Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.


Candles and flowers decorate a makeshift memorial for US Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old US Army specialist, at Power House Gym on August 14, 2020, in Houston, Texas. Guillen's murder the subsequent suicide of the chief suspect, US Army specialist Aaron Robinson, has put a spotlight on sexual harassment in the US military.

Women's Rights: Afghanistan and Beyond

The American military, which purports to be supporting women's rights in Afghanistan, could hardly be said to value women's rights in its own ranks. Rape has long been a side effect of militarism and war, and any discussion—let alone investigation—of it has long been avoided.

Robert C. Koehler

Suddenly there's major concern across the country—from the mainstream media to every last rock-ribbed Republican—for the rights of Afghan women and girls to be able to work, to go to school.

Oh my God, we've given Afghanistan back to the Taliban! Even George W. Bush found his way back into the news cycle: "I think the consequences are going to be unbelievably bad and sad."

The American military is deeply part of the problem, not the solution. And the mainstream media, ever on the lookout for simple answers, seems unable to know this.

America, America, the global do-gooder, bringer of civilized values to the Middle East. This is why we've hemorrhaged trillions of dollars over the past two decades engaging evil itself. This is why hundreds of thousands of people had to die, millions had to be displaced. We were defending the rights of . . . people we could care less about.

There's a paradox here, wrapped in lies and feel-good public relations.

The women of Afghanistan are indeed endangered as the Taliban reclaims the country. Their loss of human rights should definitely be a matter of global concern—just as so much else that's wrong across the planet should be, from poverty to war to climate catastrophe—but the American military is deeply part of the problem, not the solution. And the mainstream media, ever on the lookout for simple answers, seems unable to know this.

This is what's worth knowing: "The women of Afghanistan today are not the women of 26 years ago."

The speaker is Taranum Sayeedi, one of about two dozen Afghan women protesting recently outside what had been, until the Taliban shut it down, the women's ministry in Kabul. It has been replaced by the Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which had been part of the government in the previous era of Taliban rule, in the 1990s, to which she was referring. Those were the days when religious police arrested women on the street if they were not appropriately covered . . . or were listening to music.

The fact that women in Afghanistan are standing up to this now is a burst of global hope. Let it be part of a global human rights movement. Movements for change emerge from the cultural core. Human rights are claimed and won. They are not a "gift" from the military. The 19th Amendment wasn't preceded by airstrikes on the nation's capital.

So a crucial question that accompanies the Afghan women's protests is this: How can the rest of the world support it?

I don't think the answer is more drone strikes.

But that seems to be the assumption that hangs in the air as former Bush administration personnel, including W himself, weigh in on the American withdrawal from Afghanistan 20 years into the quagmire (a.k.a., the mission). The deep irony, as Belen Fernandez points out at Al Jazeera, is that Bush's war on terror "has thus far killed more than 47,000 civilians (including women) in Afghanistan alone and displaced millions."

Women's rights are hardly what you would call a basic military or political value. Most militarists, I would think, are adamantly against feminism of any sort—but they will grab any cause they can if it helps them define the enemy of the moment. Waging war begins with waging public relations.

And the irony intensifies. The American military, which purports to be supporting women's rights in Afghanistan, could hardly be said to value women's rights in its own ranks. Rape has long been a side effect of militarism and war, and any discussion—let alone investigation—of it has long been avoided.

"For decades, sexual assault and harassment have festered through the ranks of the armed forces with military leaders repeatedly promising reform and then failing to live up to those promises," Melinda Wenner Moyer writes at the New York Times, pointing out that, according to numerous studies, "nearly one in four servicewomen reports experiencing sexual assault in the military, and more than half report experiencing harassment."

She adds: "Many service members leave the military soon after experiencing sexual trauma—and not voluntarily. Not only are military rapists rarely punished, but their victims are often punished for reporting what happened. According to a 2018 survey of active-duty service members by the Department of Defense, 38 percent of servicewomen who reported their assaults experienced professional retaliation afterward."

And, as if all this weren't horrific enough, in 2019, "women accounted for 31 percent of all suicide attempts among active-duty service members," she writes. That's double the number of women in the military.

This is domination culture in full flower. Some years ago, addressing the issue of military rape, I wrote: "Maybe it's time to look at the values themselves—beginning with those of our military culture, which is the model, and indeed the metaphor, for every other form of domination culture: The prime value is winning. . . . And in a culture based on winning, the rapist is the winner."

When we tear back the public relations, it becomes clear that women's rights—indeed, human rights—remain a global matter and require a global, nonviolent, movement: a movement that's just beginning.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Robert C. Koehler

Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Koehler has been the recipient of multiple awards for writing and journalism from organizations including the National Newspaper Association, Suburban Newspapers of America, and the Chicago Headline Club.  He’s a regular contributor to such high-profile websites as Common Dreams and the Huffington Post. Eschewing political labels, Koehler considers himself a “peace journalist. He has been an editor at Tribune Media Services and a reporter, columnist and copy desk chief at Lerner Newspapers, a chain of neighborhood and suburban newspapers in the Chicago area. Koehler launched his column in 1999. Born in Detroit and raised in suburban Dearborn, Koehler has lived in Chicago since 1976. He earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Columbia College and has taught writing at both the college and high school levels. Koehler is a widower and single parent. He explores both conditions at great depth in his writing. His book, "Courage Grows Strong at the Wound" (2016). Contact him or visit his website at

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

'Horrific': 50 Migrants Found Dead in Abandoned Trailer Truck in Texas

"We need to end Title 42 and fix our broken immigration system so these unimaginable tragedies stop happening," said Rep. Chuy García. "People fleeing violence and poverty deserve a chance at a better life."

Jake Johnson ·

Harris Says White House Not 'Discussing' Use of Federal Land for Abortion Care

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are among the Democratic lawmakers who have expressed support for the idea as GOP-controlled states move to outlaw abortion.

Jake Johnson ·

Abortion Rights Defenders Applaud Judge's Block on Utah 'Trigger Ban'

"Today is a win, but it is only the first step in what will undoubtedly be a long and difficult fight," said one pro-choice advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·

Scores Feared Dead and Wounded as Russian Missiles Hit Ukraine Shopping Center

"People just burned alive," said Ukraine's interior minister, while the head of the Poltava region stated that "it is too early to talk about the final number of the killed."

Brett Wilkins ·

Biodiversity Risks Could Persist for Decades After Global Temperature Peak

One study co-author said the findings "should act as a wake-up call that delaying emissions cuts will mean a temperature overshoot that comes at an astronomical cost to nature and humans that unproven negative emission technologies cannot simply reverse."

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo