Afghan Women No Better Off; US accused of not fulfilling promises

, Sep.23, 2004

WASHINGTON - (KRT) -Human rights organizations criticized the Bush administration Wednesday, saying in the three years since the Taliban was ousted from most of Afghanistan, the United Stateshas not fulfilled promises of safety, freedom, education and health care for Afghan women.

"They have failed, misguided and betrayed Afghan women by giving them false hope," said T. Kumar, an Amnesty International advocacy director for Asiaand the Pacific, at a news conference addressing Afghan women's issues. "Three years later, they are still dreaming, and it may be a pipe dream."

Kumar said he believed the Bush administration "used the Afghan women" when it said liberating them was a major reason to remove the Taliban from power. He contends that Afghan women's rights were never a concern of the Bush administration until after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"The truth is that Afghan women are in danger of slipping into a sinkhole being created by ongoing violence and lack of funding," said Ritu Sharma, executive director of Women's Edge Coalition, at a press conference hosted by the National Press Club on Wednesday.

Since the fall of the Taliban, violence has been the order of the day. Warlords have imposed Taliban-like restrictions on women. Those women who attempt to exercise their rights are subject to threats and intimidation, several activists said.

Moreover, the Taliban itself is re-emerging and gaining strength, said T. Kumar, director for Asia and the Pacific for Amnesty International USA.

Mrs. Sharma explained that they received reports that women and girls are being subjected to rapes, beatings, kidnappings and other forms of intimidation that are preventing them from going to their jobs or schools, registering to vote or just going about their daily business.


On Oct. 9, Afghan citizens are scheduled to elect a leader. Millions of women are registered to vote, and most of the 19 presidential candidates have women's issues as one focus of their political platform, Kumar said.

But there is minimal voter education in Afghanistan, and many women are expected to vote the same as their husbands or not at all, said Malaly Volpi, director of the Policy Council on Afghan Women.

The organization works to ensure Afghan women's organizations receive sufficient international funding. Its volunteers also have been registering voters and educate them about the election process.

"Ninety percent of Afghan women are illiterate. How will they know who to vote for?" she said.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush ordered troops to Afghanistanto drive out the Taliban, which had harbored al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Bush said the war also would mean freedom for Afghan women, who had few rights under the Taliban. Since then, "remarkable progress" has been made, said White House spokesman Jim Morrell.

"The fact is, President Bush has made the rights of Afghan women a cornerstone of all U.S.humanitarian efforts in that region," he said. "Now, Afghan women are playing an active role in the government."

"Afghan women are not doing as well as many want to believe," said Ritu Sharma, executive director for Washington-based advocacy group Women's Edge Coalition. "The administration is not putting its money where its message is."

Lack of security and an increase in sexual violence against Afghan women have made it nearly impossible for them to get jobs or attend school, Sharma said.

Sharma said most of the problems that remain could be solved with increased funding.

Since 2001, the United Stateshas provided Afghanistanwith more than $2.5 billion to rebuild the country, with about $72 million set aside for Afghan women, or less than 1 percent.

Sharma and other advocates say closer to 30 percent of aid should be designated for women.

US funds for Afghan women have been used to train female teachers, build women's dormitories at universities in Kabul, start literacy programs and register women to vote and work as poll workers next month. Some has also been targeted for health care and helping women learn to manage their own money.

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