Global “Gag Rule” Will Increase Deaths; Boxer and Lowey Propose Policy Reversal

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) yesterday announced their plan to introduce legislation reversing Bush’s policy, and have already garnered the support of several pro-family planning Republican legislators. Tens of thousands of women in developing nations will die each year as a result of George W. Bush’s first executive order reinstating the Reagan/Bush Sr. policy that bars family planning programs outside the U.S. that receive federal aid from using separate, private monies for abortion counseling.

Programs that provide a wide range of resources, including gynecological exams, AIDS prevention and treatment, and contraception, will be forced to lose a large percentage of their operating costs, or to discontinue services formerly paid for by private dollars. With no other option, young women in developing nations will again turn to illegal abortions, too many of them dying as a result of serious infections. “This is going to affect 13, 14, 15 year-old girls in developing nations,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “These girls will face death from botched, illegal abortion as well as the brutal treatment inflicted on unmarried, pregnant women in many countries: acid attacks, beatings, and death.”

Take Action:Write a letter to the editor opposing the global gag rule.

LEARN MORE Click here to read women’s narratives about barriers or successes in accessing reproductive health and family planning services.

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Boxer Raises Issue of Afghan Women at Powell Hearing

At Wednesday’s Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Secretary of State-Designate Colin Powell, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) asked Powell whether he would continue to make the restoration of the human rights of Afghan women and girls a policy priority. Powell condemned the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls as “atrocious, bordering on barbaric” and pledged to make the issue a priority. In the confirmation hearing, Boxer also raised the issues of the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and global women’s health.

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Women’s Alliance for Peace Makes Appeal for Help for Afghanistan

The Women’s Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan (WAPHA) has made an international appeal for help and humanitarian aid for Afghan refugees who have fled the brutal Taliban regime and the region’s worst drought. According to reports from the UN and the World Food Program, the drought in Afghanistan has left one million people starving and suffering from severe malnutrition. Nearly half a million Afghan refugees are displaced within Afghanistan and another 70,000 refugees, primarily women and girls, who have fled to the border of Pakistan face unclean drinking water, starvation, no shelter, and are afflicted with disease and hypothermia. According to WAPHA, there are reports that Afghan women, children and men are reduced to eating grass and that many have died. The World Food Program made an urgent appeal for $4.9 million in emergency assistance to help feed Afghan refugees. Despite the severity of the crisis, the international donors have not yet responded to the plea.

Women and girls are fleeing Afghanistan to escape the brutal gender apartheid imposed by the Taliban regime, which strips women of education, employment, and mobility. Learn more about the human rights violations committed by the Taliban, as well as the Feminist Majority Foundation’s efforts to stop gender apartheid in Afghanistan.

What you can do: Join the Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid Call upon the US Government to release Emergency Funds to help the women and girls of Afghanistan Urge the US Government and United Nations to work to restore women’s rights in Afghanistan Learn more about how to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan

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Afghanistan Among “Worst of Worst” Countries on Human Rights

Afghanistan was rated among the 11 worst countries in terms of democracy and human rights according to a new report by the non-partisan, moderate Freedom House. Afghanistan was listed among the 11 worst nations “in which citizens are denied a broad range of the most basic freedoms,” along with Burma, Saudi Arabia, and Turkmentistan. The report analyzes a number of factors to measure freedom around the world, including autonomy in terms of “gender equality, choice of marriage partners, and size of family” as well as “self-determination, self-government, autonomy, [and] participation” for “cultural, ethnic, religious, and other minority groups.” The report rates the Middle East as the region with the fewest “free” nations. In addition, eight of the worst 11 nations were Islamic-controlled countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Turkmenistan.

To urge President Clinton to release Emergency Funds to Afghanistan, please visit our action center.

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UN Imposes Harsh Sanctions on Taliban

The United Nations Security Council has issued an arms embargo and tightened other sanctions against the Taliban, an extremist militia that now controls 95 percent of Afghanistan. The resolution, backed by the United States and Russia, passed by a vote of 13-0 with China and Malaysia abstaining, and bars all countries from supply arms or other military aid to the Taliban. Currently, only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan, and Pakistan is suspected to be a leading military supplier for the extremist regime. The resolution also tightens the existing air embargo on the Taliban, freezes Taliban assets overseas, and banned the sale of acetic anhydride, a chemical used to make heroin from poppies, to Afghanistan. Heroin production is one of the main financial sustainers of the Taliban. The UN imposed the measures largely because of the Taliban’s harboring Osama bin Laden, the terrorist suspected of several recent bombings at US embassies.

While some in the international community are concerned that the sanctions will worsen the situation for ordinary Afghans, and will further complicate humanitarian assistance to the region, the sanctions themselves do allow imports of food, medicine, and other much needed supplies. In addition, humanitarian personnel are unaffected by the travel embargo and other measures. Afghanistan, which has the largest refugee population in the world, faces severe drought this winter, and is suffering the results of a decades-long civil war, as well as the draconian edicts of the Taliban, which bar women from education, work, and mobility.

