How the Taliban dehumanizes their own women
On the surface, I suppose it is a straight-forward request. A military force conquers a city, meets with the local elders and religious leaders, and makes demands about how the city will operate going forward. Amidst the discussion of curfews and the perusal of street maps, local leaders are handed an official letter formally requesting the names of all eligible women within their authority — specifically, unmarried girls and widows between the ages of 15 and 45 — to be collected and redistributed as wives of the conquering soldiers.
The demand is clear and direct, with well-defined parameters and little room for misconception, but there certainly is a lot to unpack in that simple document. My sympathies extend first to the leaders of these women, commissioned to protect them and now forced to cruelly expose them. Next the fathers and mothers, parents of the girls who must choose between losing their daughters and fleeing their homes at wartime. What of the children of the widows, who have already lost one parent, and whose mother may be taken before their eyes? And finally the women and girls themselves, whose every bright hope and desire may now be swallowed up by the burden of indefinite physical and sexual servitude.
Beyond these horrifying realities lies a fundamental question: How could Taliban soldiers, or any soldiers for that matter, do this to their future wives? How could someone want their most intimate relationship to be scarred by violence, force, and injustice? How could a family life built on such one-sidedness possibly be desirable?
Lest we assign false blame, remember that the taking of women as war spoils is a scenario that has been played out time and time again throughout history by conquering armies of every creed. It seems the answer does not lie in one particular religion or specific area of the world. Conversely, many armies have succeeded in capturing a city without correspondingly violating its female inhabitants. What is the distinction between these combatants that matters so cruelly to women in wartime?
I believe the distinction centers in this fundamental truth: the dehumanization of women is a profound betrayal of the self. In order to subordinate an entire gender, a person must first subordinate the women closest to him. Essentially, he must sell out his own mother. He must view his sisters as fundamentally inferior to himself. He must perceive his daughters as lesser than his sons. He somehow cheats himself into believing in a superiority built at the direct expense of those with whom he is most intimate — his own family.
I submit that the trafficking of women during war is a reflection of the condition of family relationships within the homes of its soldiers. Cultural and ideological patterns certainly affect this phenomenon, but these external forces ultimately play out in the home. Perhaps these fighters are simply enacting situations they have witnessed repeatedly under their own roofs, where fathers demean mothers, brothers rule over sisters, and sons are esteemed above daughters.
In order to restore the humanity of our sisters, we must first disrupt the dialogue that is occuring within the home. This shift begins with a solid understanding of the most sacred familial relationship between men and women: the sexual relationship.
When this intimate act is routinely accompanied by inequality and force, inequality and force will plague every male/female relationship across homes, neighborhoods and nations. Under this model of sexual superiority, a man must consistently debase women in order to achieve the confidence he believes he is entitled to; otherwise, he will have to face the possibility that their worth may be on par with his. It is anxiety around the unbalanced sexual relationship that would have him limit a woman’s personal development, confine her to the home, and conceal her body in a shroud. His sense of self is based, not in his humanity, but in his perceived superiority over women.
In contrast, in communities where healthy sexual relationships are taught and understood by both women and men, an awareness of personal boundaries, respect, and honoring humanity comes along with it. As couples work in tandem to create balance on this most intimate level, they become enabled to achieve that same balance in other areas of their lives.
We cannot wait for nations to implode from the pressures of these unjust gender relationships before we address sexual education globally. Teaching respectful sexual reproduction must play a role in every humanitarian endeavor in order to avoid the heartbreak families are experiencing in Afghanistan. We have work to do to heal these wounds of injustice on an international level, and we begin by healing the relationships within the home.