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Why Is the Feminist Majority Foundation Refusing to Abandon the Women and Girls of Afghanistan?

The Feminist Majority Foundation responds to a piece by Sonali Kolhatkar and Mariam Rawi.

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In case anyone was wondering if the Taliban had changed its ways, it promptly closed girls schools, began flogging young women publicly, and committed other atrocities. In Afghanistan, the Taliban nailed a 70-year-old woman to a tree for allegedly talking with the enemy. 

The new administration's strategy recognizes the need for development and reconstruction. The military appears to be changing its priorities, announcing that protection of civilians is its first priority.

Virtually everyone knows that a military solution alone won't work. Yet, we cannot ignore that security and the Taliban are among Afghans' top concerns. 

For over 12 years, we have been listening to and working with Afghan women and Afghan women's groups to learn what they want supported.

Dr. Sima Samar is the director of the Independent Commission on Human Rights, the highest-ranking woman in the government of Afghanistan. A physician and founder of Shuhada, which runs health clinics and schools for underserved women and girls, as well as for men and boys in Afghanistan, she is also the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Sudan. When she talks, we take notes.

From a recent U.S. visit, this is what Samar urges and that we support: 

  • Human rights, especially the rights of women, must be a central focus.
  • The U.S. and Afghanistan must work together as partners with shared responsibility.
  • The U.S. must stop supporting and funding corrupt warlords who violate human rights. The culture of impunity must be stopped.
  • Security must be re-established until the Afghan army and police can take over. Private or "community" militias must not be funded.
  • Insist on accountability and transparency for aid funds and contractors.
  • Any long-term plan must include job creation and development aid.
  • Women's rights cannot be negotiated away in the name of peace. This kind of peace would not be sustainable.

We are grateful for our many friends and colleagues in the peace movement who have joined the effort to support the courageous women and girls of Afghanistan. Together, we have helped designate substantial U.S. funding for women and girls programs in Afghanistan -- $367 million to date.

Right now we are working for passage of the Afghan Women's Empowerment Act with $100 million for critically needed education, employment and health care programs, and we continue to emphasize the need to fund Afghan-women-led programs of Afghan nonprofits. We are also working to increase the numbers of trained midwives. Afghanistan has the second-highest maternal mortality rate in the world -- only 14 percent of Afghan women have access to a trained childbirth attendant. 

Our past governments' failed policies over 30 years have directly contributed to the current conditions in Afghanistan. We at the Feminist Majority Foundation feel we owe it to the Afghan people, especially the women and girls, to keep our promises to stay this time and help them clean up the mess.

Eleanor Smeal is president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and publisher of Ms. magazine.

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