When nations fail to protect their women, not allowing them to take on a full role in the everyday life of society, the nations themselves fail, according to a recent story by The Economist, comparing examples from Afghanistan under the Taliban and then after the US invasion in 2001, when women’s rights were restored.
Afghanistan faces a human rights crisis of enormous proportions as a generation of females grew up in relative safety and freedom, attending schools all the way through university and taking on roles in the Parliament and in the business world of Afghanistan.
Now, all that has been thrown into question as females are separated from males in universities and some militants openly call for females to remain at home at all times.
Female enrollment in school rocketed from 0% to 80% after Western takeover
No one in Afghanistan under the age of 20 remembers the horrors of the first Taliban rule of the country, when women were hounded in public by the religious police, sometimes being beaten with switches for supposed infractions of the religious law that was the law of the country at that time.
But after the US and its allies invaded the country in 2001, destroying the al Qaeda bases where the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks were planned, the Taliban was out of power, retreating to the edges of society.
Women were once again free to attend school, walk down the street without male relatives accompanying them, and work where they wished.
As the Economist states, “primary-school enrollment of Afghan girls rose from 0% to above 80%. Infant mortality fell by half. Forced marriage was made illegal… no one seriously doubts that Afghan women and girls have made great gains in the past 20 years, or that those gains are now in jeopardy.”
Malala Yousafzai urges no compromises regarding treatment of Afghan women’s rights
On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last week, human rights activist Malala Yousafzai spoke to the press about the dangers facing women in Afghanistan and elsewhere when they are marginalized, and what happens when their insights and skills are removed from a society.
During a panel discussion, Yousafzai said she is concerned that the Taliban will indeed once again interfere with educational and employment opportunities for Afghan women.
“We cannot make compromises on the protection of women’s rights and the protection of human dignity,” Yousafzai said last Friday.
According to a report from Reuters, the Pakistani woman, who was once shot in the head by Ehsanullah Ehsan, the former Pakistan Taliban spokesman, in 2012 for her campaign to educate girls, added that world leaders must stick by their commitments to ensure protection for Afghan women’s rights as the dark days of old loom once again in the country.
UN Secretary General says time to press Taliban
For his part, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that it is time to press the Taliban on women’s rights issues since the insurgent group has openly stated that it wants more global recognition than it had received in the past. As of now, no nation on the globe has recognized the new Taliban government.
However, the UN General Assembly ending on Monday afternoon without any remarks from any representatives from Afghanistan as the former Afghan government and the Taliban are disputing who should represent the country on the international stage.
Afghanistan’s current ambassador to the UN, Ghulam Isaczai, who was appointed by ousted President Ashraf Ghani, had been scheduled to deliver the final address to world leaders at the General Assembly today.
However, he was not listed on the schedule, according to a report from the Associated Press.
Isaczai has requested that his accreditation to the international body be renewed but the Taliban has appointed Suhail Shaheen, its spokesperson who is based in Qatar, to be the country’s new ambassador to the UN.
US maintains it is “committed to advancing gender equality” in Afghanistan
A former assistant secretary-general for Legal Affairs at the UN, Larry D Johnson, told interviewers from the international affairs forum Just Security which organizational criteria could theoretically be used to block the Taliban from representing Afghanistan.
The group’s leaders have repeatedly stated that they have changed their position regarding the role women play in society, although last week, the Taliban opened a high school for boys only.
The US State Department assured the world after the Taliban’s lightning-fast retaking of the country in August that the US is “committed to advancing gender equality” through implementation of its foreign policy.
But this may be so much lip service in a country that hangs the bodies of criminals from cranes as a way to terrorize its own people. As has been seen any number of times in the past, societies that oppress women and treat them as chattel are far more likely to be violent and unstable, leading many times to a failed state.
Traditional practices marginalizing women lead to societal dysfunction, unrest
Where females are so devalued that they are selectively aborted or intentionally neglected, there are at the very least unnatural sex ratios, dooming millions of young men to a single life without progeny.
Frustrated young men are more likely to commit violent crimes or join groups that are rebelling against the system.
Polygamy always creates surplus of single young men since multiple wives for the wealthiest, most powerful men makes for a number of disgruntled bachelors for those at the bottom of the pecking order.
Kashmir, the state in northern India, may be a case in point. With one of the most unnaturally skewed sex ratios in the country, it may only stand to reason that it is perennially unsettled politically. Nor should it come as a surprise that of all of the 20 most turbulent countries on the “Index of Fragile States” compiled by the Fund for Peace, polygamy is the norm.
In the nation of Guinea, for example, where a coup recently took place, 42% of married women are in polygamous unions.
Of course, the ultimate example of this would be China, where its police state ensures that any possible disruption of the status quo is tamped down instantly.
Bride price, early marriage, lead to lack of education, downward societal spiral
Outside western-style democracies, the male kinship group is still the basic unit of many societies, leading to clan-based feuding and infighting. Such states frequently become corrupt, which enables widespread support for jihadists who promise to clean out the stables.
Such societies often still practice the concept of “bride price” with the groom’s family paying exorbitant sums to the bride’s family. This not only objectifies women as chattel but also crucially gives an incentive for early marriage.
As still practiced in approximately 50% of the countries of the world, this leads to one fifth of the young women on the globe being married before adulthood. One twentieth of them are wed before the age of 15. Such teenage brides are much more likely to drop out of school, less likely to be able to be able to deal with abusive husbands and less likely to raise well-educated off spring.
Researchers from Texas A & M and Brigham Young universities recently created an index of countries in which such problematic situations existed for females. In addition to the previously mentioned practices, other situations in these nations included unequal property rights for men and women, the relocating of females to the cities of their new inlaws, and and legal indulgence of violence against women, for example, when rapists escape punishment by marrying their victims.
The index showed overwhelmingly that all these practices were correlative with violent instability in a country.
Those who would claim to be nation builders would do well to look at the ingrained practices and attitudes within societies historically, especially in places like Afghanistan. Looking at the data broadly, it also begs the question of what nations such as China, Saudi Arabia and India might be like if there was not a lid on societal instability.
The nation of Liberia learned to its benefit that females are more likely to try to find common ground; the ceasefire that reigns there has clearly worked.
They will only be able to function at this high level of society if they are allowed to stay in school and to move up through the ranks in business and academia.
This is no time to be naive, The Economist notes, with much of the gains made by foreign governments and NGOs about to be annulled by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Policymakers who do not address the needs and inherent rights of half the world’s population cannot hope to understand the world, or help its nations to overcome their many challenges.