I have met with women with faces like Aisha’s in Bangladesh, where lovers or jealous husbands have thrown acid on their faces to scar them for life. I have spoken with women missing limbs because pimps mutilated them in Cambodia. I have heard from Bosnian women whose vaginas have been shredded by soldiers who inserted pointed objects and guns into them. I know women in India whose faces and bodies are a mass of burned flesh because they did not bring enough dowry. And, you don’t have to leave the United States to see such brutality. Last November I met a woman from Tennessee whose ex-husband beat her with an iron rod within an inch of her life — her jaw is shattered, her nose is broken, her left eye does not see.
If the intent of TIME magazine and organizations like Women for Afghan Women was to illuminate the taboo topic of violence against women with this picture — I am all for it. If it ignites a public debate about the silent ongoing war that patriarchy wages against girls and women in their homes, at work places, on the streets, and on army bases — bring it on. If this cover helps us advocate for a U.S. foreign policy that places the dignity and humanity of women at its core — I will be the first to celebrate.
If this country is serious about addressing the root causes of Aisha’s disfigurement — let it make a commitment to non-violence and respect for women a key component of its domestic and foreign policy. Let it help train armies of nurses, teachers, and agricultural workers in Afghanistan. Let it invest in diplomacy and decrease its unmatched military expenditure — currently more than the rest of the world combined. Let it say to its client states, whether Israel, Iraq, or Saudi Arabia, “we will stop providing military aid, if we do not see clear evidence that you are moving to address gender violence and discrimination in your societies.” Let the Senate immediately ratify Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) — the UN Bill of Rights for women. Let the U.S. lead by realizing women’s rights at home before it invades other nations where it can moralize about “tribal” practices.