Carolyn Maloney

(WOMENSENEWS)–Women House members are taking the lead to ensure that any U.S. aid to Afghanistan will benefit the women of that embattled nation.

Representatives Democrat Carolyn Maloney, N.Y., and Republican Connie Morella, Md., have introduced legislation that would require U.S. postwar aid to include assistance for women. A nonbinding resolution from Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Fla. and Democrat Louise Slaughter, N.Y., would insist on women’s inclusion in any new Kabul government. Both groups support one another, in the belief that this double-teaming will promote these protections for women.

Women in Afghanistan under the now-deposed Taliban were barred from schools, employment and leaving their homes unescorted. Five years ago, before the Taliban gained control, women were in the majority in many professions such as medicine, education, and small business owners. And before the two-decades-long civil strife began, women comprised 15 percent of the Afghan national legislature, the Loya Jirga.

Maloney and Morella’s bill, the Access for Afghan Women’s Act, would require that any Afghan aid program supported by the U.S. must include women in decision-making and must also distribute some funds directly to women’s organizations and programs. The bill also requires U.S. aid to fund the rebuilding of the nation’s shattered health infrastructure and to supply comprehensive reproductive health and family planning services.

Another measure in the Maloney-Morella bill calls for the protection women refugees, many of who are living in camps and are vulnerable to starvation and rape. The bill would also require specific training for the military, police and civilian personnel on the protection, rights and particular needs of women, as well as on the importance of involving women in all peacekeeping and peace-building measures.

Maloney’s aides are pushing for the bill to be attached to the Afghanistan Freedom Act, sponsored by Republican Benjamin Gilman, N.Y., and a similar bill sponsored by Democrat Tom Lantos, Calif.

As for the White House, aides say that the White House and Congressional Republicans, otherwise inclined to support the bill, are “a little nervous” about language in the bill relating to women’s health, specifically sections calling for comprehensive family planning programs.

Maloney and Morella’s bill was developed in consultation with Women’s EDGE. The organization proposed a far more comprehensive proposal, called the GAINS for Women and Children Act, last year for women in all developing countries.

“We took the essential provisions of that bill, spoke with some Afghan women’s organizations and produced a bill targeted to the current crisis,” says Ritu Sharma, director of Women’s EDGE.

Louise SlaughterSlaughter’s Resolution: A Simple, Yet
Unprecedented Demand

In the meantime, a sense of Congress resolution is also moving through the House. The Slaughter-Ros-Lehtinen resolution “urges the President to encourage any new government established in Afghanistan include women as leaders and full, active participants.”

The resolution also urges financial support to Afghan women’s organizations and urges the President to “direct the international coalition engaged in combating terrorism to protect women’s rights.”

Both efforts are an outcome of a worldwide response to the status of women under the Taliban.

In an apparent nod to the international disapproval if the nation’s treatment of women, the interim Afghan government includes two women among the 13 members of the Afghan cabinet: Sima Samar, deputy prime minister for women’s affairs, and Suhaila Seddiqi, health minister. Samar helped found one of the better-known exile women’s organizations in Pakistan, Shuhada, which runs four hospitals and three clinics in Afghanistan and another hospital in Quetta.

Still, two of 13 is less than impressive when one considers that women now constitute over 50 percent of the population of Afghanistan, says Sharma of Women’s EDGE. “That why this legislation is so important.”

However minimal, the women’s presence in the interim government is a credit, says Rep. Maloney, to the women’s advocates both inside and outside of Central Asia. She added that in December, when the meetings were underway in Europe to determine the nation’s new power structure, women of the United State sent a strong message: “We will work with them to make sure that their rights are restored.”

Both pending measures, political observers say, are an attempt to make that promise a reality.

Chris Lombardi is a free-lance writer in New York. She coordinated Women’s Enews Fall 2000 election coverage and helped cover the Beijing + 5 conference on women. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine, the Progressive and Inside MS.

For more information:

Access for Afghan Women Act of 2001:

Women’s EDGE
GAINS for Women and Children Act: