Ten years ago, after the World Trade Center towers crumbled, the United States declared a war on terror. At first we were told we would defeat the enemy quickly. But that war with its ever-shifting enemies and goals continues today with no end in sight. In late 2001, we were told that one of the reasons it was imperative that we attack Afghanistan was to liberate Afghan women from the Taliban. And then a few months later we were told that we must also rescue Iraqi women.
But the truth is that women’s human rights were never a priority, merely an excuse for exerting military domination. Today in Afghanistan and Iraq, the problems faced by women are myriad, little has been improved and much has been made worse. In Afghanistan, women continue to be maimed and beaten and their maternal mortality rate continues to be the second highest in the world. In Iraq, trafficking of women has increased dramatically, women human rights defenders are attacked in public places and women’s health, jobs and education has suffered dramatically as a result of the U.S. invasion.
Looking beyond Afghanistan and Iraq, the gender-specific impact of war and violence is all too apparent throughout the world.
- It is not possible to say that women’s lives are a priority while we stand by as crises like the never-ending mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo continue unabated.
- It is not possible to say that women’s lives are a priority while women refugees are raped in Somali refugee camps or while women are murdered in Guatemala and Mexico and their killers go unpunished.
- It is not possible to say that women’s lives are a priority when women’s reproductive rights are under siege in the U.S. and throughout the world.
- It is not possible to say that women’s lives are a priority when women are afraid to walk down the street for fear of being attacked and harassed or of going home and being beaten and raped behind closed doors.
- It is not possible to say that women’s lives are a priority when women are more likely to be food insecure, have less access to education and earn less than men throughout the world.
The monumental irony is that it has been proven time and time again that when women do not live in fear and when they have equal access to food and education and work, we are all better off and there is less likelihood of violence. We cannot improve women’s lives by bombing their countries and when conflict does occur, we cannot truly resolve it unless women have a full and equal stake in the peace-making.
The only way to end terrorism is to quit creating terrifying conditions and the uncomfortable truth is that in the years since the World Trade Center towers fell, the U.S. has done everything in its power to create and further the conditions in which terror ferments. As long as we persist on this path, we will live in a state of terror that only exacerbates the undeclared war on women.