Jul 312010

Before you read this, read this and this if you haven’t.  So first there was the highly objectionable heartstring wrenching piece in TIME on Afghan women, then there is the Wikileaks copy of a CIA document suggesting that Afghan women be used to drum up support for the war, and then we have this piece from the New York Times titled, “Afghan Women Fear the Loss of Modest Gains”.

In a piece that, like the TIME piece is exceptionally devoid of any discussion about the negative aspects of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, the concluding line, quoting an instructor at a girls’ school, sounds like a soundbite from the CIA memo, ““Please,” she pleaded. “Carry our words to people.”

It would appear that we have a trend going here, and not a good one.


And yet another piece  from McClatchy, Mullah Omar Orders Taliban Commanders to Target Afghan Women,

Release of the directives comes as Afghan and U.S.-led forces are preparing for a looming new military confrontation with insurgents in the Taliban’s spiritual heartland of Kandahar province.

What convenient timing.  Coincidence? In a one week time span, not hardly.

 July 31, 2010  Posted by on July 31, 2010 1 Response »
Jul 312010

The August 9th issue of Time Magazine, with a cover picture of a an Afghan woman, horribly disfigured last year because of the Taliban, is meant to pull at American heartstrings as it asks what will happen to Afghan women if the U.S. withdraws from the country. It has caused considerable comment in numerous publications and blogs (see below for links), including on the Feminist Peace Network blog.

Several serious issues have been raised, first that this appears to be a reduction of facts to support the war effort and secondly that it is yet another callous use of women’s lives to justify war. Reading the article in full (and I’ve seen a copy of the print edition), as well as the excerpt online, one is left wondering if the article is simply a piece of military propaganda. Time editor Rick Stengel, in his introduction to the article seeks to frame it as a contribution to the existing debate about the war:

“The much publicized release of classified documents by WikiLeaks has already ratcheted up the debate about the war. Our story and the haunting cover image by the distinguished South African photographer Jodi Bieber are meant to contribute to that debate. We do not run this story or show this image either in support of the U.S. war effort or in opposition to it. We do it to illuminate what is actually happening on the ground. As lawmakers and citizens begin to sort through the information about the war and make up their minds, our job is to provide context and perspective on one of the most difficult foreign policy issues of our time. What you see in these pictures and our story is something that you cannot find in those 91,000 documents: a combination of emotional truth and insight into the way life is lived in that difficult land and the consequences of the important decisions that lie ahead.”

But here is something you can find in one of the WikiLeaks documents, entitled, “CIA Red Cell Special Memorandum:  Afghanistan:  Sustaining West European Support for the NATO-led Mission-Why Counting on Apathy Might Not Be Enough”. The document, assessing how to shore up support for the war in Germany and France, begins with this summary,

This classified CIA analysis from March outlines possible PR strategies to shore up public support in Germany and France for a continued war in Afghanistan. After the Dutch government fell on the issue of Dutch troops in Afghanistan last month, the CIA became worried that similar events could happen in the countries that post the third and fourth largest troop contingents to the ISAF mission. The proposed PR strategies focus on pressure points that have been identified within these countries. For France it is the sympathy of the public for Afghan refugees and women. For Germany it is the fear of the consequences of defeat (drugs, more refugees, terrorism) as well as for Germany’s standing in NATO. The memo is a recipe for the targeted manipulation of public opinion in two NATO ally countries, written by the CIA. It is classified as Confidential/No Foreign Nationals.

It includes sections with the following titles:

  • “Public Apathy Enables Leaders To Ignore Voters”
  • “…But Casualties Could Precipitate Backlash”
  • “Tailoring Messaging Could Forestall or At Least Contain Backlash”

And then finally the section headed, “Appeals by President Obama and Afghan Women Might Gain Traction”, which contains the following:

Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing the ISAF 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 of a Taliban victory. Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission…

…Media events that feature testimonials by Afghan women would probably be most effective if broadcast on programs that have large and disproportionately female audiences.

With the caveat that the veracity of the Wikileaks documents has not be been proven (although even the government isn’t suggesting otherwise), this is not the first time I’ve heard about this strategy. Nor am I surprised by it since it was one of the original justifications for invading Afghanistan and I rather suspect that lurking out there in the fog of war are more memos and reports that will document the use of women’s lives as an official strategy to call for war. Clearly, it gives additional and very troubling context to the Time piece. Since the get go with this war, journalists have been ’embedded’ by the military. It would appear that that they still are and not just in war zones.

Whether it is possible that Time  published this piece as a concerted part of a government public relations effort is not clear and I”m not suggesting that it was, although it should certainly be investigated. But what is clear is that such a campaign exists with callous disregard of the human rights of Afghan women or respect for a free press. For that we owe Wikileaks a thank you for their relentless pursuit of truth without regard for national misuse of power and secrecy. Even more important, it is imperative that we take this knowledge that we have been given and use it to re-examine the conduct of this war and our military policy as a whole.

—Lucinda Marshall


Note:  For additional commentary see:

My deep gratitude to those of you who forwarded the Wikileaks document to me.

