The issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan has been rightly thrust into the spotlight as the oppressive Taliban regime has overtaken the country. Despite some Taliban officials’ statements suggesting otherwise, the notable gains that have been made in the last two decades are likely to be erased as Afghan history enters a new dark phase.
As the United States monitors the dire situation in Afghanistan, the question of what can be done to improve gender equality in this chaotic country remains largely unanswered. However, there is no question that we can make progress in this area right now within our own borders. Women are far better off in the United States than in Afghanistan, but there’s still the room—and the need—for significant improvement.
Even in 2021, women living in the United States are limited by institutional barriers that prevent them from participating equally among men in society. Even worse, women continue to encounter rampant discrimination and harassment in key aspects of life—housing, employment, and education—while many also fall victim to sexual abuse and domestic violence.
The American Civil Liberties Union highlights three key statistics on its Women’s Rights webpage in a box entitled “What You Need to Know.” First, for every dollar a man earns, a woman makes only 78 cents—or as low as 54 cents if she is a minority. Second, a quarter of the homeless women population lost their home due to domestic violence. Third, over a thousand U.S. public K-12 schools administer single-sex education programs, relying on junk science about gender stereotypes and brain function.
While these three statistics are alarming, they only scratch the surface of America’s multi-faceted gender equality problem that still eludes us. At the end of the nineteenth century, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and several activists published The Woman’s Bible, promoting the “radical” idea that women do not live to serve men. “Come, come, my conservative friend, wipe the dew off your spectacles, and see that the world is moving” is a frank call to reason that tragically still applies today.
If American politicians so vociferously support women’s rights in Afghanistan, then they should also express passion for achieving progress at home. If the United States is to act as a credible authority on women’s rights in Afghanistan or any other nation, we must not only shine a spotlight on others but hold a mirror up to ourselves and take appropriate action. Despite substantial strides over the last century, the phrase “all men are created equal” still plagues the United States. It’s time we clean up our own house.