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Opinion: A Plea for Afghanistan’s Women

Date Posted: 1999-11-10

The government of Afghanistan is waging a war upon women. The situation is getting so bad that one person in an editorial of the Times compared it to pre-Holocaust Poland. Since the Taliban took power in 1996, women have had to wear burqua And have been beaten and stoned in public for not having the proper attire, even if this means simply not having the mesh covering in front of their eyes. One woman was beaten to DEATH by an angry mob of fundamentalists for accidentally exposing her arm while she was driving. Another was stoned to death for trying to leave the country with a man that was not a relative. Women are not allowed to work or even go out in public without a male relative; professional women such as professors, translators, doctors, lawyers, artists and writers have been forced from their jobs and stuffed into their homes; depression is becoming so widespread that it has reached emergency levels. Suicide has increased significantly. Homes where a woman is present must have their windows painted so that she can never be seen by outsiders. They must wear silent shoes so that they are never heard. Women live in fear of their lives for the slightest misbehavior. Because they cannot work, those without male relatives or husbands are either starving to death or begging on the street, even if they hold Ph.D.’s. There are almost no medical facilities available for women, and relief workers, in protest, have mostly left the country, taking medicine and psychologists and other things necessary to treat the sky-rocketing level of depression among women. At one of the rare hospitals for women, a reporter found still, nearly lifeless bodies lying motionless on top of beds, wrapped in their burqua, unwilling to speak, eat, or do anything, but slowly wasting away. Others have gone mad and were seen crouched in corners, perpetually rocking or crying, most of them in fear. One doctor is considering, when what little medication that is left finally runs out, leaving these women in front of the president's residence as a form of peaceful protest. It is at the point where the term 'human rights violations' has become an understatement. Husbands have the power of life and death over their women relatives, especially their wives, but an angry mob has just as much right to stone or beat a woman, often to death, for exposing an inch of flesh or offending them in the slightest way. David Cornwell has said that those in the West should not judge the Afghan people for such treatment because it is a 'cultural thing', but this is not even true. Women enjoyed relative freedom, to work, dress generally as they wanted, and drive and appear in public alone until only 1996. The rapidity of this transition is the main reason for the depression and suicide; women who were once educators or doctors or simply used to basic human freedoms are now severely restricted and treated as sub-human in the name of right-wing fundamentalist Islam. Everyone has a right to a tolerable human existence. STATEMENT: In signing this, we agree that the current treatment of women in Afghanistan is completely UNACCEPTABLE and deserves support and action by the people of the United Nations and that the current situation in Afghanistan will not be tolerated. Women's Rights is not a small issue anywhere and it is UNACCEPTABLE for women in 1999 to be treated as sub-human and so much as property. Equality and human decency is a RIGHT not a freedom, whether one lives in Afghanistan or anywhere else. (Please sign the statement of support, and include your town and country. Send to: Mary Robinson, High Commissioner, UNHCHR, webadmin.hchr@unorg.ch and to: Angela King, Special Advisor on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, UN, daw@undp.org) Even if you decide not to sign, please be considerate and do not kill the petition.)

Thank you. Valentine Thiebold e-mail vthiebold@cus-strasbourg.net

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