 July 31, 2010  Posted by on July 31, 2010 Comments Off on CIA Document Calls For Using Afghan Women As Messengers To Humanize The War
Jul 292010

Why we can’t leave Afghanistan–yeah sure, we’ve achieved absolutely nothing, trashed the country and possibly put ourselves in more danger and lost too many of our own in the process as well, but don’t be so selfish as to believe that we can just leave, oh no, we have to stay and protect the poor, pitiful Afghan women (and yes that is the sound of sarcasm you hear dripping off those words).  The new issue of Time has a but we must protect the Afghan women piece (complete with heart rending graphics) that begins with,

The Taliban pounded on the door just before midnight, demanding that Aisha, 18, be punished for running away from her husband’s house. Her in-laws treated her like a slave, Aisha pleaded. They beat her. If she hadn’t run away, she would have died. Her judge, a local Taliban commander, was unmoved. Aisha’s brother-in-law held her down while her husband pulled out a knife. First he sliced off her ears. Then he started on her nose.

This didn’t happen 10 years ago, when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. It happened last year.

Exactly, it happened  years after we went into Afghanistan claiming we were going to protect Afghan women, which has worked out not so much.  But that doesn’t stop the Time piece from concluding,

For Afghanistan’s women, an early withdrawal of international forces could be disastrous. An Afghan refugee who grew up in Canada, Mozhdah Jamalzadah recently returned home to launch an Oprah-style talk show in which she has been able to subtly introduce questions of women’s rights without provoking the ire of religious conservatives. On a recent episode, a male guest told a joke about a foreign human rights team in Afghanistan. In the cities, the team noticed that women walked six paces behind their husbands. But in rural Helmand, where the Taliban is strongest, they saw a woman six steps ahead. The foreigners rushed to congratulate the husband on his enlightenment — only to be told that he stuck his wife in front because they were walking through a minefield. As the audience roared with laughter, Jamalzadah reflected that it may take about 10 to 15 years before Afghan women can truly walk alongside men.

So there you have it, we’ll have to stay another ten or fifteen years so that women can achieve equality. Imagine instead of contributing to the violence in Afghanistan that further harms women, we were to provide humanitarian aid that improved the lives of Afghan women. Imagine if we had taken the billions of ‘reconstruction’ funds that are unaccounted for in Iraq and given that money to responsible organizations to actually rebuild and strengthen the social infrastructure of both countries. Oh wait, then we couldn’t use the women excuse to continue to fund the military industrial complex. Enough already, women are not an excuse for militarism and war.

 July 29, 2010  Posted by on July 29, 2010 16 Responses »
Jul 282010

Funding social justice work is never easy.  You know this because you probably get umpteen requests in your inbox every day from all manner of worthy organizations–stop the war, clean up pollution, feed children.  It is endless and there is no way to give to everything, you have to make choices and they aren’t easy ones. But perhaps the hardest to fund is work that enables women’s lives and work.

The reasons aren’t hard to understand.  You would think that while maybe these issues wouldn’t be at the top of the radar screen for men (although they should), at least women would be all over this, after all it is our own lives we are talking about.  But while many women are very, very generous, the bottom line is that women not only tend to have less to give, they also tend to prioritize everything but their own lives,  Add to that that when women’s concerns come up within the social justice framework, it is all too common for them to be framed as something to be taken care of after we worry about the ‘big’ issues.

That is a paradigm that Women Moving Millions,  “a partnership of visionary donors and the Women’s Funding Network,” is working to change.

The Women Moving Millions campaign aims to inspire gifts of a million dollars and above in support of women’s funds across the globe.

The campaign is a partnership of visionary donors and Women’s Funding Network, a global movement of 150 women’s and girls’ funds that invest in women-led solutions to critical social issues like poverty and global security.

In May 2009, Women Moving Millions announced that more than $181 million has been raised through partnerships between 101 donors and 41 women’s funds! This groundbreaking achievement exceeds the original goal of raising $150 million!

This massive infusion of investment will be a force for lasting change in the life chances and opportunities of women and girls around the globe, with major reverberations for entire communities and countries. Together, women’s funds will create lasting advances in areas from community leadership and education to poverty eradication and healthcare access. Learn more about the impact of women’s funds.

The donors and founding partners are now gearing up to expand the power and reach of Women Moving Millions with new fundraising initiatives aimed at expanding the reach of the campaign. These include welcoming donor circles and men into the growing movement of trailblazers committed to women-led social change.

To learn more about this exciting and important campaign, click here.  Of course all of us aren’t millionaires.  In fact, most of us aren’t.  But at every economic level, when you consider giving, please consider focusing your giving on efforts that enable the work and voices of women and girls.  The payoff for all of us will be enormous.

And yes, the Feminist Peace Network gratefully accepts donations of any size.

 July 28, 2010  Posted by on July 28, 2010 Comments Off on Where’s The Money Honey–Funding Women-Led Work
Jul 262010

Diane Wilson is a Texas shrimper who has been fighting against the chemical destruction of the Gulf of Mexico by large corporations for decades.  Recently she was arrested for protesting at a Congressional hearing on the BP oil disaster and faces two years in jail.  Here is what she had to say in a recent interview with Yes Magazine about what is needed to move towards necessary changes: 

We are going to have to learn to not be so well behaved. We are going to have to move from our hearts. I have always believed that at some time in our lives, we will come across some information that just hits us, and what we do with that bit of information will determine the rest of our lives.

There are no excuses. If you look at the social changes that have been made in this country and all around the world, it is the people who seemed least able to make changes who did. We just forget that we have that kind of potential.

 July 26, 2010  Posted by on July 26, 2010 Comments Off on Diane Wilson On What It Takes For Change To Happen