Imperialist Feminism Rears Its Ugly Head Yet Again



As the U.S. negotiates with the Taliban working towards a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the New York Times is reporting that some feminists and women's rights advocates in the U.S., like Eleanor Smeal of the Feminist Majority, are pleading with Congress to have the Trump regime and the UN include Afghan women's rights in the agenda of the “peace” talks with the Taliban.

Smeal had earlier co-signed a letter to the New York Times in February advocating against immediate U.S. withdrawal, saying it “... will result in the deaths and abuse of hundreds of thousands of women, among them a new generation of educated women who have taken on positions of leadership in business and government.”1

Let's look at what happened in the first round of this, of appeals and rallying around the U.S. ruling class, on the issue of Afghan women's rights: 

Within days of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Bush regime began targeting the Taliban in Afghanistan. This included what the New York Times described as “an unusual international offensive” to “publicize the plight of women in Afghanistan”2 in order to justify the war the U.S. was about to launch.

Top Bush officials began courting American feminists who were long-time critics of Taliban abuses against women.3 “The White House (which had just abolished the office of women’s ‘initiatives’) began contacting women’s rights organizations and asking them to seek ‘common ground’ with the administration that had iced them since its inception,” author Susan Faludi wrote.4

Many American feminists took the bait. Days after U.S. B-52s began pounding Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, prominent feminists hailed the Bush regime for “taking action.” For example, Smeal, even then the head of the Feminist Majority, declared at Congressional hearings on the status of women in Afghanistan, “We have real momentum now in the drive to restore the rights of women." The organization circulated a petition thanking the Bush regime for supposedly promoting women’s rights in Afghanistan.5 

On May 24, 2002, 20 prominent feminists and women’s organizations—including Smeal’s Feminist Majority, Gloria Steinem, Eve Ensler, Meryl Streep, National Organization of Women, and others—published an “Appeal to George W. Bush, President of The United States” in the New York Times. It called on Bush to “keep his promise” to send more troops and aid to Afghanistan in order to “protect the lives and secure the future of Afghan women.” It stated American women had supported the war in Afghanistan “in large part because they believed your promises that it would liberate Afghan women from abuse and oppression…The war against terrorism will only be successful if the struggle for peace and democracy succeeds."6

A “Fig Leaf” for War—A Cruel Reality for the Women and People of Afghanistan

As Susan Chira of the New York Times writes this weekend:

Afghan women were never at the heart of American strategic interests, said Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University who worked on Afghan issues in the Obama administration. Military goals come first. 

“You do things for people in order to get a permissive environment to help your military operation.” [emphasis ours]7

There you go: an American ruling class figure focused on national security is stating, as plain as day, what their main imperatives were, that their concern for Afghan women was but a “a fig leaf, a way to make military intervention more palatable to the American public via photographs of girls going to school,” said Chira, articulating the sentiment of an Afghan women's rights activist. 

Appeals from American women's rights advocates to the Bush regime, despite their sincerity and intent, were based on and reinforce a profoundly upside-down view of reality.

Bob Avakian gets to the heart of the matter:

The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism. What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism. (BAsics 1:3)

The U.S. imperialists are not only incapable of uprooting Afghanistan’s oppressive traditional economic and social relations—including patriarchy and the reactionary Dark Ages culture and religious strictures—but they never intended to do so. Their goal was extending U.S. domination, with means consistent with that.

In his 2006 talk Bringing Forward Another Way, Bob Avakian makes clear the imperialist motives behind the U.S. war. And in pursuit of those aims, the U.S. made alliances with pro-U.S. Islamic fundamentalists, reactionary militias, and feudal power brokers in Afghanistan who represented the same oppressive relations the Taliban did. And in that light, it was not in the interests of the U.S. imperialists to push for an actual uprooting of the oppressive relations keeping women in chains. Similarly, the U.S. has firmly backed the Saudi monarchy, a major strategic ally, as it has enforced medieval laws and regulations against women for decades.

What has all this meant for Afghan women? Despite a few cosmetic changes in their formal legal status, Afghan women remain imprisoned in oppressive traditional relations and Islamic strictures. In many ways they’re far worse off than ever.

