Leaving Afghan Women In The Lurch

By Kerry Healey

Oct. 27, 2010

America and our NATO allies are facing a defining moral issue in the war in Afghanistan -- one by which history will judge us. 

Ironically, the largest moral challenges on the world stage—such as the rise of Nazism or, more recently, the genocide in Rwanda—sometimes escape the clear focus of our contemporary eyes because they are either too politically inconvenient or simply beyond our imagination.  Horrors that would stir public outrage if they were to occur next door pass unnoticed when they happen to people we don’t know in a country few could find on a map. 

The Coalition forces in Afghanistan are at just such a juncture -- one which is testing both our leaders’ and the public’s willingness to sacrifice our own soldiers lives for abstract ideals like human rights and constitutional democracy in a harsh place well beyond our easy view or comprehension.  Reports about rebellious teen brides with their noses and ears cut off by the Taliban, or pregnant widows being flogged and shot in the head, only seem to intensify our sense of alienation.  Many reasonable people say we have no role in such a distant and ungovernable place.

But right now, the lives of Afghan women and girls—and their very right to be treated as humans—is in danger of becoming a bargaining chip to achieve a so-called “political solution” with the Taliban in order to expedite withdrawal.  Alongside the geo-political strategic wisdom of a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan, there is an undeniable human cost to that policy that should be discussed and weighed.

By promising a commitment to constitutional democracy and legal equality, we’ve raised the hopes of all Afghan women. Many brave Afghan women have staked their lives on this promise, participating in government, attending school, working as teachers, translators, midwives, police officers, lawyers, judges, entrepreneurs and human rights activists.  These women are willing to risk their lives daily in order to exercise the new rights they have been given. 

These incredible women are the Rosa Parks and Ruby Bridges of Afghanistan—quietly asserting their legal rights despite death threats and an uncertain future.  They embraced our dream of democracy and equality, and expected us to be there beside them, supporting their struggle.  Now we have to open our eyes to the modern history that is being written.   Do we, as a nation, want to be remembered as present-day Chamberlains or as Freedom Riders?

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