Abuse of women on the rise since start of war, claim critics
US media reports are warning that the plight of Afghan women will worsen at the hands of the Taliban after foreign troops withdraw but critics of the occupation say brutalities against women have actually risen under the US occupation since 2001.
The provocative photo showing the mutilated face of 18-year-old Aisha on this week’s TIME magazine cover with the headline “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan” illustrates the current plight of Afghan women at the hands of the Taliban.
The young Afghan woman’s nose and ears were mutilated on the orders of a Taliban commander after she escaped her abusive husband’s home in 2009.
TIME’s managing editor Richard Stengel wrote that he was acutely aware of the photograph’s shock impact but that he deemed it necessary to “confront readers with the reality” of the Taliban’s brutal treatment of women.
Similarly, a New York Times article published on July 30 described how Afghan women’s precarious rights in Afghanistan have begun seeping away.
Several writers and bloggers have, however, slammed TIME’s cover headline as pure war propaganda, pointing to the fact that such abuses would likely continue whether foreign troops stay or leave Afghanistan.
“A correct and accurate caption would be ‘What Is Still Happening, Even Though We Are in Afghanistan’. We invaded Afghanistan to fight the Taliban in 2001. This young woman's nose and ears were cut off by the Taliban in 2009,” wrote Slate’s Tom Scocca.
Malalai Joya, a leading Afghan activist for women's rights and politican who featured among Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2010, spoke out against what she calls the manipulation of public opinion over the plight of Afghan women.
In an interview with FRANCE 24, she criticised TIME’s cover as another “false slogan” to justify the war and argued that brutal crimes against women have actually been on the rise during the nine years of US occupation.
“During the Taliban’s regime such atrocities weren’t as rife as it is now and the graph is hiking each day. Eighteen-year-old Aisha is just an example and cutting ears, noses and toes, torturing and even slaughtering is a norm in Afghanistan,” Joya said.
Human rights group Amnesty International stated in a March 2010 report that more than 87 percent of Afghan women suffer from domestic abuse and between 60 and 80 percent of marriages are forced. This is despite a pledge from the Afghan government to protect women’s rights and promote gender equality in Afghanistan, according to the report.
Malalai Joya said she would be “very happy” to see foreign troops leave. “Currently, Afghan people especially women are squashed between three enemies: Taliban, fundamentalist warlords and troops. If the foreign enemy leaves the Afghan grounds my people would face two internal enemies.
“The US used the plight of Afghan women as an excuse to occupy Afghanistan in 2001 by filling television screens, Internet pages and newspapers with pictures of women being shot down or beaten up in public. Once again, it is moulding the oppression on women into a propaganda tool to gain support and staining their hands with ever-deepening treason against Afghan women,” Joya added.
The TIME report comes on the heels of a massive leak of US intelligence secret files by whistleblower website Wikileaks, that dealt yet another blow to Washington's efforts to maintain public support for the war. A less publicised leak by the same website in March 2010 exposed a confidential CIA document urging the use of abused Afghan women to shore up support for the war.
“Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanising the ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] role in combating the Taliban because of women’s ability to speak personally and credibly about their experiences under the Taliban, their aspirations for the future, and their fears for a Taliban victory," read the memo.