Aug 102010

Pretty statement, too bad it is a crock of window dressing–from Critical Role of Women in Peace and Security, an address given by Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues on July 27, 2010:

President Obama’s National Security Strategy recognizes that “…countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunity. When those rights and opportunities are denied, countries often lag behind. Furthermore, women and girls often disproportionately bear the burden of crises and conflict. Therefore the United States is working with regional and international organizations to prevent violence against women and girls, especially in conflict zones. We are supporting women’s equal access to justice and their participation in the political process…”

And, Secretary Clinton has often said: “Women’s rights and women’s issues cannot be an afterthought in our foreign policy; they must factor centrally in how we look at the world. We have made women a cornerstone of our foreign policy not only because we think it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s the smart thing to do.

Well yes, it is the right thing and the smart thing to do, but a cornerstone of our foreign policy?  Who knew.  Seems to me that is only true when it is expedient.

The President’s and Secretary’s words are matched by actions.

Really, do tell:

Let me focus on Afghanistan. I want to welcome and recognize Palwasha Hassan, who is here from Afghanistan and who has been a leader in her country. She participated in the Kabul Conference, and we look forward to hearing from her.

At the International Conference on Afghanistan, in London earlier this year, Secretary Clinton emphasized that women need to be involved at every step of the way in the process of building Afghanistan’s future; and she introduced the Women’s Action Plan, which is incorporated into our U.S. Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional Stabilization Strategy. As Secretary Clinton said, “the plan includes initiatives focused on women’s security, women’s leadership in the public and private sector; women’s access to judicial institutions, education, and health services; and women’s ability to take advantage of economic opportunities, especially in the agricultural sector.” This is a comprehensive, forward-looking agenda. She also emphasized the role that women must play in the reintegration and reconciliation process as it goes forward.

That’s nice that Clinton said that, but,

Afghan women were not included in the Afghan Government’s official delegation to the London conference and only one Afghan woman was permitted to speak on behalf of civil society as part of the official conference program.

Meanwhile in the U.S. peace movement…David Swanson has a lengthy summary of the recent peace strategy conference held in Albany, NY.  There are 24 points in the summary but the one that caught my eye was this,

21.We call for the equal participation of women in all aspects of the antiwar movement. We propose nonviolent direct actions either in Congressional offices or other appropriate and strategic locations, possibly defense contractors, Federal Buildings, or military bases in the U.S. These actions would be local and coordinated nationally, i.e., the same day for everyone (times may vary). The actions would probably result in arrests for sitting in after offices close. Entering certain facilities could also result in arrests. Participants would be prepared for that possible outcome before joining the action. Nonviolence training would be offered locally, with lists of trainers being made available. The message/demand would be a vote, a congressional action to end the wars: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Close U.S. bases. Costs of war and financial issues related to social needs neglected because of war spending would need to be studied and statements regarding same be prepared before the actions. Press release would encourage coverage because of the actions being local and nationally coordinated.

One line that doesn’t seem to have any connection whatsoever with the rest of the item somehow doesn’t speak equality or an understanding of of the issue to me.  As those of you who were here when this network began know, my motivation for starting this forum was to provide women with a safe and nuanced space to fully  empower their voices in the peace movement.  If this summary of the Albany conference is indicative of where the peace movement is, devoting one disconnected afterthought of a line to the role of women in the peace movement should tell us that spaces such as the Feminist Peace Network are still badly needed and that we have a long way to go in truly critiquing the peace movement from a gendered lens.

 August 10, 2010  Posted by on August 10, 2010 Comments Off on Forked Tongues Abounding On The Topic Of Women And Peace
Aug 092010

There has been much discussion in the last few weeks about the difficulties faced by Afghan women.  The horrible similarities in these two news items illustrates that the war against women knows no boundaries.  If helping the women of Afghanistan was truly a priority, by the same logic, I suppose we will now have to invade Tajikistan.

In Tajikistan:

A Tajik official says the high rate of self-immolation among women in southern Tajikistan is related in most cases to domestic violence perpetrated by men, RFE/RL’s Tajik Service reports.

Suhrob Salomov, an Interior Ministry official in Khatlon Province, told RFE/RL that 108 cases of suicide and attempted suicide by women have been recorded in the province in 2010. He said 52 people have died as a result and tens of others have been injured.

Salomov added that at least 50 percent of the known cases of attempted suicide were related to domestic violence and violence against women.

In Afghanistan:

Former Deputy Health Minister Faizullah Kakar recently completed a study (published in Dari) indicating that rising numbers of women and girls aged 15-40 are attempting suicide in Afghanistan. His findings were presented at a news conference in Kabul on 31 July.

The study, based on Health Ministry records and hospital reports, said an estimated 2,300 women or girls were attempting suicide annually – mainly due to mental illness, domestic violence and/or socio-economic hardship. “This is a several-fold increase on three decades ago,” said Kakar, currently a health adviser to President Hamid Karzai.

