Afghan refugees and feminism

23 August, 2021

Afghan refugees arrived to Torrejón, Spain
Afghan refugees arrived to Torrejón, Spain

Table of Contents

A classist… and sexist refugee policy

The first group of Afghan refugees arriving in Spain meet with the Ministers of Social Security and Foreign Affairs.
The first group of Afghan refugees arriving in Spain meet with the Ministers of Social Security and Foreign Affairs.

The policy on Afghan refugees puts feminism back in the spotlight. After the Taliban conquest of Kabul, the main EU countries made it clear that they would only provide shelter for a few direct collaborators and the upper echelons of the Afghan bourgeoisie. However, a clear message soon began to become hegemonic among politicians: even within the fortunate group of local elites there would be differences based on gender.

Read also: Will the Taliban victory in Afghanistan usher in a new wave of refugees in Europe?, 17/8/2021
The use of the feminine plural in communication ("bienvenidas") instead of the gender neutral plural ("bienvenidos") in communication about refugees, highlights this time a difference in shelter preferences.
The use of the feminine plural in communication (“bienvenidas”) instead of the gender neutral plural (“bienvenidos”) in communication about refugees, highlights this time a difference in shelter preferences.

But even more brutal was the German Cooperation Agency (GIZ), which locked out the sons of its employees in Afghanistan from evacuation. Only unmarried daughters were allowed to board the rescue planes.

Adib had expected the GIZ to help him and his family, as the German government has been promising for days. Instead, the organization told him that he himself could get a seat on one of the planes leaving Kabul, but not his male children over the age of 18. “I am supposed to leave my children in the hands of the Taliban. This is madness,” he asserts.

But far from amending, during these days the official statements of the European leaders followed the same path with the same underlying message: the collaborators of the occupation forces and the women -especially the feminists, practically all of them upper class- are refugees, the rest -even if they hunt them down house by house to kill them- are migrants and the aim is to prevent them from reaching Europe. For them there are no airplanes but Frontex and death at the borders.

Read also: Refugees: new policies show EU's lies and hypocrisies, 17/7/2021

Feminist morality and perspective

If we think carefully about it, the idea that in a situation of life or death for tens of thousands, it is somehow progressive to give refuge mainly to women and especially to feminists is aberrant. But it permeates the entire media treatment and configures a real information sieve. Four, literally four, upper-class ladies with messages written on paper sheets make world news while the resistance of thousands is barely a footnote and the massive wildcat strikes in neighboring Iran won’t even reach the inside pages.

Such nonsense can only be seen as acceptable if we first accept the assertion that each sex forms political subjects over and above social classes. Political subjects that would share homogeneous or at least common interests within each group so strong that they would be above the fracturing of society into social classes. This discourse, which is the core of what feminism actually means as an ideology, can only draw between men and women an artificial and inhumane opposition.

The inevitable result of the “feminist perspective” is to end up reducing the Taliban horror to a problem of male chauvinism which could be solved by including women in Taliban political positions. Is a genocidal government less genocidal if it has women in charge? Even if we were to focus on the situation of women by making invisible the whole Taliban program and its objectives, it would be ridiculous to think that because of the presence of women in the Taliban government the situation of women in general would improve.

But that is precisely what feminism peddles in Europe itself. And that’s what the gender pay gap ultimately measures. Of course, thinking that modifying the male-female ratio at the helm of the state and large companies could be the solution to the discrimination and violence suffered by millions of working-class women is absurd… unless this is an excuse by a privileged group who aim precisely at occupying those positions as a real goal.

Feminism and imperialist war: an old alliance

US war propaganda poster recruiting women for work in military industries. A symbol of imperialism and massacre later turned into a feminist symbol.
US war propaganda poster recruiting women for work in military industries. A symbol of imperialism and massacre later turned into a feminist symbol.

In that realm, the relationship of feminism and war has always been transparent to the point of impudence. Both in Europe and in the USA feminism was the first movement to support the wars and recruit women for the two great imperialist world butcheries. Any horror was justified if it gave the opportunity for college educated women of the petty bourgeoisie to occupy managerial positions in the war economy. No wonder that to this day the most universal of feminist icons remains a factory recruitment poster for the war effort.

