Afghanistan: Women vs. the American Occupation Government

Revolutionary Worker #1188, February 23, 2003, posted at

We received the following article from A World to Win News Service:

A World to Win News Service, 10 February 2003. Once again women are being driven out of schools and public life in Afghanistan.

In a country where 96% of women are illiterate, female education is increasingly coming under assault. In the north and east, girls' schools have been burned or hit by artillery shells. Leaders in some southern provinces have allowed the police to threaten women and girls going to school. Leaflets have been distributed warning families not to send their daughters to classes. In Herat, western Afghanistan, men have been banned from teaching female students. Because of the shortage of women teachers, this means many girls will miss out on education altogether. It is also reported that in Herat any woman seen in public with a man who is not a relative can be forced to submit to a "chastity test". Recently, some government figures attempted to forbid women to go to the cinema in Kabul. On 21 January, Afghanistan's chief justice Shinwari announced a ban on cable television, calling it "un-Islamic". He also spoke against coeducation. "I want education for women, but we do not want men and women to sit together."

These new attacks on female education and women in general are linked to the growing power of fundamentalist groups. In many areas, police are imposing Islamic rules on women and girls, many of which outrage ordinary Afghanistanis. In Herat and other provincial cities and areas, the police have forced women to wear the burqua, a heavy shroud completely covering the head and body. In many places, including Kabul, young women wear the burqua against their will to protect themselves against thugs and the reconstituted religious police. This increasingly rapid re-imposition of Islamic law is taking place in all spheres of life. The police in several areas near Kabul have shut down wedding parties for playing music, harassed shopkeepers for selling recordings or films, and beaten up musicians.

The foreign media gave much publicity to what it called the end of the restrictions on women put in place by the Taliban regime. Some people considered it one of the Karzai government's most outstanding achievements. But despite some changes, these restrictions were always very limited in degree and scope. They applied mainly to women in certain professions in the capital, which had a relatively more open atmosphere for women before the reign of the fundamentalists. But they left conditions unchanged for the many millions of women in the countryside and provincial cities. The Karzai government has always been a staunch defender of sharia, the enforcement of religious restrictions as law, which includes the provision that women suspected of sexual relations outside of marriage can be put to death by public stoning. No challenge to arranged marriages has been allowed. Men remain entitled to control and punish "their" women. Now other major aspects of the oppression of women are being (re)institutionalised as government policy.

The fact is that the oppression of women has been going on in Afghanistan for a long time, but this did not always take the most extreme and openly brutal forms seen today. This present level of backwardness came when fundamentalist groups with the financial, political and moral support of the US and its allies rose to prominence in the political life of Afghanistan during the US-backed war to expel their Soviet rivals from the country in the 1980s. These US-armed and financed groups even forced Afghanistani women in exile in Peshawar, Pakistan, to comply with their new rules. An uncovered head meant acid thrown in the face or being slashed across the face with a knife. The US had no problem with this kind of behaviour. The US and its Pakistani secret police henchmen encouraged the formation of the Taliban and eventually brought them to power to impose an American-sponsored order on Afghanistan amid the chaos following the end of the war with the Soviet Union. The US continued to back the Taliban until mid-2001. When the US decided to get rid of them, it was not to liberate Afghani women but because the Taliban were no longer useful to them. (For more details, see A World to Win magazine No. 28--

All the fundamentalist forces in Afghanistan, including the Taliban and al-Qaeda, have been US allies in one way or another in the past, and today the US has simply shifted its support from one clique of feudal landlords, warlords and religious fundamentalists to another. The American-led occupation has done nothing to change property relations and the social relations based on them. In Afghanistan, as in the Middle Eastern states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey and Pakistan, not to mention much of the rest of the world, US control is based on an alliance with feudal forces and capitalists beholden to them and to foreign masters. These are the models of the society that the US is aiming for at best for the oppressed nations it dominates.

The recent history of Afghanistan demonstrates another lesson. The regimes backed by the Soviet Union in this country attempted some reforms in extending rights and opportunities for women in education, jobs and other spheres. In a limited way and in certain areas, women played an increased role in society. Even land reform was attempted. Reforms under the Soviets went much further than under the current US occupation. But none of those reforms could be called liberation. The basic system remained unchanged. In fact, the real liberation of any people, including the liberation of women, can only come when the people themselves, through their own conscious revolutionary struggle, overthrow the political, economic and social relations on which their oppression is based. The Maoists in Afghanistan, who fought against the Soviet occupation, are determined to lead the people in that kind of revolution.

The current clampdown on women in Afghanistan shows the degree to which this country has experienced a "regime change" but not a change of system. Bush and his fellow religious zealot Blair are about to follow up their war on Afghanistan with another one on Iraq whose aims are no different.

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic centre of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organisations.

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