A Woman's Right to a Life Without Violence

by Julie Graber | on 15 May 2020

It takes a special kind of coward to target a maternity ward for a terrorist attack. But that’s what happened in Afghanistan on Tuesday, when gunmen stormed a maternity clinic in Kabul, killing 24 individuals, mostly moms and newborns. The attack was clearly targeted, in a country where women live precarious lives at best. 

It hasn’t always been this way for women in Afghanistan. The country’s constitution granted women equal rights in 1964, including the right to vote and the right to run for elected office. Local advocacy groups like the Afghan Women’s Council and Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan worked to expand women’s rights, including the right to pursue an education in the decades that followed.

It was the early 1990s when the Taliban took over and those gains in women’s rights started to disappear. Women were not allowed to work or leave the home without a male family members. Burqas, which cover a woman from head to toe in drapes of fabric with only a mesh screen to see through, were required in public. Women were no longer allowed to pursue a formal education. 

Then there was 9/11. The United States needed a show of strength, and Afghanistan served its purposes. And as is often the case, the women became pawns in international conflict. The US used the women of Afghanistan as an excuse for the invasion - all of a sudden US officials was talking about the extreme treatment of women under the Taliban rule, something that hadn’t bothered us until we needed someone to blame for passenger planes being turned into weapons of mass destruction on our own soil. 

Since 2001, women’s rights have been on a roller coaster as various regimes have tried to exert their influence. For every gain, there has been a loss. And now, the US is trying to broker a peace agreement between the Afghan national government and the Taliban. That’s right - the Taliban - a regime we swore we were there to eradicate when we invaded the country following 9/11. 

The Taliban is condemning the attack on Tuesday (they were busy planning a suicide bombing carried out today in another part of the country). Some point to ISIS as the culprit, others at lingering discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities. The bottom line though is that the attackers targeted women and their newborns - it was, and should be recognized as, a hate crime. 

We don’t treat violence against women as hate crimes, but they are. We know that a major pattern in many mass shootings is a history of difficult relationships with women and a hatred that spills over into domestic violence and social media tirades. These are crimes against women specifically because of their gender - there isn’t a comparable crime for men (unless we start to factor in race as well). 

It’s been 25 years since Hillary Clinton addressed the UN Fourth World Conference on Women and stated emphatically that "human rights are women's rights, and women’s rights are human rights." That includes the right not to be the target, again and again, of violence perpetrated by men.

I’m not sure we’ve made much progress.