Take a look at this face. Are you willing to turn away from it?
This week’s TIME Magazine cover is powerful and disturbing, forcing us to face an image of an 18-year-old Afghan wife who’s had her ears and nose cut off because she tried to escape beatings and brutal treatment by her family.
If you know anything about the Taliban at all, I’m sure you’re not surprised that its members think it’s perfectly okay not only to beat and subjugate their women, but also to mutilate them in an effort to keep them in line with their pre-historic ways. But with the eyes of this young woman defiantly staring back at us, it’s time to look back and ask ourselves whether we’re willing to call violence like this just an unavoidable consequence of war rather than the global humanitarian crisis that it is.
The Taliban has made no secret of the fact that it will step up its efforts to keep girls from being educated and women from having jobs because as far as its members are concerned, women belong no where other than the home. And they kill people who dare to challenge that.
Think about that when considering the fact that several studies have shown that women and girls are the key to changing the world — give them an education and a little seed money and they can rise from abject poverty. When women and girls are better off economically, men in those cultures back off on the need to continue violence against them.
So which is the better strategy — spend money on a war we know we’ll never win and just leave women and girls to fend for themselves when we wave goodbye or take some of that money we’re channeling into the war effort and try to give women a real chance of not ending up like Aisha, the girl looking back at you?
Vice President Joe Biden claims we’re not nation-building in Afghanistan and we should only be focused on the war effort. According to Politifact, that’s only partly true. The Obama team may not be using the phrase “nation-building” when they talk about what’s going on there, but we’ve been propping up leaders and elections of a country that isn’t our own for a long time. So if that’s the case, it’s not that much of a stretch to do something for the women of Afghanistan, too.
Lucinda Marshall raises an excellent question as she wonders whether some will use this article it to defend any decision America makes to stay longer in Afghanistan under a ‘we can’t abandon the women and children’ theory. But what if the menfolk had thought about the women and children in the first place, using the money that’s been spent on war and channeling it to things that would actually help move this God-forsaken region into something that even slightly resembles a modern century — probably even something along the lines of 18th or 19th century would do for these women?
Our awareness has been raised time and time again about atrocities against women in many places around the world — by the Clinton Global Initiative, by Nicholas Kristof, the co-author of the book Half the Sky, and by newspaper opinion pieces. And we know that someone in the military has finally decided it might be a good idea to read Three Cups of Tea, about how building schools in that part of the world can actually benefit an entire culture. Some have even come to the novel concept that having women soldiers reach out can help change things, too. But raising awareness doesn’t stop violence. Someone has to be willing to step up and take action. That action doesn’t have to be a threat. It’s actually better if it’s something more constructive like supporting women where they are.
I want us to be out of Afghanistan just as much as the next person, and I suspect I want it more than President Obama since he seems to be backtracking on the things he said on the campaign trail. But if the women having their facial features mutilated were French or Canadian or Italian (or American), you know the official story about whether we think it’s worth putting an end it such horror would be a whole hell of a lot different.