Smeal Testifies on Behalf of Afghan Women – Urges Aid, Restoration of Rights, and Democracy
Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority and the Feminist Majority Foundation, testified before the U.S. Senate at a joint hearing of the Subcommittee on International Organizations and Terrorism and the Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asia Affairs of the Committee on Foreign Relations. Smeal called for a significant increase in humanitarian aid for the Afghan people, the restoration of Afghan women’s rights, and the establishment of a constitutional democracy in post-Taliban Afghanistan.
During the hearing, Smeal noted that women are estimated to be 60-70 percent of the adult population of Afghanistan, and that before the Taliban takeover, women were over 70 percent of the teachers, 40 percent of doctors, the vast majority of health care workers, and over half of the university students. Despite Taliban edicts, women have risked their lives to run home schools and health clinics in Afghanistan and in refugee areas where Taliban soldiers roam.
If civil society is to be rebuilt in Afghanistan and the rogue state that has been sustained by drug trafficking is to be brought to an end, all citizens – especially those in the healthcare and education fields – must be utilized,” said Smeal. “The employment of these workers – who are mostly women – is essential to the rebuilding of the country’s social infrastructure and civilization itself. The restoration of the rights of women is crucial both for the sake of human rights and to make possible the return to civil society.”
Smeal also addressed the continuing humanitarian crisis in the region. Before September 11, over 5 million Afghan refugees, seventy-five percent of which are women and children, had fled to neighboring countries and millions more were internally displaced without adequate resources to survive. Conditions in the refugee areas for these women, however, are not much better than in Afghanistan. “It is a near holocaust situation,” said Smeal. “The conditions in which these refugees fight for survival are horrific with little food, with many families having no more than plastic sheets for shelter, and with virtually no sanitation. These conditions have resulted in widespread disease, death, and regional instability.” The United Nations estimates that the total number of Afghans needing humanitarian assistance will soon reach at least 7.5 million. Smeal urged that more humanitarian aid is needed to alleviate the current crisis, encourage deflection from the Taliban, and ensure the democratic reconstruction of Afghanistan.