We cannot be fooled by those who would use culture and religion as an excuse for the marginalization or exclusion of women in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The Taliban's decrees are foreign to Islam, to the culture, and to the people of Afghanistan. Since the 1950s, women and girls in Kabul and in many other parts of the country attended schools as did boys. Before the Taliban gained dominance in Afghanistan, women were a crucial part of the workforce. Afghan women have a history of public service leadership and were believed to be 30% of its civil bureaucracy. For example, in Kabul, before the Taliban took over, women were:
· over 70% of teachers were women;
· 40% of doctors and the vast majority of health care workers were women; and
· over half the university students.
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. 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. The United States would be repeating a tragic mistake if it again turns to another set of extremists as it did to repel the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and chooses a dictatorship as the most expedient strategy to replace the Taliban. The restoration of a broad-based democracy, representative of both ethnic minorities and women, with women at the table, is necessary to break the back of a terrorist and a war-torn existence. We urge you to think long-term – in this case, the right thing to do is also the best thing for global security, human rights, and economic development.
In a discussion at the State Department, we were asked would the U.S. people support a massive reconstruction of Afghanistan or would the U.S. people rather support simply sustaining a tolerable subsistence economy in Afghanistan. We often hear today (á la Tom Brokaw) the World War II generation of Americans referred to as the “greatest generation.” We are proud we fought fascism, rebuilt the economies of Germany and Japan, and helped to establish democracies in these nations with women’s rights. We helped to establish in post WWII, a United Nations and under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If this declaration is to mean anything, we must help to restore women’s rights in this most abused nation – Afghanistan – and we must restore its democracy. Afghanistan first adopted a constitutional democracy in 1964 that included full universal suffrage, an equal rights amendment for women that even included equal pay provisions, and a separation of powers with an independent judiciary. Women were members of the Parliament and were judges.
We know today that literally millions of Americans are appalled at the Taliban’s treatment of its own people, especially its women. We know from our work at the grass roots level in 49 states of the union that Americans want women’s rights restored in Afghanistan and for this society to return to normalcy. We as Americans do feel a moral obligation to Afghanistan because it was the last stop in the Cold War. We can be the “greatest generation” today. We must meet the challenge and as our parents, not settle for expediency but strive for the dream of democracy and human rights for all – and in Eleanor Roosevelt’s memory, we cannot forget the women.