt of the general culture of oppression. 4 And Afghanistan — especially since the rise of the Taliban in 1994! — far from being an exception, represents perhaps the prime example. 5
September 11, 2001, was, of course, the pretext — a retaliation! And Afghanistan had become the prime target for its alleged association with and harboring bin-Laden and other al-Queda terrorists presumably responsible for the 9/11 attacks. But whatever the validity of those claims or the accompanying mantra — that we must fight terrorism “out there” so that we wouldn’t have to fight it at home! — which led to the Afghanistan invasion in the first place, there had been an all-important, however unintended, consequence. 6
For indeed, once the Taliban was “defeated” in December 2001 and with the provisional government’s president Hamid Karzai in place, there had come about a most profound change. 7 No, not so much in the political realm, as everyone would expect, but in the cultural one!
In a nutshell, the iron grip that the Taliban would exercise over the general populace, male or female, by insisting on strict adherence to the sharia law was no longer. 8 And there’s no question that the greatest beneficiary of this “cultural dethawing” would be the Afghan women.
The Afghan history after the Taliban’s fall from power bears this out. The Afghani women have ever since enjoyed a steady if not spectacular betterment of their condition in all areas of social and cultural endeavor. Aside from the general unavailability of education — heretofore prohibited to all women unless it’d be “religious education” sanctioned by the mullahs! — but now made available to all, many have attained high positions in journalism, medicine and other professions, even government.
They all got from under the shackles!
“Progress for Afghan Women & Girls,” a mid-2021 statement by Feminist Majority Foundation,9 is a balanced summary of the situation on the ground. True, it points to some concrete gains in such diverse areas of society and culture as human rights, literacy and education, health, access to media, and freedom of speech.10 But it’s also mindful of the fragile status of those gains — for the simple reason that the Taliban posed an ever-present danger.
Notice, however, that the Taliban controlled but three percent of Afghanistan at the time of the FMF’s report — which places it way before our July 2 pullout. Today, with the Taliban in near-total control, all the fears concerning the fragility of past accomplishments have been realized.
Indeed, we’re already beginning to see a great many drastic reversals in all areas of Afghan women’s rights. And as anecdotal as some of these examples may be, more of the same is sure to come. There’s no telling, of course, but in no time, the plight of the Afghani women, God forbid, may come to resemble their sorry predicament before the US invasion. !1
What a sordid state of affairs!
It’s not exactly as though the writing wasn’t on the wall. As early as March 2021, our very own US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in conjunction with US Agency for International Development (USAID), has issued a comprehensive report on the subject, “Protect the Gains Made to Empower Women in Afghanistan.”
The underlying message was that we must do all we can to sustain these gains and press forward. “No one can be left behind” was the plea!
There were, in addition, all manner of warnings and alerts from all media — some more or less “independent,” others less so — to the effect that the Taliban’s takeover would render all the accomplishments of the past twenty years or so null and void.
See, for instance, The Diplomat’s “Taliban’s Return Has Afghan Women Living in Fear.” (August 17) Or the UPI’s same date article, “With Taliban’s return, 20 years of progress for Afghan women set to disappear.” Or the Belfast Telegraph’s August 19 main feature, for that matter — Author Khaled Hoseini “fears for progress made by Afghan women.”
I suppose we could go on to no end with brand-new alerts and warnings concerning the situation on the ground or the events immediately preceding the present — and they’re bound to be forthcoming! –but what good would it do?
Since the initial pleadings fell on deaf ears, there’s no reason to believe that introducing any new evidence would make even the slightest dent.
And this brings us to the heart of the matter!
Along with the rather dubious rationale for the 2001 US invasion, the plight of the Afghan women under the Taliban’s oppressive rule had become a cause célèbre almost overnight. Within weeks of officially sanctioned US military operations in Afghanistan (October 7), in an unprecedented move, First Lady Laura Bush addressed the entire nation in a Saturday radio broadcast, equating the war on terrorism with “a fight for the rights and dignity of women.”
With the regime in retreat across much of the country, the first lady continued, the people of Afghanistan, especially women, are rejoicing.
