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Feminist Majority Leads Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan

National Board Member Mavis Leno Testifies at Forum
Sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein

Washington DC -- Mavis Leno, a writer, resident of Los Angeles, California, and member of the National Board of the Feminist Majority, today testified at a forum sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to call attention to the extreme human rights violations being committed against women in Afghanistan. Since taking power, the Taliban militia group, which now controls much of Afghanistan, has placed Afghan women under virtual house arrest. The Taliban has decreed that women and girls can no longer attend school; women are banned from employment; women are not allowed to leave their homes unless accompanied by a husband, father, brother, or son; women who do leave their homes have to be covered from head to toe in a "burqa," with only a mesh opening to see and breath through; the windows of homes with women occupants are required to be painted opaque so the women inside cannot be seen; women are prohibited from being treated by male doctors; and women are banned from wearing white socks and shoes that make noise as they walk.
"Women are being beaten, shot at, and even killed for violating these draconian decrees -- for merely trying to go to work, leaving their homes alone, or violating the Taliban's extreme dress orders," stated Leno. Leno also shared a report from journalist Jan Goodwin that girls at the state orphanage in Kabul have not been allowed to leave the building to go outside since September of 1996 -- although the boys go outside every day to attend school and to play.

"The abuses of women and girls in Afghanistan have been justified in the name of religion and culture. However, the Taliban's decrees are foreign to the religion, the culture, and the people of Afghanistan," said Leno, who related that before the Taliban took control schools were co-educational, 70% of teachers were women, 40% of doctors were women, and Afghan women did not cover themselves with the burqa.

In her testimony, Leno expressed grave concerns about the planned building of a multi-billion dollar gas and oil pipeline from energy-rich Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan to Pakistan. California-based UNOCAL, a U.S. energy company , holds the largest stake in a consortium to build the pipeline. An Argentinian company, Bridas, which is in part owned by Amoco, is also vying for the pipeline. According to some estimates, the Taliban stands to gain as much as $100 million a year from the pipeline.

Leno commended the Clinton Administration for pledging only to recognize a broad-based government in Afghanistan which restores the human rights of women and girls and saluted Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and First Lady Hillary Clinton for publicly condemning the treatment of women in Afghanistan.

"But we urge the Clinton Administration and Congress to do more. The United States also has the ability to bring about change in Afghanistan. Two of the United States' international allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, have recognized the Taliban and have provided substantial support and weapons to this terrifying regime." In her testimony, Leno outlined concrete actions the United States government should take:

- continue to refuse to recognize the Taliban and oppose United Nations recognition of the Taliban;
- urge Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to cease arming and funding the Taliban;
- withhold U.S. humanitarian assistance unless women and girls are equal beneficiaries and there is adequate monitoring to guarantee this result;
- refuse to support Unocal, Amoco, or any other company in business endeavors that ultimately will shore up the Taliban;
- prohibit U.S. corporations from operating in Afghanistan until the human rights of women and girls are restored; and
- do not contribute to any programs that in any way support the maintenance of this repressive and barbaric regime.

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