What’s Happening in Afghanistan Threatens Women Everywhere. It’s Time for a Global Response to Violence Against Women | Najla Ayoubi
The news that comes out of Afghanistan is difficult to hear. We know that women are systematically targeted: judges, television station employees, journalists. But then, these particular assassinations happened in January, March and June. The Taliban took over in August.
My point is that Afghan women were already high-risk. Which means it’s difficult to overstate just how dangerous life has become for the country’s 18+ million women and girls. Desperate families are selling daughters into marriage. Any perceived slight, no matter how absurd, is life-threatening: a mother of four, with no food in the house, was beaten to death after telling Taliban fighters that she couldn’t cook for them; afterwards, a grenade was thrown into her children’s home.
Assassinations continue — former police women, women human rights defenders — only now, with even greater impunity. Many families, I hear from colleagues in the activist underground, are hiding the assassinations of loved ones. Sometimes out of fear of reprisal, other times because of cultural pressure to conform, keep quiet, or feel shame that a female relative refused to be less-than.
We have no way of knowing for certain how dire conditions are. What we do know is that violence against women will get worse. Prohibited from working, women will become even more economically dependent on men. This dependence is a universal risk factor for domestic violence, making any woman more vulnerable to abuse — let alone one whose freedom of movement is severely restricted, whose full humanity is openly denied by those in power.
Long before August, and certainly since, there have been concerns about what a ‘fallen’ Afghanistan means for the region’s security. It’s easy to understand that one unstable nation is a risk to others. But for some reason, it’s harder (for some) to understand that when one group of women loses their rights, all women are at risk.
We don’t need to look any further than the United States to see how this works. The minute a Texas legislature restricted its residents’ reproductive rights, all American women became vulnerable. In the hours, days and weeks that followed, dozens of other states proudly broadcasted their plans to enact similar laws. It only ever takes one.
Soon after the Taliban took Kabul, a colleague in civil society from the region told me, the Taliban flag was seen raised in Indonesia. Throughout Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, religious zealots were celebrating. In some (accepted, so-called moderate) popular discourse we even heard: let’s give the Taliban a chance, let’s wait and see what they do.
We can’t know in how many places, or how fervently, the Taliban’s gain — and Afghan women’s loss — was welcomed as validation, or permission to practice a backwards belief system. How many felt they were witnessing a promising sign for the future? We can be sure that Taliban sympathizers who once fled Afghanistan to settle in new countries brought their ideas with them. But of course it’s a mistake to paint the Taliban as the only villain in this story. The truth is much scarier, and much more daunting.
See, Afghan women are connected to our sisters in Texas. My Russian colleagues, forced to work behind armored windows, are connected to our sisters in Turkey, who speak out even though it might kill them. From El Salvador to South Africa, France to the Philippines and every country in between, there are women, connected by struggle.
How can we — all of us — finally break free of it?
We’ve been battling a global crisis. It’s past time for a global response. This September, President Buhari of Nigeria became the first sitting president to call for a global treaty to end violence against women and girls.
Every Woman Treaty is campaigning for exactly this solution. Informed by seven years of research and consultation with activists, lawyers, physicians and other frontline responders, the organization has developed a comprehensive, evidence-based strategy to end violence against women. This approach can serve as a framework for a historic, legally-binding international treaty.
We know, conclusively, that violence against women is pervasive. It can’t be contained by borders, religion or culture. Establishing a global norm is our best chance to protect all women and girls. What’s needed now is for a critical mass of nations to sign on, and finally demonstrate the values so many claim to hold.