Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, joined Women for Afghan Women in a press conference — on the same day President Obama announced new U.S. policies for Afghanistan and Pakistan — to keep the plight of Afghan women and girls in focus.
“We must not forget the horrific human rights abuses toward women and girls that have been and are being committed by the Taliban. In the past several years, hundreds of girls’ schools have been destroyed. Teachers have been murdered — some right in front of their students. Girls are being attacked with acid thrown in their faces on their way to or from school. Atrocities are regularly committed by Taliban forces against women,” Smeal said.
“And we cannot forget, when Afghanistan was ruled by the Taliban, women and girls were not allowed to be educated, employed, go outside their homes without the company of a close male relative, go to a male doctor (female doctors were forbidden to work), or go to a hospital. Girl babies were even forbidden treatment by male doctors. Women were beaten and killed for violations of intolerable restrictions.”
In March, President Obama announced a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that will provide not only military assistance, but also “a greater civilian commitment to the Afghan people.” He pledged to “support the basic human rights of all Afghans — including women and girls.”
We believe that for any campaign to bring lasting peace to Afghanistan, programs addressing education, health care, and employment — especially for women and girls, who compose the majority of Afghans — are essential.
We believe that the President’s new strategy must increase humanitarian and development programs for Afghanistan. To establish the conditions for a lasting peace, Afghanistan must be rebuilt and the basic building blocks of a civil society must be restored. President Bush promised a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan, which has yet to be fulfilled. In the long run, rebuilding Afghanistan is not only the moral solution, but also the economical solution.
Providing jobs with adequate pay will drain recruits for the Taliban. Moreover, adequately paying Afghan soldiers, police, civil servants, teachers, and health care workers is essential to stopping corruption and Taliban recruitment. Until recently, for example, the Taliban had been paying its militia recruits significantly more than the Afghan police or military. According to the Afghan National Army’s website, trained soldiers receive $120 a month, compared to $200 to $500 a month for the Taliban (New York Times 10/19/2009 and Afghan sources). Afghan experts estimate that a subsistence wage is $300 a month. It is unsurprising that Afghanistan is having difficulty with recruitment and attrition rates in the military and police.
Nearly eight years have passed since the Taliban’s fall from power. Despite some progress in restoring the rights of Afghan women and girls, the current situation in Afghanistan is dire. Due to the shift of U.S. attention to Iraq, the Taliban has made a comeback. Since 2005, deadly attacks on Afghan civilians, relief workers, teachers, and private contractors have been increasing. Women aid workers, elected officials, government employees, and journalists have been especially targeted by extremists, with the Taliban often claiming responsibility. Suicide bombings are increasing. Most Afghan citizens live without basic necessities, including sufficient food, clean water, electricity, roads and healthcare.
Dr. Sima Samar, the chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has told us that no place in Afghanistan is safe. We remain extremely concerned about the increase in severe violence against women in Afghanistan. For example, today some 35% of the 6 million school children (some 55% of all children) are girls, but in the southern province of Kandahar, where the Taliban insurgency is strongest, some experts estimate only 3% of the school children are girls. Nearly 1,000 girls’ or co-ed schools have been attacked, targeted by arson, or destroyed by Taliban insurgents or militia. Teachers of girls as well as women political leaders have been assassinated; most recently, a Kandahar woman who was a provincial council member and a proponent of women’s rights was shot and killed.
Yet, despite the struggle and danger, millions of courageous Afghan women and girls go to school and work. Their drive for education is so great that several girls who had acid thrown in their faces for attending school in November 2008 were back in school just two months later in January 2009.
The FMF Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls, chaired by Mavis Leno, which began in 1997 to stop gender apartheid under the Taliban, galvanizes women’s groups, campus and community activists, and ordinary citizens, and conducts a public education campaign to ensure that Afghan women and girls will not be forgotten in the public debate concerning U.S. policies toward Afghanistan. The campaign has raised money for Afghan girls’ and women’s education, clinics, and employment training, and have supported U.S. programs for Afghan women and girls.###