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Feministe.us, April 7, 2008

What “Freedom” Brought to Afghanistan

Women in Afghanistan have a 1 in 8 lifetime risk of maternal death. (By contrast: The rate in neighboring Pakistan is 1 in 74; the rate in Sweden is in in 17,400).

It’s like a perfect storm of right-wing policies: The War on Drugs, women’s liberation by way of imperialism, and “freedom” at the barrel of a gun.

Khalida’s father says she’s 9—or maybe 10. As much as Sayed Shah loves his 10 children, the functionally illiterate Afghan farmer can’t keep track of all their birth dates. Khalida huddles at his side, trying to hide beneath her chador and headscarf. They both know the family can’t keep her much longer. Khalida’s father has spent much of his life raising opium, as men like him have been doing for decades in the stony hillsides of eastern Afghanistan and on the dusty southern plains. It’s the only reliable cash crop most of those farmers ever had. Even so, Shah and his family barely got by: traffickers may prosper, but poor farmers like him only subsist. Now he’s losing far more than money. “I never imagined I’d have to pay for growing opium by giving up my daughter,” says Shah.

In the last six months alone, over 250 women have committed suicide in the country, according to Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).
IRIN News, August 21, 2007

The vast majority of the world’s opiates originate in Afghanistan. To fight drug production, the solution has been to target individual farmers and destroy their crops — without offering them any other option for survival. And the U.S. keeps mucking it up. We offered farmers other crops (wheat, etc), but once it was grown there weren’t enough buyers (I guess we didn’t think that far ahead).

And it’s not just farmers who are suffering because of these policies — it’s girls.

Angiza Afridi, 28, has spent much of the past year interviewing more than 100 families about opium weddings in two of Nangarhar’s 22 districts. The schoolteacher and local TV reporter already had firsthand knowledge of the tragedy. Five years ago one of her younger aunts, then 16, was forced to marry a 55-year-old man to pay off an older uncle’s opium debt, and three years ago an 8-year-old cousin was also given in marriage to make good on a drug loan. “This practice of marrying daughters to cover debts is becoming a bad habit,” says Afridi.

Even so, the results of her survey shocked her. In the two districts she studied, approximately half the new brides had been given in marriage to repay opium debts. The new brides included children as young as 5 years old; until they’re old enough to consummate their marriages, they mostly work as household servants for their in-laws. “These poor girls have no future,” she says. The worst of it may be the suicides. Afridi learned of one 15-year-old opium bride who poisoned herself on her wedding day late last year and an 11-year-old who took a fatal dose of opium around the same time. Her new in-laws were refusing to let her visit her parents.

Gul Ghoti is on her first visit home since her wedding six months ago. She says it’s a relief to be back with her father and mother in their two-room mud-and-brick house, if only temporarily. “My heart is still with my parents, brothers and sisters,” she says. “Only my body is with my husband’s family.” She says she personally knows of two opium brides who killed themselves. “One of the girls had been badly beaten by her husband’s brother, the other by her husband,” she says. Ghoti says she’s considered suicide, too, but Islam stopped her. “I pray that God doesn’t give me a daughter if she ends up like me.”

The life expectancy for adults in Afghanistan is 43. Almost half of all children are not enrolled in primary school. Only eight percent of girls attend secondary school. More than half of all children under 5 are suffering from moderate to severe stunting. Only 34 percent of people in Afghanistan have access to adequate sanitation facilities. For every 100 people in Afghanistan, 5 have a phone. One has internet access. Women in Afghanistan have a 1 in 8 lifetime risk of maternal death. (By contrast: The rate in neighboring Pakistan is 1 in 74; the rate in Sweden is in in 17,400).

Category: Women, US-NATO, Drugs, Poverty, Corruption - Views: 12179


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