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Taliban Policies Hurt Aid Delivery to Women

The United Nations condemned the Taliban’s severe restrictions on women as both human rights violations and imptediments to the delivery of humanitarian aid. The Taliban regime has prohibited women and girls from attending school, banned their employment, and forbid them from leaving their homes without a close male relative. Some UN agencies had won permission for limited numbers of women to work in aid delivery programs, but a July decree totally forbade the employment of Afghan women by humanitarian agencies outside of the health sector and has created a major obstacle in the provision of assistance to women. “Since onl women can work with women, [and] agencies that target vulnerable women must use the services of Afghan women to reach them,” said Mike Sackett, Acting UN Coordinator for Afghanistan.

Declaring the plight of Afghans, and in particular Afghan women, a major humanitarian concern, the United Nations this week issued a $229 million appeal for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan.

Within the next week, the United Nations Security Council will consider an arms embargo on the Taliban. The embargo would pressure Pakistan to halt the flow of arms to the Taliban regime.

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Taliban Military Gains Will Not Win UN Recognition

Despite the Taliban’s military conquests throughout Afghanistan, the terrorist regime’s continual violations of the human rights of Afghanistan women and girls are among the factors that will continue to prevent the militia from achieving official international recognition. UN special envoy on Afghanistan Francesc Vendrell said, “I think the Security Council continues to believe and to state that there must not be a military solution; and that military gains will not be a ticket to international recognition. There has to be progress on issues like terrorism, drug production, human rights and gender issues, before there is full engagement by the international community with the Taliban.”

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Taliban U.N. Seat Push Fails

On November 1, for the fourth consecutive year, a U.N. committee deferred for another year the decision on granting a seat to the Taliban militia, an extremist group that now controls about 95 percent of Afghanistan. The “Taliban intensified its lobbying for the U.N. General Assembly seat this year,” according to the Associated Press, but failed to gain recognition by the international community as the official government of Afghanistan. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates recognize the Taliban’s rule. “Feminists must continue the campaign to urge the United Nations and other official bodies not to recognize the Taliban regime, which has imposed a brutal system of gender apartheid on the women and girls of Afghanistan,” says Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal.

Join the Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan.

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Afghan Situation Deteriorating as Nations Consider Armed Conflict

Violence and bombing continue in Afghanistan as the terrorist regime the Taliban struggles with the Northern Alliance under Ahmed Shah Massoud for control of the country. The Taliban, which took power in 1996 and now controls more than 95 percent of Afghanistan, recently seized Taloqan, a former stronghold of Massoud’s Alliance. Refugees fleeing to Pakistan fear a United States attack against Afghanistan, as negotiations over Taliban-harbored terrorist Osama bin Laden fail. Moscow, approached by Massoud for military support, joined the U.S. and India in alarm about terrorism extending out of Afghanistan. Pakistan has not made any move against the Taliban, and has long been suspected of supplying weapons to the regime. Pakistani government officials announced that, in the event of a U.S. air strike against Afghanistan, they will not allow the U.S. to use Pakistani air space. Pakistan religious groups have close ties to the Taliban, providing weapons and fighters for its so-called “holy war.” The Taliban, an extremist militia, has imposed a system of gender apartheid against the women and girls of Afghanistan, sending them into a state of virtual house arrest.

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US Congress Passes Anti-Taliban Resolution

The US Congress passed a resolution late last week criticizing the human rights abuses of the Taliban, and calling for the reconvening of a Grand Assembly of Afghan leaders, a representative government for Afghanistan, and democratic elections. The measure passed by a vote of 381-0 in the House, with 32 not voting, and passed unanimously in the Senate. The resolution calls on the US administration to take steps to bring about significant change in Afghanistan: an end to the human and political rights abuses committed by the Taliban, an end to terrorist activities, and an end to illegal drug production in Taliban-controlled regions. The Taliban-controlled areas have been the number one heroin producers for the world. This marks the first time that the US Congress has passed a resolution on issues other than terrorism and the harboring of Osama Bin Laden. The resolution specifically mentioned human rights abuses against Afghan women and girls.

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House to Vote on International Family Planning Spending

A joint House-Senate negotiations committee voted yesterday to strike the “global gag rule” from the $14.9 billion foreign aid bill. Congress members agreed to a plan that would raise funding for international family planning programs to $425 million, compared to $385 million for last year. It will also remove restrictions first instated by Reagan in 1984 that specify that no U.S. funding can go to organizations that practice, provide, or counsel abortion. Under yesterday’s agreement, no funds will be distributed until February 15, making the negotiations an uneasy victory for pro-choice activists. The next president will have the power to reinstate the restrictions. The House is expected to vote on the foreign aid bill today; it will then go to the Senate for approval.

