(WOMENSENEWS)–Leaders of women’s organizations were united Wednesday not only in their abhorrence of the violent terror attacks but also in their belief that women’s leadership could assist the United States in finding a way toward peace–a true peace, not merely the absence of violent conflict.

Ellie Smeal, Feminist Majority

Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, connected the violence inflicted in the U.S. to the elimination of civil rights for women by the ruling Taliban dictatorship in Afghanistan, which gained power in 1996.

“Once the Taliban faction got in power, it took away all rights for women. They said ‘Feminism is the enemy, the West is the enemy,'” said Smeal, who has collected hundreds of thousands of signatures for a petition against what she calls gender apartheid in Afghanistan.

Before the Taliban gained control in Afghanistan, women had constituted 40 percent of the doctors in the capital of Kabul, 50 percent of the civilian government workers and 70 percent of the teachers, Smeal said.

Under the Taliban, women are forbidden from working, getting education, leaving their home unless accompanied by a male relative and being covered from head to toe with a garment known as the burqa. Violations result in severe physical beatings or execution.

“They are opponents to everything we believe in,” Smeal said. “Their vision of a world is a theocracy in which they interpret what God says, and in which they can execute people who disobey,” she explained. “This is a holocaust for women. It is a part of this terrorism. And think about the terrorist society these women live under.”

She said young boys, particularly from impoverished families, are indoctrinated at fundamentalist religious training centers.

“These people are recruiting from the sons of families that are desperate because of poverty. They are told, ‘You’re in terrible shape because of the West. And look what they’re going to do to your women. They are going to turn them against you,'” added Smeal.

She also said that understanding the underlying beliefs of the sect of the Taliban is essential. “They fundamentally oppose democracy,” said Smeal, “and feminism and democracy go hand-in-hand. If this Talibanization of society succeeds in the Middle East, the position of women sinks very low.”

Swanee Hunt, Women Waging Peace

The founder of Women Waging Peace, Swanee Hunt, said that a Boeing 767 banking into the Twin Towers “is an act of evil that cannot be ignored.”

Hunt, a former ambassador to Austria in the Clinton administration, added: “We are part of a global community, in which terror and loss is often part of everyday life; and the U.S. response, military or otherwise, needs the full support of the international community to be optimally effective.”

Hunt warned of the need for “voices of reason” as the U.S. plans its response. One such voice, Hunt said, is Jessica Stern, formerly of the National Security Council, and author of a book on Muslim terrorists. Stern, Hunt said, warns that the U.S. must not jump to certitude regarding the responsibility for these attacks and target a scapegoat.

“Our overreacting will cause the current sympathy of world opinion to dissipate,” Hunt said. She also called for Americans to reassess their anti-terrorist strategies.

“We need to increase our capacity for human intelligence –‘humint,’ in the policy world,” Hunt said.

Humint is built on an idea similar to that of community policing, that brings police officers into close relations with neighbors who, in turn, inform the vice squad of dangers in their community, Hunt said.

“In the face of a new type of threat, we need a new type of defense system–one that fosters strategic personal relationships among people throughout the world. Building relationships is a skill in which women have excelled. Defying political stereotypes, in the Balkans, some Bosnian and Serb women are coordinating their pro-democracy political campaigns. In Rwanda, Hutu and Tutsi women have created micro-enterprise partnerships,” Hunt added.

“Out of the depths of this tragedy, policy makers would do well to reassess the untapped resources of women throughout the peace building process, thus formulating a new paradigm of inclusive security,” Hunt said.

Charlotte Bunch, Center for Women’s Global Leadership

Charlotte Bunch, executive director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University in New Jersey, was still in South Africa, returning from the International Conference Against Racism.

Bunch, a leading force in pressuring the United Nations to address women’s issues around the globe, has commented on terrorism and women. In a speech last year at Columbia University, Bunch said: “Women are true peacemakers and peace-builders in war-torn and divided societies everywhere.”

She added that in general, the more democratic a nation is, and the more women participate in public policy, the fewer the problems in these societies.

“So part of what we have got to do is get the message across that the future for all our countries and all our traditions and societies is much better when women can play their full part,” Bunch said, “when they can access the resources and empower themselves to use their full skills and energies.”

Martha Burk, National Council of Women’s Organizations

Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, said that she too deplores the acts of terrorism along with others around the world. However, Burk added, “The voices of women must be heard as to how the world community should respond in the coming days. There are many women’s groups around the globe working for peace and against war, terrorism, and oppression. Women should be at the table along with men when decisions are made as to the future of our country and the world.”

Carlton Veazey, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

The Rev. Carlton W. Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said he was “sad” to report that a militant anti-abortion group, Operation Save America, called the terrorist attack “just another sign of the judgment of God upon our nation.”

“Their vengeful statement reminds us of the profound danger of extremists, whatever their weapons, their ideology and their geography,” Veazey said.

Catharine MacKinnon, University of Michigan law professor

And Catharine MacKinnon, law professor at the University of Michigan specializing in violence against women, said that “When the platitudes about ‘tragedy’ are done, the moralistic sanctimony over evil spent, and the transparent grasping of authorities for authority, of the powers for power, is for the moment over, will we face this: This is a man-made atrocity.”

“We made the men who could, and did, do it,” MacKinnon added. “We need to look at how.”

For more information:

Center for Women’s Global Leadership: http://www.cwgl.rutgers.edu/

Feminist Majority: http://www.feminist.org/afghan/facts.html

National Council of Women’s Organizations: http://www.womensorganizations.org/

Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice: http://www.rcrc.org/

Women Waging Peace: http://www.womenwagingpeace.net/

Personal Note from Women’s Enews Editor

By Rita Henley Jensen
WEnews Editor in chief

(WOMENSENEWS)–Are you safe? Are you okay? My friends and family wanted to know.

The short answer is that I and Women’s Enews staff are safe and working from our homes for a while until we are able to return to our offices below 14th Street in Manhattan.

Wednesday, I needed a break and I walked to the post office a block away to pick up the photographs from the wedding of a Women’s Enews staffer and a family vacation with my two daughters, one pregnant, their husbands and my grandson. The joy in routine errands is enormous.

The newspaper stand next to the post office was shuttered, but all else seemed normal–except for the quiet and somber mood of everyone I passed.

The line was short and the female clerk behind the recently installed bullet-proof glass was extraordinarily patient and kind.

I heard a woman behind me speak with a Slavic accent and I turned and saw the ordinary tableau of a mother explaining to a child that the wait would be over in a little while.

But the scene reminded me how many people in my neighborhood have fled war and terrorism to live here in relative safety–from Bosnia, Colombia, Kosovo, El Salvador and so many countries and places all over the globe.

New York and America was a beacon for them, of safety and the wealth that safety allows individuals to accumulate–healthy children, good medical care, plentiful food and separate bedrooms for parents and children.

From time to time, when I hear such the accents that fill my neighborhood, I stop and wonder: How did they live through the bombings, the war, the rapes that ravaged their home countries? And I would peer into their eyes for a clue.

Often, because New York has the reputation that it does, acquaintances will ask me where I live and, when told, will reply, Oh, is that a safe neighborhood?

I would sigh with impatience. Why would I live in anything but? And add I feel safer coming home late here than I did on my dark and empty street in Columbus, Ohio.

But now, the word safety no longer refers to the possible attacker lurking in the shadows. It refers to the type of orchestrated violence so many of my neighbors survived and fled.

Now, for the first time, I have a small sense of how they did live through it–by finding the joy in the little errands that still can be accomplished, cherishing the life cycle that is continuing, despite the destruction, and loving one’s community.