Posts Tagged ‘Taliban’

SELLING A DAUGHTER TO PAY FOR A LEG

June 14, 2015

This post was originally published on “Reflections on War & Society.” *

Three Afghan girls pose for the camera in the Khowst province of Afghanistan on December 1, 2004, during Operation Enduring Freedom.  (U.S. Marine Corps official photo by Corporal Justin L. Schaeffer, National Archives and Records Administration.)

Three Afghan girls pose for the camera in the Khowst province of Afghanistan on December 1, 2004, during Operation Enduring Freedom.
(U.S. Marine Corps official photo by Corporal Justin L. Schaeffer, National Archives and Records Administration.)

A couple of articles I read recently got me thinking about the long reach of war and how we define casualties. The first is a New York Times article about disabled Afghan veterans struggling against corruption and red tape to get pensions and other government assistance. Some of the men featured in the article needed prosthetic limbs and costly physical therapy that they could not afford without disability payments. One such veteran was Saheb, who lost his left leg to a Taliban land mine and could not pay for a prosthesis on his own. Desperate after learning he did not qualify for a pension because he had served in the Afghan Local Police rather than the national police or army, Saheb sold his 11-year-old daughter, Noor Bibi, into a marriage for the $3,000 he needed to pay for a leg.[1]

The second piece, a commentary on Vox.com, addresses the debate over whether the world has become more peaceful since the end of World War II. The dispute dates back to the 2011, when psychologist Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, was published. Pinker argues that the period since 1945 has been the most peaceful era in human history, and he focuses on statistics indicating that the number of deaths from war has reach a record low. Pinker’s critics have countered that looking solely at recorded casualty numbers is misleading. There are consequences of war that we cannot measure with “big-picture numbers,” as Zack Beauchamp, the author of the Vox piece, notes.[2]

A close up of an Afghan girl from the Pashtun tribe in Kabul, Afghanistan. (National Archives and Records Administration.)

A close up of an Afghan girl from the Pashtun tribe in Kabul, Afghanistan. (National Archives and Records Administration.)

Big-picture statistics don’t count victims like child bride Noor Bibi, a casualty of a long-running civil war in a country where the sale of a prepubescent girl into marriage is an option for a wounded veteran who needs money to pay for a prosthesis because his government won’t help him. Her father, Saheb, might be counted in a casualty list that includes the dead and the wounded, but such statistics fail to recognize the other ways in which war wounds people by transforming life options and paths and forcing families to make decisions that could inflict emotional or physical harm to some members. We don’t hear Noor Bibi’s voice in the New York Times article, but Saheb said she didn’t want to be sold into marriage. She had no choice, Saheb explained, because “in Pashtun society, when the father wants something, the daughter has to give it, even if she is not happy.”[3] The story of Noor Bibi reflects the long reach of war – how it upended the life of an 11-year-old girl who was neither a soldier nor a civilian casualty in the usual sense of the word. Body counts don’t reveal all the indirect casualties of war.

Such casualties take many forms. Last month, I ended my “World Civilizations Since 1500” course with a slide juxtaposing a photograph of ISIS militants with an image of Syrian refugee children. I asked my students to ponder whether the children, hamming it up for the photographer who took their picture, would end up being the next generation of angry, disillusioned, impoverished recruits for ISIS or a similar group. Like Noor Bibi, refugees are casualties of war, and neglected refugee crises can feed back into a conflict, perpetuating a cycle of violence and fighting. Envisioning a world where parts of it are continually at war, where war’s long reach keeps producing casualties of all sorts, makes it difficult to buy Pinker’s argument that we are living in a time of unprecedented peace.

[1] Rod Nordland, “Maimed Defending Afghanistan, Then Neglected,” New York Times, May 2, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/03/world/middleeast/maimed-defending-afghanistan-then-neglected.html?_r=1

[2] Zack Beauchamp, “This fascinating academic debate has huge implications for the future of world peace,” Vox.com, May 21, 2015, http://www.vox.com/2015/5/21/8635369/pinker-taleb

[3] “Maimed Defending Afghanistan, Then Neglected.”

WHERE ARE THE MEN?

March 30, 2015
Afghan women at the market in downtown Kabul, July 16, 2002. National Archives and Records Administration.

Afghan women and a little boy at the market in downtown Kabul, July 16, 2002. National Archives and Records Administration.

Earlier this month, the New York Times published an article about the dangers Afghan policewomen face, not from suspected criminals, but from Afghan men who put policewomen and prostitutes in the same category and believe both dishonor their families. The article opens with the story of Parveena, who was shot 11 times at close range by a member the Taliban and killed for being a policewoman. A relative who was either in the Taliban or had Taliban sympathies had informed on her. The broader point the article emphasizes is the problematic nature of Western aid organizations’ requirements that Afghan women hold certain jobs, such as positions on local police forces, in order for Afghanistan to receive aid. As Parveena’s death sadly demonstrates, Western demands for gender equality in places where a violent patriarchal culture is deeply rooted can be dangerous, even life-threatening, to the women international humanitarian organizations want to help.

In this story and others like it that highlight women’s attempts to resist local conservatism, the emphasis is almost always on women — their lives, their bravery, the discrimination and violence they face. Getting their stories out to the world is a crucial step toward stimulating international efforts to support women, but absent from most of the conversations is an equally crucial question: where are the men? This is a play on distinguished international relations scholar Cynthia Enloe’s question to IR practitioners: where are the women? Enloe has built her career (and inspired a subsequent generation of scholars, myself included) on a commitment to incorporating the voices and perspectives of women into her examinations of war, militarization, and global affairs, issues that previous scholars had treated as men’s business. But what Enloe understands is that it is not enough to just talk about women — we also have to talk about gender. How does a gender ideology that infantilizes grown women and criminalizes women’s behavior outside a closely-monitored domestic sphere take hold in young men who, as boys, spent much of their time at their mothers’ sides? How can journalists, humanitarian aid workers, and others on the ground in Afghanistan and elsewhere give voice to the men who oppose violence and discrimination against women? If Western aid organizations expect Afghan women to have access to certain careers as a measure of “progress” toward gender equality, should foreign governments advising Afghan political leaders demand that those men be clearly committed to ending gender violence? Do foreigners have the right or responsibility to make such demands? Are they possible to enforce?

Addressing such questions is controversial. India banned the BBC documentary “India’s Daughter,” about the 2012 gang rape and murder of a woman medical student on a bus in Delhi, after an Indian court ruled that the film could “encourage and incite violence against women.” Filmmaker Leslee Udwin explains that the documentary is not just about the men who brutally raped and murdered 23-year-old Jyoti Singh; it is meant to force discussions about a broader, global culture that renders women’s bodies objects on which men vent their social anxieties and perform violent acts of dominance. Varying degrees of this culture range from sexual assault on college campuses to the murders of women like Parveena and Jyoti Singh. In banning “India’s Daughter,” Indian officials argued that Udwin’s interviews with the rapists and other Indian men who attempted to justify the gender hierarchy could spark more violence against women, but Udwin’s film is important precisely because it pays attention to men and seeks to understand the roots of India’s rape culture.


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