By Kate McGuinness
Published in Forbes July 10, 2012.
This is a guest post by Kate McGuinness, a former Biglaw partner and former general counsel to a major media company.
My anger at the latest “honor killing” of a woman in Afghanistan flared as I read Secretary of State Clinton’s declaration that, like Pakistan, Afghanistan was now one of our country’s 15 “major non-NATO allies.”
What an outrage!
After all, the weekend’s news also carried the report of the shooting death of a Pakistani woman who had openly advocated for women’s rights in her country.
Furious about Violence Against Women
Ready to protest on blogs, twitter or Pennsylvania Avenue, I was determined to find a way for American women to help our sisters in these countries.
My brain red-lined as it frantically sought answers. My computer hummed with searches including why the United States is reallycommitted to stay in Afghanistan until 2014. That inquiry led to an answer.
But it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
I spoke to Christine Fair, a professor at Georgetown who is recognized as an expert in military and political issues in South Asia.
Fair’s professional credentials are impeccable, including service as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a senior fellow with the Counter Terrorism Center at West Point. Her personal credentials are likewise above reproach, including the courtesy and compassion to speak with a concerned stranger on a Sunday night.
Fair patiently, and graphically, described the savage treatment of women and children in Afghanistan. Brutality is common and occurs throughout the population, she told me, not just at the hands of the Taliban. She also explained the daunting hurdles for our government in any attempt to change this culture.
Aid Worsens the Situation
Even Western non-governmental organizations operating in Afghanistan are viewed with great suspicion.
Worse than that, their very presence is highly inflammatory.
When Western advocates and aid workers leave the country, the women of Afghanistan are left to bear the men’s wrath for the foreigner’s hubris. Several times Professor Fair urged, Do no harm.
The conversation left me smarter, but sadder and deflated. I had desperately wanted to help these women but it seemed any effort would only worsen an already horrific situation.
As an attorney, I’ve always been a “zealous advocate” for my clients, but in this case no justice can be had.
What to do?
Cleaning Our Own House
We must redouble our efforts on behalf of women’s rights in our own country. As Professor Fair put it, “We have a lot of housecleaning to do here.”
That conclusion has echoes of the advice I received some time ago from a Buddhist monk.
After his stirring homily on compassion for all sentient beings, I asked how to decide where to direct my energy and financial support. He told me to begin with those closest to my heart.
Now that the professor has reeled in my anger, I am focused again on helping American women whose bodies and rights are also under siege.
Sadly, I’m still left with the need to choose my battles because our “house” is shamefully dirty.
Kate McGuinness, a former Biglaw partner and former general counsel to a major media company, is the author of Terminal Ambition, a legal thriller centered around a sexual harassment claim.