Asia Society Panel to Discuss the Future of Afghan Women

A burqa-clad Afghan woman walks on a street in Kabul on August 10, 2010. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images)

By now, most people have seen the provocative Time magazine cover of a disfigured 18 year-old Afghan woman named Bibi Aisha. The young woman's husband, who is also a Taliban fighter, cut off her nose and ears after she tried to escape her abusive in-laws. Next to the photo is the suggestive caption that has sparked heated debate: "What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan."

Whether or not you agree with Time's political views, or the method used to present them, the cover has inspired an important conversation about the plight of Afghan women. After the overthrow of the Taliban regime, it looked as if the situation for women in Afghanistan was improving. A ministry for women was established and a new constitution guaranteed women 25% representation in the legislature. Since then, little has changed. Afghan women are still often victims of violence and over 80% of women are illiterate. On August 23, Asia Society Northern California hosts a discussion, Women in Asia: Remembering Afghan Women, in which a panel of three experts will address the key challenges that face women in both Afghanistan and South Asia, and present possible solutions. The panel will argue that improving the situation of women goes hand in hand with ensuring development in the region. 

Bibi Aisha's disfigured face is difficult to look at, and the questions her image raises are even more difficult to answer. Critics call the cover "emotional blackmail," but proponents see the photo as a powerful symbol of why the US is in Afghanistan to begin with. What's more, they view it as a warning of what can occur if US troops don't stay the course. Admittedly, this horrific occurence isn't uncommon, and this young woman was a victim of her husband's wrath even while US troops were in her country.

Tell us what you think. Does the US bear a special responsibility for the women of Afghanistan? What can be done to protect and empower women like Bibi Aisha? Share your thoughts on these issues in the space below. 

This post originally appeared on Asia Blog.