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.