The Rebel Girl: Liberated for Real?

Against the Current, No. 96, January/February 2002

Catherine Sameh

HAVE THE WOMEN of Afghanistan been liberated? Certainly, George and Laura Bush, and much of the U.S. media would like us to think so. The image of Afghan women tearing off their burqas has captured the imagination of U.S. media consumers and become a symbol of the fall of the oppressive rule of the Taliban.

Indeed, the fall of the Taliban at least weakens gender apartheid in Afghanistan. Women and girls are now allowed to attend school openly, women are now allowed back in the work force, and wearing the burqa is no longer mandatory.

In a historically unprecedented moment, with pressure from the UN and the international community, two women were recently chosen as part of the new transitional government in Afghanistan.

Sima Samer, a doctor who runs health centers for Afghan refugees in Pakistan, was elected minister for women’s affairs. Sahaila Seddiqi, a surgeon and former army general, will become minister for public health.

But as many human rights organizations, international journalists and observers have pointed out, the majority presence of the Northern Alliance in the new transitional government and their U.S.-backed rise to power pose grave threats to the genuine and lasting liberation of women and girls in Afghanistan.

Are we to so easily forget the Northern Alliance’s reign in the bloody civil war of 1992-1996 that left thousands of civilians brutally raped, tortured and killed? According to RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, an Afghanistan and Pakistan-based feminist group:

“Thousands of people who fled Kabul during the past two months were saying that they feared coming to power of the NA in Kabul much more than being scared by the U.S. bombing . . . The terrible news of looting and inhuman massacre of the captured Taliban or their foreign accomplices in Mazar-e-Sharif in past few days speaks for itself…

“The retreat of the terrorist Taliban from Kabul is a positive development, but entering of the rapist and looter NA in the city is nothing but a dreadful and shocking news for about two million residents of Kabul whose wounds of the years 1992-96 have not healed yet.”

Why should the women of Afghanistan exchange the freedom to remove the burqa and to reenter school and the work force for the fear of mass rape and looting by the criminal Northern Alliance, many of whom are also fundamentalist patriarchs?

And what about the one million Afghan widows of war who will struggle to feed themselves and their children under a Northern Alliance led government, just as they did under the Taliban? What kinds of jobs will be available in a country demolished by decades of war?

The situation of women in Afghanistan illustrates all too clearly that women’s liberation must go hand in hand with economic justice, a lasting end to war and U.S. imperialism, and a democratic political process that enforces the will of the people of Afghanistan.

If George and Laura Bush really care about the women of Afghanistan, they will demand that all terrorists, including those of the Northern Alliance, be brought to justice under international law, not a bombing campaign; and that a UN peacekeeping force position itself in Afghanistan to effectively support a just transition to a democratically elected government.

Our antiwar and global justice movement must demand the end to U.S. geopolitical hegemony in the Middle East, an oppressive cape of exploitation which shrouds women, men and children, and equally important to break out of as the burqa.

from ATC 96 (January/February 2002)