This past week, a few milblogs have mentioned the brutal treatment of women in Afghanistan. While this would pass with little fanfare in mainstream, humanitarian or women's media, what makes this stand out is that milblogs are a traditionally male-dominated genre.
After all, we've known for decades about the murder of wives no longer wanted, the murder or abandonment of unwanted baby girls, the selling of young girls into slavery, trafficking into prostitution, rape, the withholding of education, sweatshop conditions, forced marriages, & female castration. These realities unsettle all women, and yet when we bring them up we risk being relegated to the status of left wing moonbat, a veritable Birkenstock-shod, skirt-wearing radical.
Women have written books, colleges have held symposiums, documentaries have been produced, and there have been international womens' conferences on equality and the need for education as a means for gaining economic parity. Without the education of women and girls, the chances for freedom in the long term are slim. Still, the situation in some countries is backsliding.
For a long time, I've been a member of a mainstream organization which promotes and funds education and equity for women and girls. It has never been a secret that education gives women personal and economic choices. It also gives their children and subsequent generations options. But still, back when I was active, we ran into a wall of denial, castigation and suspicion here on our own soil.
Why? We weren't indignant enough for the left, the right thought if we just shut up things would be okay, and the religious right was sure we were going against the grain of God. It seemed we were out there on our own, even though in retrospect our organization has always been overwhelmingly conservative.
But the thing people were most afraid of was being labeled a feminist and its image, which is someone unkempt, loud, abrasive and disrespectful. I can't fault them for rejecting the image, however, I take issue with not pushing away the stereotype in order to take in the message of education and equity. Those noisy ones, after all, are the reason why quieter ones have been able to have well-paying jobs. Cultural shifts require a few tenacious, even abrasive persons to crack open the door.
Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea and co-founder of the Central Asia Institute, has written passionately about educating women and girls in Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan. Long before the world's involvement, Greg was already quietly building schools in Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since the 1990's, he has built 90 schools –all of them have included girls. He has been ahead of the curve, a visionary and more to the point, someone who has been willing to make it his life's work.
While there are plenty of arguments about failed missions, or against state-building, if there's any reason to be in Afghanistan, it is to offer the opportunity for a better life. This has to include raising the status of the silent and sheathed, giving them access to education. While this represents a cultural shift, having women able to make choices by virtue of education makes it easier for the men economically. But there are risks when anyone injects change, and sadly, a fight against it is taking human lives. Is it worth it? Maybe not to someone who has lost a loved one. But, perhaps the future of their country relies on it.
We know slavery, brutalizing, subjugation and humiliation of women are real. My wishes are twofold: that milbloggers won't let this cause go, and that those who consider themselves to be anti-military come to see those in uniform as individuals who can bring life-enhancing changes to those with fewer options than they. Because frankly, neither side can do it alone.