A few weeks ago I was on my way to meet a friend for coffee, listening to the news while navigating morning traffic and a story came on about Afghanistan. The suicide rate for Afghan women is up drastically since the return of the Taliban. Of course it is, I thought to myself. One minute you’re a person with hopes and dreams and a future going about your life, the next moment you’re not allowed out of your house. And there’s no end in sight. Empty promise after empty promise from the Taliban about how and where they will let women and girls participate in society. Just last week the Taliban ordered beauty salons to close. One less place women are allowed to exist.
I want to think all these women killing themselves would get the Taliban’s attention. That this incredible travesty would convince them to reconsider their policies. But no. That would require thinking about women as people instead of as objects, which the Taliban is clearly not about to start doing. From the moment they returned to power they have systematically removed women from all parts of public life while blatantly lying to the international community with vague intentions of things that sound kind of like equality.
The BBC interviewer asked one Afghan psychologist what they are saying to their patients to help them cope. "I ask 'who is your hero?'" they explained. Nelson Mandela is a common response, so the psychologist offers, "Nelson Mandela spent a long time in prison, but he was eventually freed and went on to change the world. He survived and so can you." The reality of the survival option the psychologist presented to these women and girls breaks my heart. 27 years is too long to ask someone to keep hoping for freedom without any method or opportunity to affect their own circumstance.
At this point I can only hold the most cynical view: the Taliban are doing it on purpose. The women who are killing themselves in isolation are the ones the Taliban doesn’t want around. The independent thinkers, the people with aspirations and ideas and dreams that have been crushed. The once future leaders of a more gender-inclusive Afghanistan. Without even getting their own hands dirty, the Taliban are culling the herd. Culling the hers. It makes me sick.
But it's critical to acknowledge that this group of people in power is seeing this outcome of their actions and is taking further action not to mitigate but to make it worse. When a pattern presents itself, it does us no good to consider each compounding incident in isolation. Like every horrid assault the previous US president has ever perpetrated publicly. And just like the entirety of the American food and healthcare systems.
There are countless foods (or food components) sold freely in the US that are banned in other countries. For example, 160 countries have banned US pork because of the growth hormones given to almost all pigs raised in the US for food. There are only about 200 countries in the whole world. That means roughly 80% of the countries across the entire planet have determined US pork is too harmful to consume as food. That's most of the rest of the world. And our own Food and Drug Administration has no problem with our poisoned pork. That's absurd.
If we're going to allow such toxicity in our food, it would be nice if we had a robust healthcare system to treat all the resulting ailments people develop from a lifetime of eating US food. Obviously we do not. Quite the opposite, in fact: our healthcare system is downright predatory. Insurance companies bend over backwards to avoid paying for reasonable or necessary procedures and medication. Doctors, hospitals, and other providers send inflated bills to patients, who over-pay for service because they are unaware they can (and should) question the charges. Providers rely on consumer ignorance of the incredibly complex system (they helped create), so it sure seems like they are doing this on purpose.
A more localized example of potentially intentional malfeasance recently came to my attention. It's no secret that people without indoor housing is a big problem in Portland. It's a big problem in a lot of places because capitalism sucks for most people in most places, and it's especially true after the pandemic obliterated a lot of people's livelihoods. What's new is an organization called Loving One Another that appears at first glance like they are doing something to help. They provide food to people living on the street and connect those people with shelters.
That sounds great, people without food and shelter need access to food and shelter. The problem is this religious non-profit organization is owned by the same guy who owns a private security company. The same private security company on contract with many downtown businesses and the Pearl District neighborhood group. And a new rule just came into effect that punishes anyone camping on Portland sidewalks who refuses to move to a shelter with fines or jail time. Aside from the utter absurdity of fining someone who can't afford housing, this poses a giant conflict of interest issue.
Now the pairing of one capitalist's for-profit private security firm and his non-profit religious organization are in the perfect position as both carrot and stick. The non-profit outreach team can offer a person a trip to a shelter, and if they don’t want to go for whatever reason (like they get harassed there or worse), the enforcement squad can just detain that person instead of leaving them alone. But private security are not cops, so the (very minimal) protections of the current judicial system won’t even be there to help someone who is already vulnerable avoid mistreatment by these private enforcers.
It's a situation rich with opportunity for extortion and exploitation. Just plain profiteering off the housing crisis would be distasteful. But this guy has gone a few steps further and is playing both sides in a way that will ultimately exacerbate the problem since getting people out of doorways and into temporary shelters does not address the root cause of homelessness. All it really does is make it look like someone is doing something so the city council members can pat themselves on the back while people starve and go un-cared-for in a slightly less visible way. And all because the City Council refuses to do the difficult and necessary work of actually taking care of people and solving the problems of poverty. Almost like they're avoiding that work on purpose.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.