TESTIMONY BY ELEANOR SMEAL PRESIDENT, THE FEMINIST MAJORITY AND FEMINIST MAJORITY FOUNDATION BEFORE THE JOINT HEARING OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS AND TERRORISM AND THE SUBCOMITTEE ON NEAR EASTERN AND SOUTH ASIA AFFAIRS OF THE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS U.S. SENATE
Since early 1997, the Feminist Majority and its sister organization the Feminist Majority Foundation have led the Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan in order to raise public awareness about the treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan and to urge the U.S. and the U.N. to do all in their power to restore the rights of women and to address this humanitarian disaster. Throughout this campaign, we urged non-recognition of the Taliban by the United States and the United Nations, designation of the Taliban as an international terrorist organization, pressure on Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE to withdraw their support for the Taliban, and that the construction of an oil and gas pipeline through Afghanistan that would have supplied millions of dollars in profits to the Taliban be stopped. As you know, the U.S. and the U.N. did come out against the recognition of the Taliban in an event at the White House on March 11, 1998 in commemoration of International Women’s Day (March 8) and UNOCAL did stop the pipeline. But to this date, the U.S. has still not designated the Taliban as an international terrorist organization. To date, over 200 women’s rights and human rights organizations are co-sponsoring our national campaign chaired by Mavis Leno.
Hundreds of thousands of individuals have written letters, signed petitions, and sent e-mails to urge both the Clinton Administration and now the Bush Administration to do everything in their power to restore the human rights of Afghan women. We have formed over 800 Action Teams to Help Afghan Women nationwide. These teams, which include girl scout troops, community organizations, classrooms, and groups of family, friends, and co-workers, are organizing petition drives and raising funds to support schools and clinics run by Afghan women in Pakistan for refugees. In both 1999 and 2000, officials at the U.S. State Department told us that we had successfully mobilized a U.S. constituency on a foreign policy issue and that they had received more mail from Americans on restoring women’s rights in Afghanistan than on any other foreign policy issue.
In the wake of the tragic events of September 11, we have seen an overwhelming outpouring of public support for Afghan women. People have responded to our message that humanitarian aid must be dramatically increased and that Afghan women must be freed. With the nation’s focus on Afghanistan and increased visibility about the plight of Afghan women, Americans want to know how to help. In the past few weeks, tens of thousands of individuals have used our website to send messages to the Administration and to Congress urging that Afghan women not be forgotten. Action teams are now forming at the incredible pace of more than 100 per week.
People are outraged about the Taliban’s brutal treatment of women. Women were the first victims of the Taliban, and the public is becoming increasingly aware of this fact. The public has now seen broadcast on television again and again film footage of women being beaten and executed for violating the Taliban’s decrees banning women from employment, from attending school, from leaving their homes without a close male relative and without wearing the head-to-toe burqa shroud.
Before September 11, the tragic conditions of Afghanistan – including the worst drought in 30 years, 23 years of military fighting, and the barbaric treatment of women and minorities by the Taliban – had resulted in massive numbers of Afghan refugees. Some 3.5 million Afghan refugees had fled to Pakistan alone, 2 million in the refugee camps and 1.5 million in the cities and villages.###