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House Hearings on Afghanistan

On October 31, the House International Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights held a hearing on the conflict between the Afghan people and the Taliban. The hearing focused on the human rights abuses in Afghanistan, particularly discrimination against women and girls.

Subcommittee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) began the hearing by noting that the “Taliban’s brutality is best reflected among half of its population, the women of Afghanistan.” She added that Afghan women have not only been “made widows and orphans by the will of the Taliban,” but also have “been made destitute, sick, and marginalized.”

Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) agreed with Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, saying, “The current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan needs our most urgent attention.” She explained that it is necessary for the international community to ensure that “women, can and must, play a future role in rebuilding Afghanistan.”

Under the Taliban’s strict rules, women are denied many rights. They are unable to leave their homes without the accompaniment of a male relative and even then, they must be covered from head to toe in a burqa. Furthermore, women living under the Taliban are not permitted to work or to be educated.

T. Kumar of Amnesty International testified that the Taliban’s policy of “gender apartheid is unlike anywhere in the world.” Mr. Kumar said that the Taliban’s policies “deny basic and fundamental rights to women, including freedom of association, expression, and movement.” What is worse, he added, is that women are often beaten and humiliated for defying Taliban rules, “even for acts as seemingly insignificant as showing one’s ankle.”

Lorne Craner of the Department of State, pointed out that the United States, the United Nations (UN), and the nongovernmental organization community have made efforts to improve human rights in Afghanistan, including the introduction and adoption of a resolution by the UN Commission on Human Rights to condemn human rights abuses in Afghanistan. However, he added, the situation “has worsened as the Taliban has intensified its enforcement of its radical beliefs.”

Another witness, Tahmeena Faryal of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), appeared via satellite from Afghanistan, covered in a burqa to protect her identity. She made clear that many Afghans feel that the political situation has been made precarious by what they “perceive to be U.S. aggression against our country and our civilians, even as we cheer the possibility of the Taliban’s demise.” What is important as the stage is being set for an interim government, she said, is the “establishment of a secular democratic government in which women may once again participate fully in public life.” The right initiatives, she said, “will help build a lasting peace in our country.”

The International Relations Committee held another hearing on November 1 to discuss the humanitarian situation in the country. Committee Chair Henry Hyde (R-IL) opened the hearing by stating that “despite the atrocities of September 11th,” U.S. humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, “has only been enhanced.”

Andrew Wilder of Save the Children testified via satellite from Afghanistan. In his testimony, Mr. Wilder stressed the importance of educating Afghan girls and women. Save the Children runs formal and informal education programs in Internally Displaced People camps in Kabul and in refugee camps in Balochistan and Quetta, Pakistan. During the past six years, the number of girls enrolling in these programs has increased “ten-fold from 600 to 6000.” According to Mr. Wilder, research has shown that “an educated girl is more likely to postpone marriage and children, which in turn leads to improved maternal and child survival and well-being.” These long-term effects, he added, will “produce dramatic, positive results for the girls, their own children, and the entire community.”

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