Earlier this year, I challenged the notion put forth by some feminists and human rights groups that a US military presence in Afghanistan is both justified and necessary in order to protect Afghan women and girls. I interviewed Kavita Ramdas, President of the Global Fund for Women, who discussed how the women of Afghanistan are hardly united on the need for the US military in their country, and many make a strong case that the war in Afghanistan and US occupation in fact exacerbates the plight of women.
The crucial question of how best to help Afghan women and girls is once again being raised within the peace movement and the media. The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF)–an invaluable organization dedicated to women’s equality, reproductive health, and non-violence– has made the decision to essentially support the Obama administration’s escalation as necessary in order to protect women and girls from the Taliban and enable a “significant redevelopment effort.” (Coincidentally, columnist Tom Friedman, who has opposed escalation, is also rethinking his position based on the idea that our presence will create greater opportunities and protection for women and girls.)
While I admire FMF for much of its work, including its fight against the oppression of Afghan women and girls since 1996–and I acknowledge that these are complex and emotional issues–I disagree with the organization’s position here. I also take issue with an op-ed by FMF president Eleanor Smeal and board member Helen Cho that characterizes those who advocate for a US withdrawal as wanting to “just walk away”, or “abandon the women and girls of Afghanistan.” These criticisms are reminiscent of the “cut and run” accusations against a peace and justice movement that wisely opposed the disastrous occupation of Iraq (and FMF was a part of that movement).
In fact, a planned withdrawal doesn’t at all mean ending a US role in the security and reconstruction of Afghanistan. It means ramping up wiser alternatives that should have been embraced post-9/11 in the fight against terrorist organizations: intelligence cooperation, expert police work, smart diplomacy, targeted aid (including maternal health care, education, and reconstruction funds), and a regional, negotiated settlement that involves Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, China, Russia, and Iran. It means international-led peacekeeping forces. In no way whatsoever is this approach tantamount to abandoning the Afghan people or just walking away from them.