Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls
The Feminist Majority’s largest global undertaking to date has been the Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls (formerly the Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan). The campaign, chaired by Mavis Leno, is the first of its kind to build a U.S. grassroots constituency around a foreign policy issue of women’s rights, and it successfully brought the Taliban regime’s atrocities against women and girls in Afghanistan to the attention of the United States and the world. FM and our sister organization the Feminist Majority Foundation built a co-sponsoring network of some 250 women’s rights and human rights organizations for the Campaign. With the support of literally tens of thousands, our work was key in stopping U.S. and U.N. recognition of the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. President Bill Clinton together with Kofi Anan announced that the US and UN would not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan at a 1998 White House event celebrating International Women’s Day.
Near the end of the Clinton Administration, in a meeting with Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, Secretary of State Madeline Albright stated that, during her tenure, the State Department had received more letters advocating for Afghan women than on any other foreign policy. Secretary Albright attributed this outpouring of support for Afghan women to the Feminist Majority’s Campaign.
To date, the Feminist Majority’s efforts have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in Congressional appropriations programs to benefit Afghan women, for funding for Afghan Women’s NGOs, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. In 2013 the USAID announced a new program to support Afghan women called PROMOTE. The 5-year program is the largest single investment that the USAID has made to support the women of any nation. The project ends in 2019 and so far has trained of Afghan women in governmental, business, and non-profit leadership. It has helped women start businesses and non-profits as well as place women in government programs. The program is geared to Afghan women between the ages of 18 and 30 years old.
The Feminist Majority is working to ensure that the rights and needs of Afghan women and girls remain a priority. For Afghanistan to establish a stable democracy and a strong civil society, full empowerment, education, employment and access to health care for women and girls is imperative. It is also important for our own security to assist in sustaining the stability that women’s empowerment will bring to Afghanistan. In addition, the US must continue to help Afghan women to build on the progress that they have achieved. Millions of girls are going to school now and women have entered the paid workforce. Wherever the Taliban Forces have some control very small numbers of girls are able to go to school and few women are in the workforce, but there are still attacks aimed at deterring this advancement.
In April and May 2012, nearly 300 schoolgirls in the Talokhan and Takhar Provinces were poisoned. In one school, the students became ill after drinking contaminated water and in another they reported a foul odor. There also have been sporadic acid attacks on girls going to school. Many schools have been burned down and teachers of girls have been killed. However, recently the Taliban has announced it will no longer attack girls’ schools due to the global backlash. Despite such attacks, the courageous women and girls of Afghanistan continued to go to school and were not willing to give up their hard won freedoms. Today, about 9 million children, of which about 40 percent are girls, go to elementary school. By high school, only about 25-30% of the students are girls. Today there are over 150 universities and institutes of higher education operating in Afghanistan, but only about 20% of the students in higher education are young women. The Feminist Majority continues to advocate for the US to assist in rebuilding a civil society in Afghanistan where women and girls will prosper.