Ever since Joe Biden announced his decision in April to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan – and especially since the Taliban took control of Kabul in mid-August, months sooner than predicted – there has been much talk about the fate of Afghan women under Taliban rule 2.0. It’s a concern that Biden has long tried to wash his hands of: when asked in an interview in 2020 whether he would bear any responsibility if Afghan women lost their rights under a resurgent Taliban, he responded bluntly, “Zero responsibility.” This despite the fact that women’s rights in Afghanistan have long been used as a justification for America’s war, going back to George W Bush.
Nowadays that refusal to bear the blame echoes throughout the US. It was crassly summed up in The New York Times by one indignant reader, who recently wrote that Afghan women, “should be thanking us for going there in the first place, which will hopefully inspire them to take the fight for their freedom into their own hands”. This shrugging, not-my-problem stance ignores the fact that Afghan women are fighting – and certainly with more bravery and more skin in the game than any politician or op-ed writer could muster.
Since the US completed its chaotic withdrawal, women have taken to the streets of Kabul to advocate for their right to employment, education and freedom. This past weekend, Taliban fighters turned on the peaceful protesters, with reports of gunfire, tear gas and tasers being used on the women. Unlike the US and other Western allies that have left the country, it is Afghan women who have no choice but to bear the responsibility, and consequences, of this fight.