fall 2004
table of contents
Letter from the Editor
Articles Online

Scandal Patrol
Daughters Helping Working Mothers
Republican Women for Choice
Pregnant Women Murdered
San Francisco Women's Building
Sisters Who Sip


Haitians Fight Despair
Matenwa's Artists
Women with AIDS
Spanish Women in Charge
Gandhi Power
Afghan Women's Vote
Networking Corner

Cover Story
It's the Women, Stupid | Ellen Hawkes
Why the Gender Gap Matters | Eleanor Smeal
Fighting Words for a Secular America | Robin Morgan

More Features

The Unreal World | Jennifer Pozner
Virgin Territory | Camille Hahn
A Family Affair | Gillian Kane
Liv Ullmann: A Ms. Conversation | Robert Emmet Long
Liberating Mary | Bob Lamm


Where's That Smoking Gun? Sex discrimination is getting harder to prove | Pamela Haag

The Breast Cancer Divide: Why the disease kills so many African Americans | Michelle L. Smith, M.D.

A Feast of Feminist Art
"The Dinner Party" finds a home in Brooklyn | Carey Lovelace

Jamesey, Jamesey | Ursula Hegi
Intersection | Roxana Robinson

God Says Yes To Me | Kaylin Haught
| Donna Masini

Touching History
Encounters with women of renown: Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Hillary Clinton and Mamie "Peanut" Johnson

Book Reviews
Bob Bledsoe on The Finishing School by Murial Sparks; Valerie Miner on The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates; Samantha Dunn on The Doctor's Wife by Elizabeth Brundage; Carey Lovelace on Full Bloom: The
Art and Life of Georgia O'Keefe
by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp
; Patricia Cohen on Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale by Gillian Gill

Plus: Fall Must-Read List

Save the Courts | Donna Brazile

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GLOBAL NEWS | fall 2004

Normally, nation building begins once conflict ends and peace is negotiated. But Afghanistan is far from normal, and very far from functioning as a democracy that represents all its citizens, female and male.

Nation building during war isn’t working.

Most U.S. media coverage barely notices this, offering upbeat reports on a few areas of progress, neglecting the reality endured by the majority of Afghans: women.

Women cannot safely travel to voter-registration sites, because warlords and militias continue their rampant violence; their trafficking in drugs, women and children; their kidnappings and forced marriages. Statistics on Afghan women and children rank among the world’s worst, yet U.S. aid for Afghan women — in the millions — pales compared to military and government assistance — in the billions (see box).


Despite helping to form a new government, ratify a new constitution, schedule September presidential and April parliamentary elections, and build a national army and police force, women still face a battle: Meaningful equality requires the rule of law.

Political tolerance of neo-Taliban mentality has resulted in a judiciary that includes adherents of extremist Islamic ideology — the very men who will interpret constitutional laws on gender equality.

Warlords are also pushing their own candidates, and the majority of Afghans (who are moderate and independent) fear the election will be warlord-driven. Though the emerging political framework depends on the disenfranchisement of such fiefdoms, the U.S.-led military campaign relies on warlords for its fight against al- Qaeda, empowering them at the expense of the citizenry, and extending their influence on the government to a level unprecedented in Afghan history.

One upshot is that many Afghans are simply not voting — out of fear. Posters have begun appearing in the central province of Maidan Wardak. They warn Afghans — particularly women — that they “violate Islamic law” and “should ready themselves for death” if they register to vote, support the government, work with the U.N.

Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) or visit the new women’s centers (which, the posters claim, are facilities “for sexual relationships”). Posters have also appeared in the southern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and some areas of Kabul.

UNAMA had to provide armed guards to protect a female registrar in Logar province; her office was burned down after she received death threats. In late June, two Afghan women registrars traveling to Rodat were killed and 13 more people (including two children) wounded when a bomb planted in their minibus exploded in Jalalabad. Travel in the eastern and southern regions was immediately suspended for all registration teams composed of women.

Less than half the general electorate has registered, including only 700,000 out of 12 million women. At this writing, it is impossible to know how many women will run for office — or even dare vote.

Already there is discussion of closing the Women’s Ministry, post-election. The U.S. claims to have freed women from gender apartheid, though security has worsened, with Taliban-al-Qaeda attacks against women increasing. Still, the election is being hurried along by the U.S. administration, as a boast-worthy “model of success.”

Afghans cannot help noticing that the timing is convenient for the U.S. elections. For a truly democratic society based on gender equality, the urgent focus should be on basics necessary for that transformation: a campaign for civic education, security guarantees for female (and male) voters, disempowerment of warlords, and improved logistics for reaching remote areas where potential women voters are isolated. These provisions are critical for all Afghans.

According to a September 2004 Human Rights Watch report, The Rule of the Gun: Human Rights Abuses and Political Repression in the Run-Up to Afghanistan's Presidential Election, "Throughout the country, militarized political factions — militias and remnants of past Afghan military forces who came into power in the wake of the Taliban’s defeat — continue to cement their hold on political power at the local level, using force, threats, and corruption to stifle more legitimate political activity and dominate the election process [... ]Women, both as voters and as political actors, remain marginalized."

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