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Women in Afghanistan experienced different ups and downs before the United States invasion, during the war, and even after the war. Before the American invasion, Afghanistan as a country went through a number of transitions that drastically impacted on the quality of life of Afghan women with regards to health, education, jobs/ career, and family life.
Before the war, women in Afghanistan lived a life of discrimination and no equality. They could hardly access resources equally as their male counterparts. During the war, the women experienced a lot of challenges that are commonly related to war e.g. hunger and strive. Most of them were forced into exile and lived without their male relatives who were involved in the war. Currently, even after the end of the war, it is very hard to believe that life has become any better for the Afghan women. Women are still unable to compete for the few opportunities that are available after the war. For this reason, it is not wrong to say that, the quality of life for Afghan women has not become any better as a result of the American invasion and occupation.
Quality of Life of Women in Afghanistan before the war
Before the Russian invasion of the 1979, life for women was determined by the environment under which they existed. In urban areas, girls managed to access education and in fact, many even went to college (Skaine 16). Most of them did not wear the chadari that was designed to completely cover the woman's body. Arranged marriages were the order of the day and not the exception. In rural areas it was only the boys who managed to benefit from education. The women lived in seclusion unless they were working in the fields. Still, their work was long and hard simply because they also had to care for their children and the home (Skaine 16).
It was unfortunate that, during this time in Afghanistan the leftist group that was in power had promised full equality for women, but in reality they actually provided nothing. The women were visible in Kabul, but had no real decision making or even power sharing roles. In 1978, after the overthrowing of president Daoud, Afghanistan became a democratic regime. They elected Nur Mohammad Taraki as the chairman of the Revolutionary Council and president as well as prime minister. This still, did not mean any change for women as, President Taraki was a conservationist who believed that, the women's place was in the home and in fact, counted none of them as his followers (Skaine 16).
After the death of President Taraki, President Amin was elected and later eliminated by the Soviet Union for trying to normalize relations with the United States (Skaine 17). The Women Democratic Organization of Afghanistan was the only women's group that supported the Russian invasion. This was the point when the women and men were declared equal in all economic, political, cultural, social and civil aspects. In fact, the first woman to become a doctor in Afghanistan, DR. Anahita Ratebzad won a seat in parliament. When the soviets took over completely, they instituted changes in the status of women that, advocated the liberation of women (Kedourie 2).
This campaign looked like a direct and open attack on the Afghan culture especially among the men. The men felt like the new marriage regulation together with the compulsory education for girls rule raised the threat of women refusing to obey and submit to their families, and more so, the male authority (Weiner & Banuazizi 86).
These incidences led to some relative amount of rebellion among the locals whose objections were a product of male chauvinism. Others felt that, educating women brought about dishonor to the women themselves and the household, the simple reason being that, women were not in purdah. Others who made objections simply felt that these policies were simply unbearable interference in domestic life (Kedourie 5).
The dissent expressed by the Afghans over the total disdain for their values unfortunately, led to the bombing of civilians. Most of the times, this included attacks on mud-brick housing occupied only by women and children. As a result, this led many Afghan women to flee without their male relatives. Skaine (19), profiles the story of one woman known as Nooria Jehan. Jehan participated in the Jihad war where two of her seven children were killed. This woman fought because she felt the Russians came to play with the dignity of women. For this reason they were convinced that, they had to protect themselves and their children since, to them dignity meant all things rooted in her country, land and property rights, children, education, economy and military resources. At some point when she was approached to join the military, she declined since she was not comfortable killing people, but instead, she learned explosive techniques and taught other men. She was later captured by the Russians, and sentenced to eighteen years in prison for being a leader. In 1980, The Revolution Association of the Women of Afghanistan resisted the Soviet occupation, and from here more women joined the struggle (Weiner & Banuazizi 86).
Years after the communist coup that overthrew the Afghan Republic, the basic human rights of women in Afghanistan were still being violated. As a result of the divisions, conflict remained unresolved thus, leaving the victims exposed to multiple abuses. When the Taliban gained dominance, many freedoms for men and women alike came to a halt. However, freedoms of formal education, work outside the home, freedom of movement, and healthcare ceased primarily for the women. Taliban basically meant seekers of wisdom, who out in search of their version of a true Islamic state. Their description of such a state was one where, an adultery could be stoned to death as ell as where women were forbidden to work outside the home (Skaine 22).
During the Taliban regime, the reforms of the male dominated political government had granted the women in the early 20th century allowing them to vote, travel, and seek education were also taken away (Skaine 23). Life for afghan women was one of inferiority and one that discriminated right from birth. Since the male child was the most preferred, he inherited the properties and carried on the family name. Women were bought and sold, and their virginity was the only symbol of honor. In most cases, a woman who did not remain a virgin until marriage was considered scandalous and subjected to death by her family. In general, women were subjected to strict social traditions that forbid them to talk with strangers, and even separated them from the men at such events as funerals and in public transportation (Skaine 24).
Women's involvement outside the home was seen as something that weakened the tradition that women are the heart of the family. This was so because, the honor and status of the family was considered to lie with the women who were controlled and protected by the men. The Afghan society for along time was consistent in its innate belief in male superiority that, gave the men the prerogative to determine the dos and don'ts for women in their society. The Taliban regime aggressively reinforced these patriarchic norms that were wrapped in the mantle of Islam. This was unfortunate since, the Taliban interpretation of Islam was viewed as extreme, harsh, and unacceptable. As the struggle for liberation continued, the increase of widowhood that had begun during the Soviet occupation continued. Since all the women were to be protected by a male family member, widows no longer had the right to employment, benefits or guarantees of security. Still, they had to support their families hence the lives of the widows became unbearable (Skaine 26).
