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House Clears Bill to Provide Assistance to Afghan Women and Children; Bill Sent to President

On November 27, the House approved, by voice vote, a bill (S. 1573) that would provide relief to Afghan women and children, clearing the bill for the President’s signature. The Senate passed the measure by unanimous consent on November 15 (see The Source, 11/16/01, p. 6). The House considered the bill under suspension of the rules, an expedited floor procedure that limits debate, prohibits amendments, and requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

Sponsored by Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the bill would authorize educational and health care assistance for women and children in Afghanistan and in refugee camps in neighboring countries. The bill would require that the assistance be provided in a way that “promotes the human rights of all people in Afghanistan, utilizing indigenous institutions and nongovernmental organizations, especially women’s organizations.”

The bill would require the Secretary of State to report to Congress on the activities carried out under the bill and on the condition and status of women and children in Afghanistan, as well as refugees living in camps outside Afghanistan. The bill would allow activities under the bill to be funded through the FY2001 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Recovery from and Response to Terrorist Attacks on the United States (P.L. 107-38). A companion bill (H.R. 3330) was sponsored by Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-OH).

The Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues made the bill one of its priorities, and many Members of the Caucus spoke in support of the legislation. “The Taliban’s brutality and blatant disregard for the lives and well-being of the Afghan people was perhaps most clearly evident among half of its population, the women of Afghanistan, who bear the deepest scars,” stated Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). “Made widows and orphans by the will of the Taliban, the same women who once made up 50 percent of Afghanistan’s doctors, nurses, teachers, college students, and diplomats, have been made destitute, sick, and marginalized,” she said.

Noting that “while women may be free of the hand of Taliban injustice, we do not know what lies ahead for them,” Rep. Pryce said, “Therefore, at this time of change and uncertainty we must act to give the women of Afghanistan hope and to help them reclaim their dignity, respect and, ultimately, their right and equal place in society.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) agreed, saying, “What is important about this bill is that it gives these words some teeth. And teeth will be needed. Anyone who looks at the unique oppression that women and children have suffered in Afghanistan will understand that they will not automatically be free when Afghanistan is liberated.”

“This bill takes a significant first step to ensure that, as we move forward in helping the people of Afghanistan reclaim their lives and rebuild their society, that we give particular emphasis to the needs of women and children,” stated Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV).

Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD) pointed to high-level leadership on this issue. “We can also embrace the critically important role that women must play in Afghanistan’s reconstruction. The First Lady’s recent radio address and the statements of Secretary of State Colin Powell and Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky demonstrate a commitment by the United States that Afghan women will not be marginalized as soon as this spotlight shifts.”

Agreeing that “Afghan women need to have a seat at the table when their government is rebuilt,” Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL), Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, thanked the President for “his strong support of women in Afghanistan, and women’s rights generally,” adding, “I am told the President is anxious to sign this bill.”

Commending the Women’s Caucus for “taking the lead on this issue,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) noted, “How appropriate that the gentlewoman from Nevada would be managing the bill to assist Afghan women, a bill sponsored by women, for women and managed by women, presided over by women.” The bill was managed by Reps. Ros-Lehtinen and Berkley, while Reps. Biggert and Pryce presided over the House proceedings.

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