Afghanistan: US Role Expected to Increase, Girls' School Burned Down
As the Bush administration continues to consider plans to increase aid and peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan, another girls' school was burned down last week. The incident at a tented school 30 miles south of Kabul follows the arson of another school for girls located in a neighboring district, according to the Associated Press. Letters were distributed by extremist Islamic groups taking credit for the arsons, saying that they did not want girls' schools and threatening to kill those who work for the Afghan government, AP reports. These recent events follow the same pattern as the more than a dozen schools that were burned down or bombed last fall.
Even after the fall of the Taliban, women and girls face restrictions on their rights. The security situation in the country is so unstable that many women are afraid to leave their homes. The Christian Science Monitor reports that even in Kabul, the only area of the country with international peacekeeping troops, women who have shed the burqa are still wearing a long shawl called a chador out of fear of being harassed or attacked by soldiers and police. "When I did not put on a burqa, my problems started as soon as I stepped outside of the house," Rahila Khan, a student at Kabul University, told the Monitor. "People in the neighborhood taunted my parents, policemen and soldiers called me a prostitute, and I was sexually harassed on several occasions."
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that, after pressure from members of Congress and women's and human rights groups, the Bush administration over the next few weeks will announce a plan to increase reconstruction aid, to double the size of the national army, and possibly expand peacekeeping forces to other major cities in addition to Kabul. Similar plans to possibly expand troops were announced last August as well, but one year later, the 4,800-member peacekeeping force is still the same size and remains limited to Kabul. The US has only distributed $900 million in aid to Afghanistan since October 2001, and most of that aid has been emergency humanitarian and food assistance rather than the kind of major reconstruction aid needed to rebuild the country. In addition, only 16 percent of the aid has gone directly to the Afghan government, according to CARE International. Most of the aid has gone to international nongovernmental organizations and United Nations agencies. A recent report by the Rand Corporation found that Afghanistan has received only $52 of per capita external assistance, compared with $1,390 for the first two years of conflict in Bosnia and $814 in Kosovo.
The Feminist Majority is leading the call for International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) expansion, increased reconstruction funding, and for more resources to support the work of the Ministry of Women's Affairs and the Independent Human Rights Commission.
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SisterReach, a grassroots organization focused on "empowering, organizing, and mobilizing women and girls in the community around their reproductive and sexual health to make informed decisions about themselves," organized the press conference "to call attention to the unique concerns Black and poor communities throughout Shelby County and across the state of Tennessee face on a daily basis" and to emphasize how the upcoming election "could further limit [black women's] reproductive, economic, political, and social autonomy."
"We assemble today to impress upon black women and women of color, many of whom are heads of households, to get out and vote," said SisterReacher Founder and CEO Cherisse Scott at the event.
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