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Smeal and Leno Unveil Back to School Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, and Mavis Leno, chair of the Foundation's Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan unveiled a Back to School Campaign - a new initiative to raise public awareness of the brutal treatment of women and girls under the Taliban, which has banned them from attending schools, working or leaving their homes unaccompanied by a close male relative. The Back to School Campaign includes an Adopt-A-School Project, an Afghan Women's Scholarship Program, and a petition drive urging the U.S. government to do more to help Afghan women and girls.

"As women and girls return to schools throughout the United States, Afghan women and girls are not allowed to go to school. Through our Adopt-A-School Project, the Back to School Campaign will make a human connection between girls and boys in the United States and Afghan girls, between U.S. teachers and Afghan teachers, and between Americans who care and the Afghan women and girls who are suffering because of the Taliban's brutal regime," said Smeal. "We want to help the heroic women who are running home-based schools for girls in Afghanistan, and schools in Pakistan for Afghan refugees" added Smeal.

"Here are some of the donations that people can make: $20 will pay for a classroom chalkboard. $36 would be a teacher's salary for a month," explained Leno. "It's also no small thing to let your child know that they can stand up for human decency and human rights, that they can make a real difference in the life of other people in this world," added Leno.

The American public response to the Feminist Majority Foundation's Campaign To Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan has been very encouraging. "We have been told by the State Department that our letter-writing campaign thus far has produced more mail than any other single foreign policy issue," said Smeal. The campaign is delivering some 211,000 petitions to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and President Clinton, urging them to increase humanitarian aid and assistance to the women and girls of Afghanistan.

Frayba Wakili, the first Afghan Scholarship Program recipient who will start college this fall in Maryland, shared her courageous story with reporters. "Imagine being a teacher in a country where it is a crime to teach girls how to count. Imagine living in a country where a child could be killed for learning the alphabet or opening a book. This is what's happening in Afghanistan every day," said Wakili, as tears streamed down her face. "I am one of the fortunate ones, but I can't forget all the girls and women at home who are not as lucky as me," added Wakili.

Learn more about FMF's Back to School Campaign and get involved in the fight to end gender apartheid in Afghanistan.

Media Resources: Back to School Press Conference, August 24, 2000

© Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms. magazine

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