Here’s the latest news about women’s rights from Afghanistan and it’s worse than bad.
According to a new law passed by the Afghan parliament, if a woman or child is tortured, for example if the torturer pulled out her fingernails, chopped off her nose, sank an axe into her head, or shot her in the back—actual attacks on Women for Afghan Women clients—the victim cannot testify against him (or her) if he is her relative.
Nor can witnesses of these barbaric acts testify if he is their relative. Nor can doctors who treated these victims testify. Nor can a child whose father sold her to some man (or forced her to marry someone 45 years older than herself) testify against her father.
Please do not conclude from this that Afghanistan is a country of barbarians, and we should get out tomorrow. The real story is something very different.
It’s that progress on women’s rights has taken place in Afghanistan. It has taken place in a very short time given the odds against it. For example, WAW operates 28 facilities for women and children (including 10 shelters and 4 halfway houses) in 10 provinces.
It’s that this progress has taken place because the people want it. They beg us to open these facilities. If we had the money, we could open 10 more tomorrow.
It’s that as soon as there’s help for them, women and their families in crisis (sometimes even the assailants of women) come to us for help — almost 10,000 since the first facility opened.
It’s that schools for millions of girls have opened and that families are angry and discouraged that there isn’t a school in a safe place for their daughters.
It’s that this rollback on women’s rights is occurring now because of the impending troop withdrawal. President Karzai and members of the Afghan parliament are telegraphing the Taliban, who are waiting to assume power: “Hey, we never wanted this progress. We’re taking it back. The women of Afghanistan, half the population, are yours to subjugate. We’re smoothing your road to power, plowing it of obstructions—shelters, family guidance centers, halfway houses. Just give us a piece of the pie.
In other words, whether Karzai signs this loathsome law or not is irrelevant. Its very existence is one more indication of his willingness to appease the Taliban by selling Afghan women down the river.
Above all, it’s that this story has been kept from Americans by an avalanche of negative news, especially corruption in the Afghan government and an unstable president. That news has nothing to do with the people themselves, who have different desires—such as an honest and transparent government that is sensitive to their needs.
It has also been kept from Americans by an administration bent on fulfilling a campaign promise even though events of the past six years, especially the progress that has taken place in Afghanistan, have made that promise obsolete.
Women for Afghan Women is writing this appeal directly to the American people and the U.S. government.
Negotiating with the Taliban really means approving this law and worse. It means abandoning the women of Afghanistan. The Taliban will not honor any agreement they sign. They need to subjugate women to hold the country.
Punishing Karzai by withdrawing all forces now will make him look like a hero to those clinging to power by any means possible but not to the majority of Afghan people.
All the warning signs are there. Closing our eyes to them is dangerous and morally indefensible.
If we do not take a stand against this law now and rethink our policy in Afghanistan, we will be complicit in all future attacks on individual women and girls and on all the women of Afghanistan. We will have blood on our hands.
The Afghan people are terrified, especially the women. So is Women for Afghan Women.
Manizha Naderi is executive director of Women for Afghan Women