The men of Afghanistan need to be saved, too
We need a collective understanding of how violence impacts men
The shock, indignation, and anguish of the events in Afghanistan has subsided. In its place, the emotional nausea and appalling reality that after twenty years, one trillion dollars, and thousands of lives lost — Afghanistan has tragically fallen to the Taliban in less than ten days.
Hundreds of editorials have been written as to how and why this happened—and the natural and earned recriminations ensued. However, in the panic and distress of the ill-planned emergency evacuations, which were not inevitable as I discussed here, another troubling motif has emerged.
With all of the chilling images arising from one of the most abject diplomatic failures in U.S. history, a prevailing theme has surfaced—why are there so many men in the photos and fewer women?
I will not link the harrowing video of Afghan men falling to their deaths after clinging to a military plane as it departs from Kabul Airport. I can only imagine the desperation that would lead to such an act. Soon after that video, a distressing but outdated image quickly circulated online of a plane with Afghan nationals, huddled together en route to their next destination. Cameras follow the hundreds of people at the airport, being controlled either by Taliban gunfire or U.S. military guards. Amidst all the chaos, the same questions were posed repeatedly, “where are the women and children?”
First, even if one has actively fled a war zone, which most have not, to engage in a speculative debate as to how one should escape unimaginable trauma is ghoulish and unequally inhumane. I don’t know what I would’ve done if a deadly terrorist organization overpowered every apparatus of my country’s military, police, and government and therefore, will not presume to instruct others how to respond.
With all of the chilling images arising from one of the most abject diplomatic failures in U.S. history, a prevailing theme has surfaced — why are there so many men in the photos and fewer women?
Of course, women and children need to be saved from the Taliban who have an inaccurate and warped view of Islam and will almost certainly treat them as second-class citizens. In fact, Malala Yousafzai swiftly penned an impassioned plea on behalf of the women and girls of Afghanistan upon learning that their rights were so quickly diminishing. No reasonable person would deny that women need to escape these circumstances.
That said, the United States beguiled tens of thousands of Afghan men to work as translators and in additional U.S. government-affiliate positions. They were offered asylum in the United States, only for that promise to be reneged. There are numerous accounts of men holding documents up at the airport, proving that they’ve been screened and qualify for U.S. relocation. If they fail to leave, they become primary targets for execution by the Taliban—illustrating how perilous Afghanistan can be for men as well.
In a broader scope, the perennial acts of warfare, human trafficking, and violence that dominate news cycles, whether it be the crisis on the U.S.-Mexican border or distant conflict regions, invariably beget the question of “where are the women and children?” And though that may be sensible given the disproportionate violence women and children endure, what of the men that are resigned to these countries? What will become of them if they are left behind?
In a world replete with overt and unconscious misogyny, we need a collective understanding of how violence impacts men.
I read personal testimony of a Salvadoran refugee in the United States who, after reaching safety, returned to El Salvador to retrieve her son. She was in danger of being raped and murdered; he was in danger of being indoctrinated by force into the organizations that rape and assault women—or face execution for refusing to comply. As far as she was concerned, the country was unsafe for both of them. How could it not be? It’s important to note that men are victims of wartime sexual violence, which often goes unreported due to the stigmas attached to masculinity and male vulnerability.
In a world replete with overt and unconscious misogyny, we need a collective understanding of how violence impacts men. What does it do to men to live in a society where women are subjugated and abused? Do we want young boys raised in a world where their sense of “normal” is inequality and violence? Everyone—man, woman, boy, or girl—needs to see women in positions of leadership and authority, because that should be everyone’s normal. Let’s not forget, there’s an entire generation of American children who take for granted that Barack Obama was a Black president, because they know nothing else.
Afghan children, boys and girls alike, deserve a normalcy where they don’t question the rights and freedoms of women and girls. Afghan children, boys and girls alike, deserve a normalcy where positions of academia, business, and sciences are earned by merit irrespective of gender. Afghan children, boys and girls alike, deserve to be in a place where everyone is treated equally.
We need to save the women and girls of Afghanistan. We need to save the men who were promised safety for themselves and their families. And lastly, we need to save the remaining Afghanis from the psychological and physical terror of the Taliban which, painfully, will become their “normal.”