LEARN MORE Click here to read women’s narratives about barriers or successes in accessing reproductive health and family planning services.

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UN Official Condemns Religious Extremism, Taliban

Special Reporter of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Commission Abdelfattah Amor, in a recent interview with the Associated Pres, called for international efforts to combat religious extremism, which he called “an ever-growing scourge” in the world. Amor cited the Taliban as the greatest example of how religious extremists are “using religion as a political tool in the interest of power,” and noted that, as in Afghanistan, it is vulnerable groups like women and minorities that are the target for religious extremist groups. In a report on incidents that were not in compliance with the 1981 UN Declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief, Amor noted that religious extremism is a serious problem in many countries: Egypt, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka as well as Afghanistan. Amor called for international cooperation in resisting religious extremism. The UN will hold a conference next November in Madrid on school education and freedom of religion, tolerance, and nondiscrimination.

Join the Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan or learn more about the Taliban’s human rights violations against women and girls.

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Hillary Clinton Denounces Taliban’s Terrorism

In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, New York Senate candidate Hillary Clinton said that her vision of US foreign policy includes promoting women’s rights and human rights, humanitarian assistance and international family planning. Clinton said, “We will not have strong markets to invest in, or democratic allies to depend on if children aren’t in school, if ethnic cleansing is ripping apart communities and if women are being silenced and brutalized, as they are in Afghanistan.” Currently, the terrorist Taliban militia has taken over 95 percent of Afghanistan and his imposed strict gender apartheid on Afghan women and girls. Women are under virtual house arrest and have been barred from work and school. Under Taliban rule women have been stripped of their visibility, voice, and mobility.

A recent report by independent United Nations investigator, Kamal Hossain, revealed that the Taliban militia’s terrorism and repression of women continues and “cannot be justified under any reading of Islam” and that Taliban militia police “mete out punishment in a rough and ready manner without due process” to women and men alike.

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Taliban Lobbies for Recognition

Using military gains as leverage, the Taliban militia has met with high-level officials in France, the US and other countries to press for recognition as Afghanistan’s ruling government. The US has continued to withhold recognition because of the Taliban’s support of bin Laden, the regime’s rampant terrorism throughout Afghanistan, and the Taliban’s horrific violations of human rights. In last week’s meeting between US State Department officials and representatives from the Taliban, talks included pressure from the US regarding the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan, specifically the ban on women and girls’ employment and education.

The Taliban’s gains of territory in Afghanistan are a result of additional support from Pakistan. A joint venture between the Taliban and Pakistan’s government has put leaders of neighboring countries, including India and Russia, on guard, fearing the partnership could reshape the politics of Central Asia.

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U.S. Will Oppose Taliban U.N. Spot

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced yesterday that the United States will oppose awarding the terrorist Taliban regime a seat at the United Nations. Albright said the decision would be based on the Taliban’s violation of women’s human rights, its harboring of Osama bin Laden, and suspected operation of a terrorist network. The Taliban sent a delegation to New York today to lobby for U.N. recognition. The extremist regime took control of Afghanistan four years ago and issued edicts to strip women of education, employment, and mobility. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates favor giving the Taliban U.N. representation.

Take Action: Urge the U.S. and the U.N. officials to take a more active stance on the human rights violations committed against the women and girls of Afghanistan.

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Smeal and Leno Unveil Back To School Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, and Mavis Leno, chair of the Foundation’s Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan today unveiled a Back to School Campaign _ a new initiative to raise public awareness of the brutal treatment of women under the Taliban, which has banned women and girls from attending schools, working, or leaving their homes unaccompanied by a close male relative. The Back to School Campaign will include an Adopt-A-School Project, Afghan Women’ s Scholarship Project, and a petition drive urging the U.S. government to do more to help Afghan women and girls.

“As women and girls return to schools throughout the United States, Afghan women and girls are not allowed to go to school. The Back to School Campaign will make a human connection between girls and boys in the United States with Afghan girls, between U.S. teachers and Afghan teachers, and between Americans who care and the Afghan women and girls who are suffering because of the Taliban’s brutal regime,” said Smeal.

“We must do more to restore the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. We want to help the heroic women who are running schools for girls in Afghanistan despite the ban and desperately-needed schools for Afghan refugee girls in Pakistan,” added Smeal.

Leno remarked, “Through the Back to School Campaign students, teachers, parents, and Americans generally in the U.S. will have the opportunity to connect directly with Afghan women and girls and let them know that they are not forgotten. When people hear about the Taliban’s atrocities against women, they want to help.”

Local action teams comprised of high school and college students, YWCAs, members of community groups, and collections of friends and colleagues will participate in the three components of the Back to School Campaign:

The Adopt-A-School Project where action teams will “adopt” an Afghan girls’ school in Pakistan or Afghanistan in order to exchange letters, photographs, and drawings with Afghan women and girls who are teachers and students and to help support these schools financially.