The plight of women and children in Afghanistan is a matter of deliberate human cruelty carried out by those who seek to intimidate and control. “Brutal oppression of women” was one of the terrorists’ central goals!
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the first lady’s address coincided with a prompt release of a State Department report condemning conditions for women and children in Afghanistan under the Taliban and the Al Qaeda terror network. And although neither “contained little new information, they served to spotlight conditions that the administration believes should help it gain international support for the US-led campaign in Afghanistan.”
It proved an immense success.
“The fall of the Taliban in 2001” — the international community had declared — “would bring in a new era of rights. Afghanistan’s women and girls would be returned to schools and workplaces and freed from the infamously fierce restrictions on their lives.
The then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that restoring women’s human rights would “not be negotiable.” And the British PM,
In no time, the plight of Afghan women has become the central issue of the campaign. It superseded the War on Terror, which, by and large, has already been won.
In any event, it provided the act of outright aggression with a human face.
The rest is history!
Come 2012 and our abrupt pullout, and the world can’t but sit and question America’s commitment to its self-proclaimed values and promises — indeed, its very credibility.
There was never any doubt that placing the “Afghan women” issue at the very center of the US campaign has been, for the most part, symbolic, and a great PR job at that.13 But still, one would have hoped there’d be some semblance of the truth underneath the highfalutin words and lofty ideals.
Not in the slightest! The Afghan women were betrayed, period. And the same goes for all Afghan personnel who provided essential support services to the occupying force for the past twenty years and counting. Now, they’re all in fear for their lives.14
It’s a national disgrace!
There’s no question that the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld triumvirate bears the initial responsibility for the 2021 events, but the buck doesn’t stop with George Dubya and cohorts. It carries over to all subsequent occupants of the White House, the present occupier included.15
The decision made by Biden & company to put an end to a twenty-year war may have been the right one. Given that we were supporting a corrupt government throughout our stay — a government unresponsive to the people and its needs — I tend to agree. Even so, it’s the execution of the pullout that’s in question, not the principle behind it all!
It is in this singular respect that the Biden administration is at fault. And it’s going to be judged on the matter of reneging on our promises, promises made but not kept!
It will forever remain a “black mark.”
But then again, “retreating with a tail between our legs” is not exactly a brand-new experience for us, so we can’t put it on Biden alone. We’d done it numerous times in the past — whenever the chips were down and no other option in the offing.. Our pullout from Vietnam is a prime example! 16
All of which goes to demonstrate a simple proposition. We’re great at initiating a course of action — military, diplomatic, or otherwise. But we’re terrible when it comes to clean up! Totally unprepared to deal with defeat!
Ultimately, it all translates to our inability to confront present-day realities, not when we’re on the losing side. And so, the Afghan crisis, a humanitarian crisis by now, remains unresolved.
Nothing better demonstrates American ineptitude and lack of planning and preparedness at all levels of government — from the Pentagon to the White House — than this. And the Biden administration, just like that of Mr. Bush, is without excuse.17
For all the empathy our president had shown regarding his fallen son, Beau — in Afghanistan, of all places! — it looks as though his tank were on empty, that nothing is left, nothing whatever! Not for the victims of his ill-fated decision to withdraw our troops while endangering the lives of the many. Nor for anyone else, for that matter!
And so, considering his repeated statements refusing to take responsibility for the unfolding events, and in the interest of sounding “tough and resolute” besides, Mr. Biden has shown his true colors — the colors of an ordinary Joe, a weakling at bottom, grasping at greatness.
His legacy is sealed!
So, how does it all relate to “The Year of the Woman?” this article’s title?
I stated at the outset that we ought to congratulate our sisters for their extraordinary accomplishments. Indeed, we should only hope for more of the same. After all, the “stronger sex” does happen to comprise at least one-half of all humanity. And the greater the contribution from all, regardless of gender, so much the better. It’d surely be asinine to exclude our women-folk from the process.
We’d all stand to lose!
The point is — what obtains in the West is hardly the norm, and the plight of women worldwide, whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere, ought to be our uttermost concern, our marching orders.