Where the feminist discourse has more credibility -without being in the majority- is in salaries. Some 45.2% believe that women have lower salaries. This is not true in the overwhelming majority of cases. The remaining 45.7% are right. In Spain there has been a legal duty for companies to pay equal pay for equal work for decades. But the rhetoric of the gender wage gap, which in reality measures above all the weight of the female petty bourgeoisie in corporate management, has caught on among a large minority of young people.

The war in Afghanistan is no exception. Although, as Biden himself said, the war was never intended to improve the situation of Afghans in any way, feminism served from day one to globally sell the invasion by the US and its NATO allies as a “liberation.”

And then, when the reality of the new regime became evident, it served as a loincloth to maintain the armed deployment: “The regime is infamous, poverty is multiplying while the powerful accumulate with the money of the allies but… women have improved a lot”, we were told. This was a lie. Beyond two little schools shown ad nauseam by the media, the situation of women only improved within the ruling class that distributed ministries, positions and budgets and used international aid as a private subsidy to build its own capital.

For feminism, then and now, the savage exploitation and oppression of Afghan workers of both sexes was irrelevant. Just as the fate of the thousands of people, mostly workers and peasants, marked for murder by the Taliban government is now irrelevant to them.

Feminism has never been shy of historical falsification: from pretending non-feminist movements and individuals were actually feminist or falsifying quotes to attributing to itself historical triumphs to which it was completely irrelevant such as the extension of female employment.

But despite the lies and rhetorical traps, it is becoming increasingly clear that feminism is not “a struggle for women’s equality”. It never has been so. It is a sexist identitarianism useful to the social ascent of petty bourgeois women. And it has always been tremendously coherent with that goal from its origins.

Read also: Rosa Luxemburg against Feminism

Feminism invisibilizes the real discrimination of women… and not only in Afghanistan

Perception of the situation of women with respect to men among young people in Spain
Perception of the situation of women with respect to men among young people in Spain

It is inevitable to wonder whether women who are not part of the most “westernized” faction of the upper classes, the “Afghan feminists”, are of any interest to feminism. It is striking that the official narratives and feminist discourse on Afghanistan do not even include references to the wages earned by women, the gender segregation in the textile workshops and the absence of even the most basic medical coverage among female workers.

The issue with these petty-bourgeois identity movements is that although they try to appropriate the struggle against discrimination, falsifying whatever is necessary, they end up unfailingly invisibilizing what they claim to fight against because of their own class myopia.

And it is not only regarding Afghanistan. In Spain, where feminism has been a state ideology for some years now, when we look at the data from the last study on Spanish youth the result is really sad. As we see in the graph above, the majority of young people of both sexes think that the situation of women is equal or better than that of men.

Why, has sexism completely disappeared in Spain? No. But what the feminist perspective instructs us to look at are the variables more or less indicative of the rise of the female petty bourgeoisie. And young people construct from that perspective, omnipresent in the media and high school and university curricula, their own assessment of the social situation.

Where the feminist discourse has more credibility -without being in the majority- is in salaries. Some 45.2% believe that women have lower salaries. This is not true in the overwhelming majority of cases. The remaining 45.7% are right. In Spain there has been a legal duty for companies to pay equal pay for equal work for decades. But the rhetoric of the gender wage gap, which in reality measures above all the weight of the female petty bourgeoisie in corporate management, has caught on among a large minority of young people.

However, unlike salaries, which they do not know firsthand, “being able to continue studying” is something that affects them directly. 57.6% say it does not depend on or is skewed by gender. 22.1% say there is a gender bias, but it favors women. Asked in the same study about the causes driving those who dropped out of school, 30% say it was due to economic reasons. Sexual discrimination does not even appear among the causes reported by the respondents.

That is, class differences emerge again and again because they are present in everything we know about the social reality around us. But feminism denies again and again those differences and puts the focus on very specific interests: distribution of managerial positions between sexes, weight of each sex in parliamentary representation and high ministerial positions, percentage of women among the owners of small and medium-sized companies, possibilities of promotion within the corporate management structure…

And the fact is that in the big picture the young people are right: the outlook of the female petty bourgeoisie of the generations below forty is, as of today, equal to or better than that of their male counterparts. The point is that sexism does not happen there. It is rather to be found in the neighborhoods and in precarious jobs, where situations of discrimination and abuse -sexist and of other kinds- are widespread. In Spain… and of course in Afghanistan.