The Blog

When Will Feminists Stand Up for Afghan Women?

11:32 AM, Oct 8, 2009 • By RACHEL HOFF
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The Afghan women who risked their lives to go to the polls this summer are not afraid of much. But one thing we need not doubt is their terror at the notion that America might abandon Afghanistan and return them to the hands of the Taliban. Eviction from school and work at the least, rape and murder at the worst, were the fate of Afghanistan's women under that backward Islamist regime.

As the debate over U.S. military commitments in Afghanistan continues to roil Washington, some uncommon alliances are emerging. With Democrats abandoning support for President Obama's own "good war," the president's putative new strategy in Afghanistan has been buttressed primarily by Republicans on the Hill and serious military leaders. A burgeoning coalition of politicians, policy wonks, retired generals, and former administration officials has emerged to express support for the president, his new commander, General Stanley McChrystal, and the troops on the ground to achieve the mission in Afghanistan. It's these kinds of strange bedfellow alliances that our country needs when it comes to facing the challenge of the Long War.

But one uncommon alliance that has yet to emerge is between women's rights groups in America and those calling for a renewed military commitment to the war in Afghanistan. Understanding the plight of Afghan women, women's groups in America have timidly stood for the cause of Afghan women's rights, supporting for example the "civilian surge" to help improve the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan. But where are the voices of American women's organizations in the current debate about supporting President Obama's new strategy and his new commander's request for more troops?

Some women's organizations have stood up against calls to abandon Afghanistan. This summer, the President of the Feminist Majority Foundation wrote, "We cannot endorse this position because the cost to women and girls would be too high and the U.S. responsibility for the current failed state of affairs in Afghanistan is too heavy." But this stance is all too rare among major women's organizations in the U.S., and the pushback from the American feminist community has been significant.

Women's organizations should not miss this opportunity to find common cause in supporting this war effort just because they will find themselves aligned with some anathema to their domestic policy agendas. This is about the most basic of women's rights the world over, and the willingness of feminists to jettison their cause in order to stand with anti-war Democrats at home is nothing short of scandal.

General McChrystal's assessment only three months after the president installed him as the new commander was clear -- under-resourcing this war has gone on long enough, and to achieve our goals he needs more troops and additional resources. Now Barack Obama faces a tough political choice. If he's to risk alienating his liberal base, the president needs support wherever he can find it at home to be able to provide the resources his commander needs.

And so President Obama is carefully deliberating what he will do. If he makes the right call, it will be good to know that the women of America also choose to stand with 14 million Afghan women whom feminists have all too often forgotten.