This week, Americans are celebrating Women’s Equality Day, the anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment. While we should celebrate voting rights for women and the gains women have made in America, the images and stories coming out of Afghanistan tell us there is much more to be done to help women around the world secure basic rights.
As the vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris is positioned to be a leader for women in Afghanistan. She has had tremendous success in her career, which helped her become the first woman elected vice president. She has served as district attorney of San Francisco, California attorney general, and U.S. senator.
Harris has spoken up multiple times for equality for women and argued that empowering women strengthens democracy. At a United Nations women’s conference in March, she said: “The status of democracy also depends fundamentally on the empowerment of women. …. Not only because the exclusion of women in decision-making is a marker of a flawed democracy, but because the participation of women strengthens democracy.”
In a speech to the European Parliament on International Women’s Day in March, she said: “How do we build a world that works for women? I believe we must ensure women’s safety at home and in every community. …. If we build a world that works for women, our nations will be safer, stronger, and more prosperous.”
At the Generation Equality Forum at a summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, she said in June: “Use the tools for democracy, whether that is the freedom of speech or the freedom to vote. And if you do not yet have those freedoms, fight for them and know we will fight alongside you.”
She also said: “If we want to strengthen democracy, we must fight for gender equality. Because here is the truth: Democracy is strongest when everyone participates, and it is weaker when people are left out.”
Since the Taliban took over the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul on Aug. 15, Harris has been largely silent on the issue of our Afghanistan policy, even on the plight of women. It wasn’t until Aug. 24 that she finally tweeted out in support of Afghan women.
That’s her only Tweet on the subject matter across her two accounts. Same pattern on Instagram. She seems to have continued with her regular schedule as if nothing is happening worth her notice.
Yet, there is alarming news coming out of Afghanistan for women already. A female TV reporter was told by the Taliban to “go home,” and she was no longer allowed to work. Stories have emerged of the Taliban requiring women to have a male escort in public. The founder of the only all-girls boarding school in Afghanistan burned student records for fear of Taliban retribution against the girls for going to school. The former captain of the Afghanistan women’s national soccer team encouraged her teammates to erase any mention of playing from social media and burn any evidence they played the sport.
The Taliban, and the threat of their rule, are quickly curtailing freedom for women in ways most women in the U.S. can’t even imagine.
When the Taliban were last in control, Afghan girls weren’t free to go to school, and women couldn’t go in public without a male escort. What is happening now is likely just the beginning of the loss of freedom women in Afghanistan will face.
Harris can’t pretend she doesn’t know what’s happening in Afghanistan. She has been intimately involved with President Joe Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan. Back in April, Harris claimed to be the “last person in the room” before Biden decided to pull troops from Afghanistan.
If what is happening in Afghanistan doesn’t create a moment for Harris to speak up for women and freedom, what will?