In the shadow of the war in Iraq, America and her NATO allies continue to wage war against Al-Qaeda and the remaining Taliban in the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan.

As with the war in Iraq, the media fails to mention any progress in the region and reports almost with giddy anticipation the possibility of the Taliban’s return to power. One of the more neglected, yet most important stories the media conveniently “forgot” in its crusade to end a war it knows nothing about, is that of the liberation of women in Afghanistan.

In 1996, the Taliban established firm control of the country and began instituting harsh laws based on fundamentalist teachings. While mainstream Muslims practice tolerance and preach peace, the Taliban twisted religious beliefs into inhuman laws not seen since before the dark ages. Children were forbidden from flying kites, alcohol and the practices of other religions were banned and the media was completely censored.

Women suffered the most under this new regime. A woman could not leave her home without male escort, and young girls were barred from pursuing education of any kind. Domestic violence and forced marriages increased, and the religious police dealt out brutal punishments to those not in accordance to the “law”.

If a woman would do something as simple as paint her nails, she would have her fingers cut off. Women were stoned to death for adultery (including if she was raped), and beaten for “offenses” like their burqa being to short. For five harsh years, life was hell as the Taliban made war on the people it swore to protect.

Since the United States invaded Afghanistan, there have been many significant changes. Women have returned to school and back into the work force all over the country. In the last Presidential election, women were an astounding forty percent of the voters.

Sports that were banned are now being played all over the country. Olympic martial arts like Judo and Karate are very popular, as well as basketball and volleyball. Only a few women have competed in the Olympics since the country was liberated, but more and more women are participating in sports.

Martial arts have long been a way for a person to build physical and mental strength. And for Middle Eastern women, the positive mental attitude built by such training counteracts the years of being treated as third-class citizens.

Women in these countries are now training to be police officers, and little girls are learning sport martial arts and self-defense. All would have been impossible under the Taliban regime.

What’s going to happen in the next stage in the war is anyone’s guess as political infighting pulls resources away from front lines. And whether or not American forces are pulled out before the job is complete, perhaps the next time an Afghani or Iraqi man raises his hand to hit a “disobedient” woman, she will toss him to the ground thanks to her new martial arts training.

There is still a lot of progress to be made both for women, and society as a whole in these countries, but at least the foundation has been laid. The freedom we have provided, and the liberty for women and children to pursue martial arts will help form a new nation that could one day become a powerful ally.