Quality of Life of Women in Afghanistan during the war
The high levels of lawlessness that was promoted by the Taliban made Afghanistan a hub of terrorists. The September 11th bombing in the US was to mark the beginning of a different course for Afghanistan. After evidence was made clear that al-Qaeda used Afghanistan as a base of operations, and the Afghan government refused to aid in the apprehension of the culprits who had been part of the attacks on the United States, the US supported by the world invaded Afghanistan in 2002. The US government in an attempt to aid its attacks secured a military base in Turkmenistan and in the same year deployed troupes to Pakistan (Rostami 41).
It is important to mention that, the American led invasion of Afghanistan was not about peace, security, health, and development or women's liberation and democracy. The alliance was aimed at rationalizing a system of governance in Afghanistan to facilitate the West's desire to control Central Asia (Rostami 41). During the period of the war, one of the major issues of concern was the abuse of women's rights. There were claims of terrorists and the Taliban pulling out women's fingernails for wearing nail polish.
The situation in Afghanistan during the war was pathetic; women were being killed, losing their family members and homes as a result of the liberation bombing carried out by the American forces. One Afghan woman going by the name of Nurgessa, in the process of roaming the deserted streets of Kandahar while accompanied by her son mentioned of an incidence where her home was bombed by the American military forces. She woke up that morning to the sights of her husband shattered into pieces, and if that was not enough, her other two sons' heads were also blown away. She ended up homeless, widowed, and helpless as she had lost the bread winner of her family.
A lot of women just like Nurgessa were left widowed and helpless, and it took a very long time before they could access help from the American rescue missions. The American government continued to make claims that they were liberating the Afghan women who were no longer imprisoned in their homes. It must be noted that, the fight against terrorism was not only fight against terrorist acts, but also a fight for the dignity and rights of women. This indeed, was something that this war was failing on so badly (Rostami 41).
The so called fight against terrorism and liberation of women as mentioned by Laura Bush proved to be hollow dream that turned into a nightmare more terrifying as the war continued. It created social ills and infested Afghan society beyond repair. It made the access to basic effects such as healthcare and education quite inaccessible. With the rare access to clean water and food, women and their children who were left behind by their husbands and sons, were exposed to dangerous health conditions. This was made even worse by the destruction and inaccessibility of most heath facilities during this moment (Rostami 44).
Poverty and unequal access to resources was often the heart of women's neglect and abuse as evident in a war economy. Resources such as food and medical materials were often withheld and directed to male soldiers. As a result, there was a high level of malnutrition, hunger, and hunger related diseases that affected the women population.
A survey carried out by the organization popularly referred to as the Physicians for Human Rights showed that, only 20% of the women population both in Kabul and in refugee camps in Pakistan who were employed, were the only ones still employed (Rostami 44).
During the period of the war, most children and even adults were out of school and colleges as a result of the unrest. Security issues made it impossible for many of the girls and young women to leave their homes or camps. This is because they were not equipped effectively as their male counterparts with weapons and war materials to defend themselves. Still they were not also equipped elaborately with information that would enable them to survive in environments of war. For this reason their movements were limited (Rostami 45).
Quality of Life of Women in Afghanistan after the war
A week after the Afghan elections in 2004, the then American first lady Laura Bush mentioned a very long list of offences that were committed against the Afghan women under the Taliban. She went ahead to specifically emphasize the progress that the Afghan women made and continue to make within a newly democratic Afghanistan. In fact, she travelled the following year to Afghanistan, spending a couple of hours announcing that she felt great pride seeing courageous women across the country take on leadership roles as students, teachers, doctors, community leaders, judges, ministers and governors. The rhetoric against the Taliban's abuse of Afghan women before the American led invasion made the Feminist Majority's Eleanor Smeal and the then administration into strange bedfellows. The popular image of fully veiled women was evidence to the fact that the war had far reaching devastating effects (Neugebauer 13).
The war in Afghanistan is now over and although, there have been limited improvements for women in Kabul; conditions for women throughout the country still remain grim. The quality of life for Afghan women with regards to health, education, jobs/ career, and family life is still poor.
Competing warlords vying for power and control, the sectarian and tribal rule, disintegration of national authority, and the mobility and strength of criminal gangs have made conditions far less secure for the women in Afghanistan (Mghir & Raskin 29). Women and girls are being subjected to social ills such as rape, beatings, kidnappings and other kinds of intimidation that prevents them from attending school and jobs. They are even finding it hard to register to vote and go about their daily activities without worrying (Neugebauer 13).
Comparison of the three time periods
It is very difficult to support the idea that, the American led invasion, and occupation, has enhanced the quality of life for women in Afghanistan. This is evident of the fact that, quality of life after the war has not changed much as compared to the period before and during the war. Just like before, even after the war women and girls are still being subjected to social ills such as rape, beatings, kidnappings and other kinds of intimidation that prevents them from attending school and jobs. Women's rights are still being violated and are denied equal opportunities in all aspects e.g. social, economical, physical, social and civil. Current, they are still finding it hard to register to vote and go about their daily activities without worrying. This is as a result of the sectarian and tribal rule, disintegration of national authority, and the mobility and strength of criminal gangs which make conditions far less secure for the women in Afghanistan.
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It would be wrong for anyone to say that, the quality of life for Afghan women has become any better as a result of the American invasion and occupation. Before the war, women in Afghanistan lived a life of discrimination and no equality. They could hardly access resources equally as their male counterparts. During the war, the women experienced a lot of challenges that are usually related with war e.g. hunger and strive. Most of them were forced into exile and lived without their male relatives who were involved in the war. Currently, even after the end of the war, it is very hard to believe that life has become any better for the Afghan women. Women are still unable to compete for the few opportunities that are available after the war. A lot more has to be done now economically and socially in order to change the current situation for the better.