Suddenly, women are everywhere in the war coverage. The defeat of the Taliban, we are told, will lead to the liberation of women in Afghanistan. Everywhere, we see photos of Afghan women without their faces covered.

That great fighter for women’s rights, Laura Bush, George W.’s better half, took over his radio spot last week to “launch a worldwide effort to highlight the brutal oppression of women,” by the Taliban. Mrs. Bush, who has apparently just noticed the brutal treatment of women in Afghanistan, tells us that “the people of Afghanistan, especially women, are rejoicing,” now that the Taliban is in retreat.

Here is what the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) — arguably the only credible voice of Afghan women — has to say about their joy in the National Alliance taking over from the Taliban:

The retreat of the terrorist Taliban from Kabul is a positive development, but the entering of the rapists and looters of the National Alliance in the city is nothing but dreadful and shocking news for about 2 million residents of Kabul whose wounds of the years 1992-96 (when the NA was in power) have not yet healed.

RAWA says that the National Alliance is posing before the West — and even supporters of women’s rights — as democratic, but they have not changed their spots at all. Amnesty International echoes RAWA’s warnings:

The Afghan population is at the mercy of armed political groups with an appalling human rights record. We have the gravest concerns for the people of Kabul who are now at high risk of reprisal attacks and killings.

If the United States and its allies were really concerned about women’s rights in Afghanistan, they would ensure that a significant number of women have a seat at the table in negotiations for a new government in Afghanistan. If women’s rights are to become a central preoccupation of the new Afghanistan, then women should be part of building that new society.

The United Nations resolution 1325, passed by the Security Council last year, says women should have a place at the table in all conflict resolution and peace processes. This resolution was the result of years of struggle by women’s groups around the world. Yet there is no indication that the UN is moving to include women in the peace negotiations in Afghanistan.

Some would probably argue that Afghan culture would reject the participation of women. But the National Organization of Women points out that, prior to the 1996 Taliban takeover of the country, women represented 70 per cent of the school teachers, 40 per cent of the doctors, and 50 per cent of the college students in Kabul. These women have been living under house arrest for the last years, but are quite capable of participating in any discussions of building of a new government. Including women in the peace process would be a restoration of their role before the women-hating Taliban took over.

The culture of apartheid South Africa rejected the ability of blacks to participate in government, but no credible solution for South Africa could be even contemplated without the full participation of black people. Similarly, without the participation of women, there will be no solution for Afghanistan that defends the rights of women.

War is definitely a guy thing. While I haven’t been able to find a gender breakdown on support for the “war on terrorism,” there has been a deep gender gap in previous wars. For example, 62 per cent of men and only 41 per cent of women in the U.S. supported the Gulf War in its early days.

I suspect Laura Bush’s radio address has more to do with shoring up female support for the war in the U.S. than it does with the rights of Afghan women.

It’s not only that fewer women support going to war than men, it’s also that the testosterone levels rise dramatically as soon as we are off to war.

It is amazing how the number of women being interviewed on television news, always a relatively small number, has dropped dramatically since September 11. With the exception of the ubiquitous Janice Stein, it is hard to find a female “expert” on matters of war, terrorism or even Afghanistan over the airwaves or in print.

Not surprisingly then, while Afghan women feature prominently as victims of the Taliban, they suddenly disappear when the discussion of a coalition government is discussed. RAWA could be the only organization in the country with credibility across ethnic groups and tribes, but I haven’t heard one commentator mention them in discussions of a government that might replace the Taliban.

War is a man’s game, but peace, as the United Nations recognizes, is much more likely if women are involved.

Judy Rebick

Judy Rebick

Judy Rebick is one of Canada’s best-known feminists. She was the founding publisher of , wrote our advice column and was co-host of one of our first podcasts called Reel Women....