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The women's movement and the U.S. war in Afghanistan

By Minnie Bruce Pratt

A group of leaders of women's rights organizations took out an ad in the New York Times May 24 that urged President George W. Bush to "expand the size and scope of peacekeeping [sic] forces in Afghanistan." Their reason? That this U.S. intervention would the lives and secure the future of Afghan women."

Signers included Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, Gloria Steinem of Ms. magazine, Jane Fonda--once a staunch opponent of the Vietnam War--and Robin Morgan, editor of the germinal anthology of Second Wave feminism, "Sisterhood Is Powerful."

In a letter to Bush, they stated that "unlike most wars, U.S. women supported the war [on Afghanistan] ... because they believed your promises that it would liberate Afghan women from abuse and oppression." They are disappointed because, in their view, Bush should intervene more, not less, in Afghanistan.

However, many women do not believe the war propaganda that promises U.S. troops will bring women's liberation, in Afghanistan or anywhere, especially since the Bush administration has in fact been waging both a domestic and an international war on women.

One of the first acts of the Bush administration was to try to bar U.S. funds from international family planning organizations that even mentioned abortion as an alternative. Before becoming U.S. attorney general, John Ashcroft, as a U.S. senator from Missouri, supported the deceptively named "Infant's Protection Bill." That piece of legislation "was the most egregious assault on reproductive rights of any of them--even going so far as giving a defense to those who might engage in violence," said Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League. "It was an extraordinary bill. And Ashcroft supported it fully." (Salon, Jan. 18, 2001)

In other words, the attorney general who now wholeheartedly supports a massive military expansion, in the name of fighting "terror," supported terror against women's clinic workers.

Another law he favored would penalize abortion providers and their patients with life imprisonment.

Despite the pretense that being anti-abortion is to be pro-child, this administration has no concern for mothers or children. It has wiped out whole villages in Afghanistan while attempting to cut funds for WIC food supplement programs in the U.S.

U.S. toppled pro-woman government

In fact, the U.S. engineered the overthrow of the only government in Afghanistan that worked for the liberation of all women--not just of a privileged few. In 1978, a revolutionary government led by a young socialist movement, the Progressive Democratic Party of Afghanistan, abolished the bride price so women could be free to choose their marriages, prohibited the punishment of women for losing their virginity before marriage, and trained women of all classes, not just the elite, as doctors, teachers and lawyers. In this move ment, a wide spectrum of Afghan women were fighting for and winning their own liberation, as part of larger social change.

The U.S. began funding a massive counter-revolutionary army of religious fundamentalists in 1979. After six months of defending itself from this covert assault, the Afghan government called for Soviet assistance. But it did not survive the CIA-orchestrated war, which lasted more than 10 years as the Taliban, the Northern Alliance and other factions, all of which drew their power from the feudal landlord class, fought for supremacy--which they are continuing to do under the shield of the U.S.

This situation--which the ad signers refer to as greatly endangering women with "rapes, lootings, beatings, kidnappings"--will not be remedied by more U.S. intervention, directly or through so-called "peace keeping forces" of the UN. When has an imperialist army not brought with it rape and crimes against women?

In the aftermath of the U.S. bombing war on Yugoslavia, for instance, the sex-slave traffic in East European women accelerated into a major problem in Kosovo. An April 24, 2000, Washington Post article described a situation where "porous borders, the presence of international troops and aid workers, and the lack of a working criminal-justice system" created "almost perfect conditions for the trade." The article continued, "The first case of sex-slave trafficking came to light--four months after NATO-led peacekeepers entered the province."

So much for imperialist troops "protecting women."

Even U.S. newspapers like the Washington Post admitted that the strongest supporters of the 1978 Afghan revolution were women. Liberation for all women, the poorest and the illiterate, could happen only with a change in property relations and land ownership. U.S. intervention interrupted this revolutionary process.

Can the U.S. feminists who signed the letter to Bush really think they are advancing the cause of women's rights? By aligning themselves with a U.S. government that has unrelentingly bombed the men, women, and children of Afghanistan for nine months? By implying that women's rights is something that must be exported into Afghanistan at the end of an imperialist gun barrel?

These women do not represent women's liberation. Instead, that spirit lives on in pro-women organizations that are also against imperialist war. Groups like Boston Women's Fightback Network (www.iacboston.org). They say, "Money for food, childcare, jobs, hospitals, schools, parks--for welfare, WIC, Section 8, youth services, recovery programs and AIDS funding." They hold high signs reading, "No racist war!" Their chant is "Housing and health care! Not warfare!"

Reprinted from the June 20, 2002, issue of Workers World newspaper

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