The Afghan Women’s Scholarship Program for which action teams will recruit scholarships from U.S. colleges and universities.

A petition drive to urge the U.S. government and the United Nations to do everything in their power to help restore the rights of Afghan women and girls; to significantly increase education, health, and humanitarian assistance for women and girls in Afghanistan and those living as refugees in Pakistan; and to continue to refuse to grant recognition to the Taliban.

The Feminist Majority Foundation has gathered over 210,000 petitions urging more U.S. action for Afghan women. Smeal and Leno will present petitions to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to coincide with the launching of the Back to School Campaign. President Clinton, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have all spoken out against gender apartheid and the U.S. has refused to recognize the Taliban regime. “Even before this delivery of petition, the State Department told us that the issue of Afghan women had generated more mail and e-mails any other current foreign policy issue.”

Even before its official launch, the Back to School Campaign is taking off, with pledges from the American Federation of Teachers, YWCAs, and the Coalition of Labor Union Women to adopt schools. One of the first action teams to volunteer for the Adopt-A-School Project was the Olympia, Washington YWCA’s “Girls Without Limits” after-school program. The 60 participants in the program will exchange letters and pictures with students at an Afghan refugee girls’ school in Pakistan, and will help raise funds to help their sisters in Afghanistan purchase pencils, notebooks and other educational supplies.

The Women’s Issues Club at Friends’ Central School outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania also will adopt a school.

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Taliban Target Afghan Widows Unmercifully

The Taliban militia’s harsh new policies are compromising the lives of thousands of Afghan widows. In an attempt to enforce a system of gender apartheid, Taliban authorities imposed a new ruling that forbids women from being employed by foreign aid agencies. Many agencies provide food to thousands of poor Afghan widows and their families, and cannot operate without the help of Afghan women employees. Earlier this month, a public outcry prompted the Taliban to reverse a ruling ordering the United Nations to close bakeries run by Afghan widows that provided bread at subsidized prices to thousands of Afghan families.

Since 1996, when the Taliban militia took control of Kabul, women in areas under Taliban rule have been oppressed by a strict system of gender apartheid, under which they have been stripped of their visibility, voice and mobility. The edicts imposed by the Taliban, which have been brutally enforced, banished most women from the work force, closed schools to girls in cities and expelled women from universities, and prohibited women from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a close male relative. The Feminist Majority Foundation’s Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan works to fully and permanently restore the human rights of Afghan women and girls.

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Dangerous Prospects for Afghan Asylum Seekers in Britain

The Immigration Appeals Centre in London has denied the asylum appeal of four of the 31 Afghan asylum seekers who were on board the hijacked Afghan aircraft that arrived at Stansted airport in Essex on February 7 of this year. A 21-year-old former medical student told immigration officials, “I’m not prepared to go back to Afghanistan under any circumstances. If the worst comes to the worst you will have to kill me and send my body back to Afghanistan.” He reported that he had received lashings and been imprisoned by the Taliban militia for serving women in his work at a tailor shop. The brutal gender apartheid policies of the Taliban have systematically stripped women and girls in Afghanistan of their visibility, voice, and mobility. Judge Hubert Dunn described the medical students claim to asylum as “all but non-existent.” Alarmingly, one woman was among the most recent four denied asylum. The asylum-seekers appealed Home Secretary Jack Straw’s decision to deny them political asylum because they claim to fear that the Taliban militia will kill them if they are returned to Afghanistan. Those denied asylum have 10 days to make a final appeal. The verdict on the remaining appeals are expected to be handed down in the next few days.

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Ban on Domestic Violence in China Urged

Women’s rights advocates and legal experts are pushing to reform China’s existing marriage law to ban family violence, which occurs in 30 percent of Chinese families, according to surveys conducted by the All-China Women’s Federation.

Chinese women are targets of domestic abuse because of their economic dependence on husbands and poorer educational backgrounds, according to Pi Xiamoing, author of “White Paper on Family Violence” and a prominent lawyer. Approximately 32 percent of the abused wives were regularly beaten four times a month, and an additional 39 percent were beaten more than once every month.

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Taliban Holds Public Execution in Afghanistan

In Kabul this past weekend, a crowd of thousands watched the first public execution in Afghanistan since an Afghan woman was stoned to death in May for adultery. The brother of one of the killer’s victims was able to cut the man’s throat because it follows the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islamic law where a victim’s family can execute the convicted killer. The Taliban advocates the killing of convicted murderers and adulterers, the amputation of limbs for thieves and beatings for people found guilty of any lesser crimes. Afghan officials also announced that they are considering lifting the ban on television so that the medium can be used to promote Afghan culture and Islam.

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