 August 9, 2010  Posted by on August 9, 2010 Comments Off on Looks Like We’ll Have To Invade Tajikistan To Rescue Women There Too
Aug 062010

Heads up, Lucinda Marshall, Director of the Feminist Peace Network will once again be interviewed this Sunday, August 8 regarding the TIME Magazine story on Afghan women, this time,  on “Her Turn,” the weekly feminist news show on Madison, WI radio station and Pacifica affiliate, WORT 89.9 fm between 1:00-1:30 12:00-12:30 EDT.  Hope many of you will tune in!

 August 6, 2010  Posted by on August 6, 2010 Comments Off on Lucinda Marshall Interview This Sunday (8/8) Discussing The TIME Magazine Article On Afghan Women (Corrected)
Aug 052010

Earlier this week, Rafia Zakaria wrote a post on the Ms. Magazine blog critiquing the “left’s” (in which she includes the Feminist Peace Network) response to the TIME Magazine cover and article about what happens to Afghan women  if we leave Afghanistan.  This post is in response to the points that she  raises.  She writes,

First to critique TIME‘s cover has been an American Left so committed to troop withdrawal that any pauses for consideration are instantly rejected as ploys to perpetuate occupation. On the Huffington Post, Derrick Crowe, political director of the Brave New Foundation, described the cover as “TIME’s epic distortion of the plight of women in Afghanistan,” calling it “rank propaganda,” and pointing out that Aisha was attacked while U.S forces were still in Afghanistan purportedly providing “security.” The Feminist Peace Network decried the tired use of “protecting Afghan women” as justification for continued occupation.

To begin with, given that I have oft critiqued the misogyny of the left, I don’t know whether to be amused, saddened or honored that this blog is seen by Ms. as representing the  not so monolithic as that left. But as to the point raised, given the CIA memo regarding the use of Afghan women to promote a continued presence in Afghanistan, I think it is fair to say that in fact it is a ploy.  Zakaria continues,

The Left’s framing is clear: Rescuing Afghan women was a pretext crafted handily by the Bush Administration so it could barge its way into Afghanistan and stay there. And that’s certainly true. Also true, as Crowe points out, is that Afghan women have continued to suffer during the American occupation, enduring both traditional patriarchal practices and newly-minted discriminatory laws. Indeed, assessing the performance of the 10-year occupation in the mutilated-yet-expectant features of a young woman serves as an appropriately graphic visual depiction of our failures in Afghanistan.

The problem with these arguments, however, is that they translate our inability to improve things thus far into a prescription for sudden abandonment of the very projects that women just like Aisha made the mistake of believing in: literacy and entrepreneurship initiatives for women, civil society seminars designed to encourage women’s participation and midwifery training projects to reduce Afghanistan’s sky-rocketing rates of maternal mortality. War is horrific, its misery recorded in lurid detail in the tragedy of Aisha’s mutilation. But withdrawing without a plan for safeguarding the women who chose to believe the American promises of empowerment, however deceitfully those promises may have been made, is to live in denial of a tragedy in which we are roundly imputed.

That is a very important point that needs to be addressed.  While advocating withdrawal, I believe it needs to be done in an orderly fashion with substantive attention paid to the protection of the rights and safety of civilians.  However as it stands right now, it appears unlikely that we will leave Afghanistan any time soon, despite how unpopular the war there has become.

The question of abandoning women is a false issue.  We never went there for their protection in the first place and nine years later, we’ve done very little to realize the projects that Ms. Zakaria mentions.  Afghanistan has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world and is the only country in which the rate of suicide for women is higher than it is for men.  Girls’ schools continue to be bombed and women are being excluded from peace talks.

Let’s be very clear that we went into Afghanistan as a response to the 911 bombings to retaliate against Bin Laden and against the Taliban for allowing him a base of operations in Afghanistan, albeit a fully nuanced explanation of our response is of course far more complex than that and well beyond the scope of this blog.  Let’s also be clear that the purpose of the U.S. military is to defend U.S. interests. However misguided a military response may or may not be,  rescuing or empower women has never been at the top of our agenda, if it were, we need to ask questions such as why have we not responded to the desperate plight of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo and why we have not ratified CEDAW.  Continuing with the Zakaria post,

At the same time, I find the sudden elevation of Afghan women’s agency at this juncture to be both self-serving and instrumental in denying just how badly the world has failed them. Saying that women ravaged by war for over three decades, whose capacity for resistance has been depleted by incessant meddling of foreign forces, can now independently empower themselves in the wreckage of the abandoned programs we leave behind is an argument meant only to pacify the travails of our own conscience.

Again, no argument, unquestionably simply abandoning Afghan women is not acceptable.  I also believe that the U.S. bears an enormous amount of responsibility in this regard. However demanding that we live up to that obligation is problematic, and simply saying that we therefore can’t leave Afghanistan is both simplistic and perhaps even further damaging.

