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Reality Remains Dire for Women in Afghanistan and Iraq

New Afghan Constitution Falls Short for Women

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Feminist Majority, Women's Environment and Development Organization, and Center for Health and Gender Equity today issued updated ratings on the Bush Administration’s performance on issues of women's rights in Afghanistan and Iraq. The first Global Women’s Issues Scorecard on the Bush Administration was released in August.

Early promises of equal rights for women in the new Afghan constitution, released on Nov. 3, have suffered a setback. "The draft constitution does not do enough to guarantee women's rights," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, which has been the leading U.S. voice for the rights of Afghan women and girls for the past six years. "The draft does not explicitly define women as full citizens and leaves women's rights and human rights vulnerable to fundamentalist interpretations of Islam."

Moreover, candidates for the Loya Jirga (grand assembly), which will adopt the constitution, are already facing threats from warlords. "The U.S., Afghan government, and the international community must ensure that women's rights are explicit and inviolable in the constitution and that extremists are prevented from threatening and intimidating Loya Jirga delegates who speak out for women's rights and human rights," said Smeal.

Since August, the Bush Administration has made new commitments to improve U.S. policy towards Afghanistan and to secure Afghan women's political rights. Almost two years after the U.N., the Afghan government, and women's rights and human rights organizations first called for an expansion of international security forces, the Administration says it now supports peace troop expansion. After two years with little reconstruction activity, the Administration called for new funds to accelerate the rebuilding of the country. And, in October, the Administration pledged its support for women's rights in the Afghan constitution.

"If words were enough, Afghan women would be on the brink of securing their rights. But instead, with security deteriorating and resources scarce, the situation for women in Afghanistan remains dire," Smeal said.

"With peace troops limited only to Kabul, the Taliban and other extremists have become more active. Over 30 girls' schools have suffered arsons or other violent attacks. Provincial warlords continue to impose restrictions on women, and threats against women who work, go out without a burqa, or advocate for women’s rights are constant," said Smeal.

Yet despite its new pledge to support expansion of international peacekeeping troops, the Administration did not include any funding for the expansion in its budget request and we fear that the size of the expansion may fall far short of the at least 25,000 international peacekeeping troops within and beyond Kabul that are needed immediately.

"Afghanistan's reconstruction also continues to be short-changed," Smeal added. The president asked for only $800 million for Afghanistan's reconstruction, compared with $20 billion for Iraq. The Feminist Majority worked with women members of Congress, who successfully earmarked $60 million for women's programs and $5 million for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission of the $400 million Congress added to the president's request. But these funding levels are still far from the promised Marshall Plan. "Restoring Afghanistan to only a subsistence economy will do nothing to stop terrorism, end the drug trade, or win women's rights," said Smeal.

In Iraq, the Administration pledged support for inclusion of women in decision-making bodies. However, only 3 women were appointed to the Iraqi Governing Council, only one woman to the Iraqi cabinet, and no women were appointed to the 24-member constitutional committee. Moreover, these women-– who are risking their lives to serve their country – are not even being afforded adequate protection. This fall one of the w

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