Feminist Majority Joins European Parliament's Call to End Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan
Smeal Travels to Brussels, Leno Testifies in DC
Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal traveled to Brussels to join Emma Bonino, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs, other members of the European Parliament, international non-governmental organizations, and women from Afghanistan -- including an Afghan doctor who spoke anonymously -- in launching an international campaign to end gender apartheid in Afghanistan. The campaign coincided with International Women's Day (March 8).
"We cannot stand silently by as Afghan women become victims of inhumane gender apartheid," said Smeal. "If this were happening to any other class of people around the world, there would be an international outcry and concerted governmental response."
Feminist Majority Board member Mavis Leno, a writer and civic leader in Los Angeles, testified at a Capitol Hill forum held by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a member of the foreign relations committee, on the violations of women's human rights in Afghanistan. "We all took pride when the platform of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 reaffirmed that human rights are women's rights and that violence against women is a violation of human rights. Yet what good are these lofty declarations if we do not free the women of Afghanistan?" Leno concluded.
Marking International Women's Day, the Feminist Majority also released letters to President Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, signed by over 100 national and local women's organizations in the United States -- including the YWCA of the USA, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, American Nurses Association, National Organization for Women, Ms. Magazine, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and the American Medical Women's Association. The letter asked the U.S. and the U.N. to do everything in their power to restore women's rights in Afghanistan.
Since September 1996, women in Kabul have not been allowed to work or attend university; girls have been banned from school, even elementary school; women are not allowed outside their homes unless accompanied by a father, husband, brother, or son; and when women do go outside they must be covered from head to toe in a burqa, with only a mesh opening to see through. The Taliban has also required that the windows of homes with women residents be painted opaque so the women cannot be seen, and has prohibited women from wearing shoes that make noise when they walk.
Thousands of individuals have sent petitions through the mail and through the Feminist Majority Foundation's Web site demanding that neither the United Nations nor the United States recognize the Taliban government until the human rights of women and girls are restored.
The Feminist Majority led a delegation of women's leaders to meet with officials at the State Department to convey our concern about the oppression of women in Afghanistan by the Taliban militia group, which controls about two-thirds of the country. As a result of the Feminist Majority's petition campaign, State Department officials said they receive letters daily asking them to help the women in Afghanistan. "The U.S. government has always said it will only recognize a broad-based government in Afghanistan that obeys human rights conventions," said Smeal. "Now, because of our questions and concerns, the State Department has added language specifying women's rights must be restored."
In addition, a recent Washington Post article credited the Feminist Majority's campaign with stalling the construction of a multi-billion dollar gas and oil pipeline through Afghanistan, which a U.S. oil company, Unocal, wants to build. The Taliban stands to earn up to $100 million per year if the pipeline is built, money that would help solidify their oppressive rule.
Despite international outrage at the Taliban's oppression of women, the gender apartheid policies continue. According to journalist Jan Goodwin, who was in Afghanistan last fall, the girls at the state orphanage in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, have not been allowed outside the building for any reason since September of 1996 -- although the boys go out every day to attend school and to play.
Goodwin also reported that in the Afghan capital of Kabul, where women used to be teachers, lawyers, doctors, university students, nurses, and judges, many women now are forced to beg for food -- because they have no male relatives to support them due to heavy male casualties from decades of civil war, and they are forbidden to work to support themselves. Goodwin met with a woman judge who, after the Taliban took over Kabul in September of 1996, was beaten by a court guard when she tried to go to work. Goodwin said suicides among women are up dramatically in the city, and many women risk their lives running underground schoolrooms for girls, despite the difficulty of even obtaining paper and pencils. Goodwin also put to rest the myth that the Taliban operates from religious motives: she said the Taliban send their own daughters to school outside the country. In addition, the Taliban deputy foreign minister admitted to Goodwin that their draconian rules were simply a way to gain control over the people and get them to obey the government.
Thanks to the worldwide women's movement, women leaders are in place around the world who are able to take action against the gender apartheid in Afghanistan. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and First Lady Hillary Clinton have spoken out strongly against the Taliban. Women leaders of United Nations agencies, including Catherine Bertini, executive director of the World Food Programme, and Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, are leading efforts to cut off aid for non-life-threatening programs in Afghanistan that exclude women.
To send instant e-mail messages to the U.S. government, the United Nations, and Unocal condemning the gender apartheid in Afghanistan, see the Feminist Majority Foundation's Web site: .€