Indeed, even in the West, it wasn’t for the powers-that-be that our ladies have amassed their extraordinary gains. Au contraire, it was through struggle, bitter struggle, their struggle. There’s no other way!
For you see, as the Afghanistan example indubitably attests, white old men are still in charge.
- Brookings Institute
- The article concludes: The gender realignment of American politics is the biggest change in party affiliation since the movement by loyal Democratic voters to the GOP in the “solid South,” in the final decades of the twentieth century. This gender realignment continues to gain momentum, fueled by the misogynistic behavior of Donald Trump and other leaders of his party who can’t seem to resist attacking powerful, successful Democratic women and, more generally, hindering the full equality of women. It is spreading in almost every state and locality in America as women voters take charge of the country’s future. This year, the realignment’s most significant impact may well be not only electing Joe Biden president, but creating a Democratic majority when the Senate convenes in January of 2021.
- In Egypt, for instance, women were a major player in the Arab Spring movement of 2010. As to Iraq, women benefitted from our prolonged occupation of that country (2003-2011) — an unintended consequence, but still.
- A 1991 film, Not Without My Daughter, after a book by the same name, is based on the true story of Mrs. Betty Mahmoody (Sally Field), an American citizen trapped in Iran because of her abusive husband. As an Islamic republic governed by sharia law, Betty cannot leave the country or make decisions concerning her daughter without her husband’s permission. The film is available for live streaming on Amazon Prime. (See also Without My Daughter, a 2002 documentary telling the husband’s side of the story.)
- Treatment of Women by the Taliban
- For a most revealing account of how the US invasion of Afghanistan could have come to an abrupt end, with immeasurable success to boot, see Democracy Now!, August 20 edition. Almost the entire hour is devoted to Spencer Ackerman’s recent book, Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump, delineating the Bush-Rumsfeld obstinancy. The Bush team could walk away with triumph and glory. They wanted more.
- “Defeat” is, of course, a relative term. In this context, it means that the Taliban no longer controlled any area of Afghanistan.
- See the timeline of the events, all in 2001. So much had happened in so short a time!
- “Status of Women in Post Taliban Afghanistan.”
- See the August 15 Reuters’ report on “Afghan women forced from banking jobs.”
- See, for instance, “Plight of Afghan women unveiled in Bonn,” November 28. For an alternative account, see the same-day article by Alan Bock, “Afghan Women and the Northern Alliance.”
- “The Symbolic Use Of Afghan Women In The War On Terror.” As it states in the abstract, th[is] article incorporates the insights of Afghan and US analysts, activists, and journalists, along with feminist theorists of Islam and the politics of representation, in order to problematize this characterization of a liberatory US military action. Without such critical analysis, the article argues that we run the risk of using Afghan women as symbols and pawns in a geopolitical conflict, thereby muting their diverse needs and interests and foreclosing the possibility of contributing to the realization of their self-defined priorities and aspirations. See also “What Will Happen to the Women and Girls of Afghanistan Now?” in Vogue (August 18)
- See Alex Bell’s “How Afghanistan and its women were betrayed by the west” in The Courier.co.uk (August 22). Also, see “WHAT ABOUT MY DREAMS?”: HOW THE US ABANDONED WOMEN IN AFGHANISTAN in Vanity Fair (August 17).
- “No, George W. Bush doesn’t deserve a pass on Afghanistan,” Salon (August 18).
- In a shameless display of incorrigible partisanship, Lawrence O’Donnell, the host of The Last Word on MSNBC, had devoted over ten minutes of his hour-long show to a senseless diatribe in a valiant effort to dissuade us from making any comparisons between the Vietnam- and Afghanistan experiences. Regardless of the facts of the matter, it’s as deplorable an attempt at whitewashing and shifting blame as it gets. MSNBC had truly revealed itself for what it is: a mouthpiece for the Biden administration, right or wrong!
- Biden’s excuse that he was bound to honor Trump’s deal with the Taliban concerning the May 2021 US withdrawal won’t fly. The deal was subject to several stipulations, among which Afghan negotiations with the Taliban were of critical importance. The talks never materialized.