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Eleanor Smeal, president, Feminist Majority Foundation, Arlington, Virginia
"Many women in Afghanistan hope this campaign will liberate them. The Taliban are a terroristic regime that has beaten many of them, tortured and killed some of them, and humiliated all of them on a daily basis. They have taken away women’s livelihood, their means of education, any self-esteem. This is a totalitarian rogue militia. Using the excuse of religion to control more than half the adult population serves their totalitarian political goals.
The hope must be that after this, the U.N. with the U. S.-the U.S. must play a role because of its inordinate power in the world-will help to re-establish a constitutional democracy in Afghanistan in which women can vote and be part of the leadership. (In the mid-sixties, Afghanistan had a constitutional democracy; women were part of the parliament. It also had an independent secular judiciary which must be re-established and include women as judges.) And women must be part of the assembly that sets up the democracy. It must be a broad-based coalition that includes all ethnic groups.
We must make democracy a cornerstone of our U.S. national interest and of our foreign policy, not just in words but in actualization-democracy with full rights for women. Women are not a marginal issue. And one of the first things this government must do is sign the U.N. convention against all forms of sex discrimination.
Feminists must work very hard to ensure that women’s lives are restored in the building of Afghanistan. And we cannot take that for granted. We should be contacting members of congress, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, to press for this. "
Shazia Rafi, secretary general, Parliamentarians for Global Action, New York, New York
"This crisis didn’t come out of nowhere. You have to look at factors going all the way back to the Treaty of Versailles after World War I, when the British and the French divvied up the Arab countries. The Wahabi form of Islam, which is extremely fundamentalist, came out of the new oil kingdoms Europe created. It’s as if suddenly the world gave Hassidic Jews the authority to represent themselves as the only real Jews. Because the Wahabis have physical control of the religious sites of Mecca and Medina, and control of these huge oil wells, and were anointed U.S. allies in the Cold War, they have become more and more powerful. This has perverted the entire region, so now we must reverse that process. We need to use education. It’s like fighting malaria: DDT didn’t work alone; you had to dry up the pools of stagnant water where mosquitoes bred. The stagnant pools are in the regions’ countries now because of lack of jobs, lack of a strong economy, lack of hope for the future. The real front line is not in Afghanistan; it is in the more moderate Muslim states like Egypt, Turkey, and Pakistan, which are disconnected socially and economically from their people.
Everyone is trying to define what Afghanistan could look like in the future. It is possible to create a new method of government that respects Islam, where women play a role. In both Iran and Pakistan this has happened. One factor is education. Then, if someone in power opens opportunities for women, it’s like water flowing downhill: given the opportunity, women just do it.
Benazir Bhutto opened judgeships to women in Pakistan, where I’m from. The next prime minister was a man and was much more conservative, but because he had to appeal to women voters to get elected, he took the next step and ensured that the
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