The constitution endorsed by the new pro-U.S. “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” in 2003 enshrined Sharia (Islamic) law as coequal in shaping Afghan life—in other words, brutal, oppressive male right and patriarchy. This U.S.-backed regime in 2009 tried to pass a law legalizing a husband’s “right” to rape his wife, before an international outcry forced it to back down. And in 2014, the regime attempted to push through another law to enable men to abuse and rape female relatives.8

Some two-thirds of Afghan girls do not attend school, and 87 percent are illiterate.9 At least 70-80 percent face forced marriage, many before the age of 16. Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.10 Nearly 90 percent of Afghan women are victims of domestic abuse.11

The support of American feminists for the U.S. war not only helped legitimize these horrors in Afghanistan but also the whole global “war on terror”—which is actually a war for empire that has caused rivers of blood of millions of people to flow around the world.

However horrific these realities, the Taliban—as an even more reactionary Islamic fundamentalist force—represents something potentially more grotesque. Now, as America's negotiations with the Taliban are in full swing, the Trump regime has dispensed with the niceties and the “fig leaves” and are not even talking about women's rights. Yet, people like Eleanor Smeal seem to be at it again, pleading with Congress and the UN, advocating against immediate U.S. withdrawal, while the U.S. imperialists have made and continue to make their goals and means clear. 

What the women of Afghanistan are confronting is a horrific crime against humanity, and a crime of this system—that all people of conscience should be part of resisting, in the U.S., in Afghanistan and all over the world. But any attempts to do this by appealing to those very powers that rule over and enforce this system further contributes to this and perpetuates these horrors. 

The New York Times article quotes another Afghan policy expert saying, “Women were pawns in the game in 2001. And now they are again.”

This is and will be the horrific reality … going on and on … as long as U.S.-dominated capitalism-imperialism maintains and exercises its monstrous grip on the world. What is needed is to sweep this away at the soonest possible time through an ACTUAL revolution.


1. Letter: “Should the U.S. Pull Out of Afghanistan,” New York Times, February 7, 2019.  [back]

2. “A NATION CHALLENGED: SHAPING OPINION; First Lady to Speak About Afghan Women,” New York Times, November 16, 2001. The Bush regime’s campaign included a November 17 national radio address by Laura Bush, in which she claimed the war was “also a fight for the rights and dignity of women,” and appearances by a who’s who of war criminals from Vice President Dick Cheney to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell.  [back]

3. In the 1980s, the U.S. armed and organized Mujahideen fighters and helped create Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Under Taliban rule in the 1990s, which the U.S. supported in certain ways, women were banned from going to school and working. They were not allowed to leave their homes without a male relative or be seen in public without a burqa. For defying the regime's repressive laws, women were openly flogged and executed.  [back]

4. T. Redtree, “The Hypocrisy of “Newly Minted Feminists”… And David Horowitz’ Dangerous Agenda,”, October 21, 2007.  [back]

5. Smeal also stated, “There is no way to wipe out terrorism and establish a civil society there without the inclusion of women.” Congressional Testimony of E. Smeal on the Plight of Afghan Women - Part I, Part 2, Feminist Majority, October 10-11, 2001.  [back]

6. “Appeal to George W. Bush, President of The United States,” Equality Now, May 24, 2002; see also, “Women Leaders Call for Expansion of International Peace Troops and More U.S. Funds to Restore the Rights of Afghan Women,” Feminist Majority, April 8, 2002.  [back]

7. Susan Chira, “Women Here Are Very, Very Worried,” New York Times, March 22, 2019.  [back]

8. “A law that would permit Afghan men to hurt and rape female relatives,” Guardian, February 6, 2014.  [back]

9. Afghanistan: Girls Struggle for an Education, Human Rights Watch.  [back]

10. Afghanistan’s maternal mortality rate addressed at national health conference, USAID, April 6, 2017.  [back]

11. Afghanistan is Failing to Help Abused Women, Foreign Policy, May 1, 2015.  [back]


Zahra was beaten by her husband. Then one night he poured acid on her face in front of her children. She is being treated in a hospital in Kabul. (Photo:

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Nearly 90 percent of Afghan women are victims of domestic abuse. Here, Khatera, who was raped by her father, took her children to live with her mother in a "safe house."  (Photo: RAWA)

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