On Monday evening in an unprecedented show of support for international women's human rights, the Hollywood community turned out in numbers to join women's rights and human rights leaders in exposing the brutal treatment of women and girls living under gender apartheid in Afghanistan. The gala event, which took place at the Hollywood Directors Guild, was sponsored by the Feminist Majority Foundation and written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason.
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, spoke at the event. "If the women's movement is to mean anything and if the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is to mean everything, we cannot rest while these horrific conditions of gender apartheid exist. We must free the women and girls of Afghanistan."
Many well-known celebrities participated in the event. Some of the celebrities featured included Gillian Anderson, Kathy Bates, Halle Berry, Tyne Daly, Geena Davis, Sharon Gless, Sidney Poitier, and Lily Tomlin. Marlo Thomas, who narrated a documentary on the plight of Afghan women and girls which was aired at the event, also spoke. "I can say without fear of embellishment, that our Afghan sisters are currently attempting to exist in one of the most dangerous and oppressive environments ever conjured up by mankind," she stated.
Afghan women leaders living in the United States joined the Feminist Majority Foundation in calling for an end to gender apartheid. "We call upon the world community to join us in our resistance and we call upon the American public to help us gain back our rights, status and dignity as human beings and as women," said Dr. Zieba Shorish-Shamley, director of the Women's Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan.
Women living under current Taliban rule say that they appreciate the concern that people are showing for them. "I don't know about American movie stars or who they are, but it is right for all people to feel for each other. It is the human thing to do," said Uma, a woman living in a rocket-ruined neighborhood of Kabul. Kamal, a widow who supports five children by working as a baker at a bakery operated by the World Food Program, also urged Americans to be active. "[Hollywood's celebrities] should pressure the Taliban to open our schools for girls."
Approximately 75 pro-Taliban supporters protested outside of the event. However, they were opposed by an almost equal number of counter protesters. Mavis Leno, Chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation's Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan, had this to say about the small gathering of pro-Taliban protesters: "The women protesting outside got to decide what to wear today, whether to go outside, whether to attend a protest, whether to hold signs, whether to speak their minds. When women in Afghanistan have this freedom, our work will be done."
Media Resources: Press Release, FMF - March 29, 1999