It's not difficult to understand why. Afghanistan is in crisis. The cynical policies that characterized the early to mid-stages of the occupation have come home to roost. President Hamid Karzai and his rogue's gallery of kleptocrats, human rights abusers, and drug lords are hanging onto power even as Karzai declares open season on the United Nations by accusing senior bureaucrats of organizing the widespread voter fraud that consolidated his own hold on power.
In the meantime, women have taken a back seat to realpolitik and the exigencies of a coalition exit strategy. But their suffering is real, as Afghanistan's poverty and chaos affect women possibly most of all. Maternal mortality in Afghanistan still makes the world's top three list, nine years after the U.S. invasion, resulting in a life expectancy for women of 46. In the countryside, Taliban zealots spray acid into girls' faces for going to school -- and only 27 percent of them do so in the first place. According to a recent survey by the U.N. Development Fund for Women, 87 percent of Afghan women report being beaten on a regular basis.
In July of last year, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) issued a report that represents the most stinging official condemnation of the Karzai administration's abysmal track record on women to date. The report concluded, "The current reality is that ... women are denied their most fundamental human rights and risk further violence in the course of seeking justice for crimes perpetrated against them." Last year Karzai pardoned well-connected political thugs who -- before witnesses -- gang-raped a woman with a bayonet. Her husband, who had battled for redress, was assassinated soon thereafter. Women who dare to speak out against the widespread trampling of their rights face almost certain death while their murderers face 100 percent impunity.
For the warlords and mujahideen that make up the upper echelons of the Karzai government, the issue of gender equality was always an unwanted appendage to U.S. involvement -- but one that could easily be dispensed with through the deployment of flowery speeches and the token appointment of a lone female minister to the Ministry of Women's Affairs. Indeed, just before his recent "election," Karzai felt secure enough to sign into law a series of repressive measures designed to repeal what minimal gains women have made since the Taliban ouster.
Although eventually forced to back down over legislation that allows Shiite husbands to rape their wives, Karzai successfully signed into law other legislation that denies or severely limits women's rights to inherit, divorce, or have guardianship of their own children. The Shiite Personal Status Law also legalizes forced marriage and the rape of minors. It allows men to exert almost total control over female relatives and offers them the power to prohibit women's access to work, education, and health care by denying them the right to leave their homes except for "legitimate" purposes. Even Karzai's own wife -- a doctor whose skills are desperately needed -- is strictly sequestered. And if this sounds bad, just wait until the Americans leave.
This is not just about women. Gender inequality not only affects girls and women, but boys and men. In Afghanistan, because women are rarely able to leave the house, very young boys are often forced to carry an unwarranted amount of financial responsibility, something that limits their prospects as well.
Nor is it even just about Afghanistan. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in March, "The subjugation of women is a threat to the national security of the United States." On a geopolitical level, Valerie's research has found that states with higher levels of violence against women are also less peaceful internationally. Indeed, violence against women is a better predictor of bellicosity than level of democracy, level of wealth, or presence of Islamic civilization. In a 2010 study, Valerie, along with Brad Thayer, also found high levels of gender inequality to be a strong aggravating factor in the development of Islamic suicide terrorism.