Obama’s Afghanistan Speech: What about the Women? (updated)
When US President Barack Obama spoke on Tuesday night about “The Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan” he used the word “women” five times:
- To the United States Corps of Cadets, to the men and women of our armed services, and to my fellow Americans: I want to speak to you tonight about our effort in Afghanistan.
- West Point – where so many men and women have prepared to stand up for our security
- They [the 9/11 hijackers] took the lives of innocent men, women, and children without regard to their faith or race or station.
- the character of our men and women in uniform
- the men and women in uniform who are part of an unbroken line of sacrifice that has made government of the people, by the people, and for the people a reality on this Earth
In each case, the women referred to were American women, in all but one soldiers. The women of Afghanistan, the nation where Obama is planning to send an even greater number of troops, were not mentioned. They were invisible.
There is one positive aspect to this: it means that, at least in this speech, women’s rights are not being used as an excuse for war. On the other hand, it also suggests that these women are being ignored in the plans for war and after. Will anything be done, as part of the escalation, to provide assistance to women who, in the midst of war, suffer also from domestic violence? Last year, the US State Department honored Suraya Pakzad with its International Women of Courage Award, but what will be done now as more US soldiers enter Afghanistan, to support her work running shelters for abused women and girls?In his speech, Obama referred to the current government as legitimately elected, eliding over complaints of irregularities. He ignores, too, that this is the same government that passed a law legalising marital rape despite the brave protests of the women of Afghanistan. The results of these protests? Sara Nichols writes
Karzai agreed to listen to the women and form a commission to revise the law. No woman was on the commission and no woman has been allowed to see the results.
Clearly, the women of Afghanistan were not liberated when their oppression was used to justify military actions in their country. Ignoring women will not make things any better. As Alicia Simoni wrote in May:
As the world increasingly engages in Afghanistan and Pakistan we should advocate for real change by supporting alternatives to violent militarized/militant aggression and ensuring that women are enabled to negotiate the terms of their own existence.
The women of Afghanistan and their needs as they themselves express them rather than as we in the West may imagine them to be must become central in the discussion of Afghanistan if their situation is to change for the better.
Edited to Add: On a related note, be sure to read Frau Sally Benz’s excellent post at Feministe, The Afghan Women Tug of War.
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