In a bipartisan vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today approved measures to directly help the women of Afghanistan. Led by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE), the committee’s chair, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the committee’s sole female member, the committee unanimously approved legislation that will authorize a total of $2 billion for reconstruction and humanitarian aid over the next four years and $1 billion over the next two years for expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) – almost triple the amount specified by the Afghanistan Freedom Support Act, which was approved by the House in May with a vote of 390 to 22.
Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), the committee’s chair and a lead supporter of expansion of ISAF, claimed the funds granted in the legislation represent only a fraction of what is needed in rebuilding the war-ravaged nation. Biden emphasized that European forces said they would only continue to expand their ISAF commitments if the U.S. showed its own clear intent to help. “The bill needs to be an example of the U.S. following through on its promises. If the big dog is not in the pen, our allies are not going to get in,” said Biden.
Senator Boxer introduced and the committee unanimously accepted an amendment that makes programs for Afghan women as a priority for a portion of these funds. Boxer said that her amendment seeks to “ensure Afghan women and girls the protection they need in the areas of health care, political rights, and education making a statement that failure in Afghanistan, and for Afghan women and girls, is not an option.” In addition, Boxer’s amendment earmarks $15 million of the $2 billion in aid monies for the Ministry for Women’s Affairs and $5 million for the Human Rights Commission.
“This is an astonishing and historic victory for the women of Afghanistan,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority. “A bipartisan vote indicates that these Senators have listened to the outcry of women’s groups around the country and the world. Now we are very hopeful that the Bush administration will change its policy and support this version of the legislation.”
During today’s hearing, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) asked that additional hearings be held on the effectiveness of ISAF expansion – Boxer demanded that the women in Afghanistan be included in these hearings. As chair of the committee, Biden granted Brownback an additional hearing, with the caveat that this hearing would not necessarily happen before a full Senate vote which could happen in September when Congress gets back from its monthlong recess.
The Feminist Majority spearheaded the drive for ISAF expansion and additional funds. With the women of Afghanistan repeatedly proclaiming security as their top priority, the Feminist Majority and other women’s organizations have been asking the Bush administration to expand peacekeeping troops beyond Kabul for the past six months. A series of recent events throughout Afghanistan have shown the need for expansion of peacekeeping forces both within and beyond Kabul is urgent.