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Lenos Announce $100,000 Contribution to Raise Awareness of Gender Apartheid in Afganistan

Mavis and Jay Leno today presented a gift of $100,000 to the Feminist Majority Foundation to expand its Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan and to restore women's rights to work, education, healthcare and freedom of movement. Mavis Leno will chair the national effort.

"Our contribution kicks-off an expanded organizing drive to mobilize public support and increase visibility for our Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid," said Mavis Leno. "We are determined that every American know about what is happening to women and girls in Afghanistan. We must not remain silent. Jay and I are challenging others to lend their help and support."

"Two years ago women in Afghanistan could work, be educated, and move about freely," explained Leno. "Then the Taliban seized power. Today women are prohibited from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a close male relative and are forced to wear the burqa - a head-to-toe shroud. Girls and women are banned from schooling. . .even home schooling. Male doctors are forbidden to examine women. Women doctors are no longer allowed to practice. No healthcare. . .no education. . .no freedom of movement. This nightmare is reality for 11.5 million women and girls in Afghanistan."

"Women are not safe anywhere as long as any government can carry out this tyranny of gender apartheid with impunity," explained Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "The Leno's contribution makes it possible for us to immediately expand our public education campaign to reach more people and expose the brutal treatment of women under the Taliban," continued Smeal.

Smeal reviewed the early successes and outlined the major components of the Feminist Majority Foundation's expanded Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid: A heightened public awareness campaign to educate Americans and galvanize them to action to combat gender apartheid; a nationwide college organizing drive; exposing U.S. corporate business relations with the Taliban, urging consumers to demand a moratorium on corporate business investment until women's human rights have been restored; and organizing internationally with women's and human rights groups to bring more pressure on the Taliban to restore women's human rights.

Smeal and Leno were joined at today's the press conference by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) who has been leading efforts in Congress to stop gender apartheid, Zohra Rasekh, MPH of Physicians for Human Rights which has just completed an important study of the condition of women living under the Taliban, Jan Goodwin who has traveled extensively in Afghanistan and written on gender apartheid, and Sima Wali, an Afghan woman working in the U.S. to end gender apartheid.

"The Taliban government has virtually made targets of women. They have not only taken away women's rights to work and to education, but in the process are denying the entire country the right to quality teachers, nurses, doctors, and many other professional areas where women were making contributions," remarked Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. "The international community must be strong in their opposition. They must make clear that denial of a woman's basic rights - to the extent that their very lives are often threatened - will not be tolerated."

Smeal and Leno introduced the new symbol for the Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid - a swatch of material representing the mesh-covered opening in the burqa. "The burqa is like a prison - a poisonous shroud that can cause or aggravate respiratory conditions and loss of vision - both of which can cause death. This swatch of mesh represents the obstructed view of the world for an entire nation of women who were once free," Smeal explained. "We are asking everyone to wear it in remembrance so that we do not forget the women and girls of Afghanistan until they are free once again."

"Whenever someone hears about what is happening, they want to help." Leno explained. "There are four things

Media Resources: Feminist Majority - October 21, 1998

© Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms. magazine

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