Too frequently, we see women in far away countries as separate from ourselves instead of recognizing, correctly, that their fight is our fight. While the United States celebrates the end of a 20-year war, Afghan women have been abandoned by the international community, and left behind to cope with a regime that views their very existence as a threat.
What Afghan women are currently suffering is not separate from the U.S. domestic fight for gender equality. The far-right factions in the U.S. share the same belief opposing gender equality that the Taliban have against Afghan women. We must recognize this link in order to make meaningful progress.
I attended a march for Afghan women on August 29. One of the speakers told attendees that American women cannot chant about saving Afghan women without recognizing that we are saving ourselves in the process. She told us not to protect Afghan women without seeing that we are protecting ourselves. As Audre Lorde said:
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
The treatment of women in Afghanistan is not all that distant from the treatment of women in the United States. Domestic white supremacist and other far-right extremist groups are praising the Taliban for their takeover. They are celebrating, in particular, the centering of religion, and the anti-Semitism, homophobia, and restrictions on women’s rights that define Taliban rule. It’s not the first time that an under-resourced, fringe group has used political violence to take over a capital. In the case of Afghanistan, the Taliban were successful.
Skeptics may say these similarities seem far-fetched, but the groups celebrating the Taliban’s ascent to power are the same groups that stormed the Capitol on January 6. For example, on a far-right online forum, a participant said “[...] these farmers and minimally trained men fought to take their nation back [...] They took back their religion as law, and executed dissenters. Hard not to respect that.” The danger here is that politically violent groups are taking note of the way the Taliban was able to beat and outlast the most powerful and well-funded military in the world.
Patriarchy everywhere has its roots in the same mentality, and parallel lines can be drawn between each country’s misogynistic practices. Extremist groups, particularly those on the far right, are frequently united in their opposition to gender equality. Misogyny is central to their belief system. As their membership crosses political borders, so must our efforts to counteract their messages. We cannot turn a blind eye to the plight of Afghan women if we have any hope to address gender inequality at home.
Lorde’s quote rings as true today as it did in 1981. But even more, decades of feminist scholarship have proven that gender equality leads to better, more stable states. It is not only in women’s interests to fight for gender equality -- it benefits our world and leads to sustainable peace.
We must choose now to not abandon Afghan women. We must continue to uplift their experiences and their voices, and we must push those in power to listen. Then, one day, we can all experience how it feels to be free.