While millions of dollars have been poured into reconstruction in both Afghanistan and Iraq, a huge percentage of that money has been squandered, has ended up in the hands of U.S. contractors, war lords and who knows who else, but the bottom line is it hasn’t done much to help civilians.  This isn’t a working model of how to provide aid and support and certainly not while we continue to  kill civilians.

As I pointed out earlier this week, almost completely forgotten in this discussion is that CEDAW and UNSC 1325 provide substantive tools that can be used to create a productive model of empowerment and that while not being a perfect vehicle either, the United Nations is far better equipped to organize the necessary support that would allow Afghan women a chance at empowerment, and the U.S. should support the utilization of those resources rather than continuing to perpetuate a policy that has amounted to blunder and plunder.

Since the TIME Magazine piece came out, there have been a number of excellent responses.  In addition to the ones that I have already highlighted in previous posts (see below), Michelle Chen writes on Color Lines,

Whatever your stance on the Afghanistan war, photos like this are undoubtedly powerful. But ask whose interests are served by the rationalization of war through perverse appeals to gendered, racialized pity. A moving image can muddle more than it clarifies when the background is underexposed. So if Aisha represents anything about what has happened between when the U.S. invaded her country and when it will leave, then we owe it to her to turn the lens back on ourselves for once.

Priyamvada Gopal ends her well-reasoned analysis in The Guardian with,

The mutilated Afghan woman ultimately fills a symbolic void where there should be ideas for real change. The truth is that the US and allied regimes do not have anything substantial to offer Afghanistan beyond feeding the gargantuan war machine they have unleashed.

And how could they? In the affluent west itself, modernity is now about dismantling welfare systems, increasing inequality (disproportionately disenfranchising women in the process), and subsidising corporate profits. Other ideas once associated with modernity – social justice, economic fairness, peace, all of which would enfranchise Afghan women – have been relegated to the past in the name of progress. This bankrupt version of modernity has little to offer Afghans other than bikini waxes and Oprah-imitators. A radical people’s modernity is called for – and not only for the embattled denizens of Afghanistan.

While being highly problematic in intent and approach, the one thing that can be said about the TIME piece is that it has provoked some excellent and necessary dialog, including the Ms. response even though it is somewhat predictable given that Ms. is now run by the Feminist Majority which early on supported the call to rescue women from the Taliban in the run up to the invasion of Afghanistan.  Certainly referring so generally and disparagingly to the “left”  is both inaccurate and a disservice to many hard-working dedicated activists.

If you have not already, I urge you to read the following earlier FPN posts on this topic and to look at the many links in those posts to other commentary and I invite you to share your comments below (that said, the internet is out in my office and I’ll spare you my rant about the perils of communications deregulation, but I may not be able to respond or post comments in a timely fashion).

–Lucinda Marshall

 August 5, 2010  Posted by on August 5, 2010 2 Responses »
Aug 042010

So it turns out that Mommies are still underpaid and guess what?  It’s all the fault of feminists! Yup no doubt about it, couldn’t possibly be due to discrimination dating back to the dawn of patriarchy. According to The Atlantic,

New data shows that, despite feminists’ best efforts, women have still failed to reach equality in the job market.

Wow, like I feel so inadequate. The NYT continues the bashing here:

Women and men with similar qualifications — age, education, experience — are much more likely to be treated similarly today than in the past. The pay gap between them, while still not zero, has shrunk to just a few percentage points.Yet once you look beyond the tidy comparisons of supposedly identical men and women, the picture is much less sunny. There are still only 15 Fortune 500 companies with a female chief executive. Men dominate the next rungs of management in most fields, too. Over all, full-time female workers make a whopping 23 percent less on average than full-time male workers…

The fact that the job market has evolved in this way is no accident. It’s a result of policy choices. As Jane Waldfogel, a Columbia University professor who studies families and work, says, “American feminists made a conscious choice to emphasize equal rights and equal opportunities, but not to talk about policies that would address family responsibilities.”

In many ways, the choice was shrewd. The feminist movement has been fabulously successful fighting for antidiscrimination laws that require men and women to be treated equally. These laws have not eliminated the blatant sexism of past decades — think “Mad Men” — but they have beaten back much of it.

As a result, outright sexism is no longer the main barrier to gender equality. The main barrier is the harsh price most workers pay for pursuing anything other than the old-fashioned career path.

“Women do almost as well as men today,” Ms. Waldfogel said, “as long as they don’t have children.”

And just how problematic is that?  According to Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Moms Rising,

The wrinkle here is that according to the U.S. Census over 80% of US women have kids by the time they’re 44, which means the majority of women hit an economic Maternal Wall and don’t “do almost as well as men.”

Blame it on the feminists? What a load of poop.

Disclaimer:  I wrote this post while making dinner for my family, go on, try to pull off that trick you male CEO’s!

 August 4, 2010  Posted by on August 4, 2010 4 Responses »