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Women’s Caucus Meets with Pakistani Ambassador

On October 3, members of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues held an historic meeting with Dr. Maleela Lodhi, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States. In light of the events of September 11, members of the Caucus met with the ambassador to discuss ways in which the United States and Pakistan could work together, the plight of women in Afghanistan, and the refugee status of women and children fleeing to Pakistan.

Caucus Co-Chairs Judy Biggert (R-IL) and Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA) were joined by Reps. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Jane Harman (D-CA), Melissa Hart (R-PA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Patsy Mink (D-HI), Connie Morella (R-MD), and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).

Rep. Millender-McDonald opened the meeting noting that the Caucus had chosen the “Wellness of Women” as its theme for the year, adding that the wellness of women should not be limited to American women, but rather, it should apply to women around the world. Rep. Biggert agreed, saying, “These are issues that affect all of us—men, women, and children.”

Ambassador Lodhi opened her remarks by reiterating her country’s support for the United States. “We live in a global village….We stand with the global community,” adding: “Terrorism has no faith, no religion. It is a crime against humanity.”

In discussing the plight of women in the region, Dr. Lodhi said, “In situations of violence and war, the people often most affected are women and children,” adding that the “burden of dislocation falls on women.” While calling for a significant humanitarian intervention to assist the millions of refugees fleeing Afghanistan, Dr. Lodhi urged the Members to “look at the underlying factors” that cause violence, pointing specifically to poverty, illiteracy, deprivation, and unemployment. “Out of poverty and illiteracy is borne ignorance,” she said. “How women are treated is a function of underdevelopment not of religion….We must build a structure where women have a role.”

Members covered a range of issues during their dialogue with the ambassador, including agriculture and food assistance, education, refugee status, and humanitarian aid. Rep. Kaptur discussed the importance of establishing long-term solutions to issues involving crop failure and lack of food. “We have no problem providing immediate aid….I’m concerned that our programs are short-term, not developmental.” She urged the ambassador to work with the Caucus and other Members of Congress to address long-term agricultural development issues.

Rep. DeLauro commented that “education is a springboard” to opportunity and expressed concern about the opportunities available to women in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Agreeing with the importance of educating women and children, Rep. Capito questioned the status of education in refugee camps. “We know that there are two million refugees….Women often forsake their own needs for the needs of their children….Where are the children and what is their education?”

Responding that the largest group of refugees in Pakistan are women and children, Ambassador Lodhi acknowledged that women and children living in refugee camps or seeking refugee status on the border were receiving no education. “We are struggling,” she said.

Commenting on a recently released video on the plight of Afghan women, Rep. Morella noted the important role that women play in maintaining family unity and solidarity, and asked what women in Pakistan are doing in response to the situation.

Ambassador Lodhi told the Members that for the first time in Pakistan’s history one-third of all locally elected seats were reserved for women. Adding that Pakistan was unable to fill all of the seats, she said, “We left them empty to show our support.” She also said that the country had recently formed a task force on human development, which is charged with addressing a number of issues, including gender equality.

Suggesting that people were thinking “too small,” Rep. Harman said, “The endgame is keeping the global coalition together to eradicate poverty….It’s not just about getting rid of the bad people. It’s about ensuring the future.”

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