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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 6, 1999


Taliban Persecution of Women and Girls in Afghanistan

In commemoration of Human Rights Day, President Clinton is announcing new U.S. policy initiatives to address the circumstances of Afghans, especially women and girls, who have suffered serious human rights abuses at the hands of the Taliban.

New Initiatives

Belquis Ahmadi

The President will be introduced by Belquis Ahmadi, a 27-year-old women's rights activist and relief worker who left Afghanistan when the Taliban regime prevented thousands of women from working and girls from attending school. As the Afghanistan Advisor to the Women's Rights Advocacy Program of the International Human Rights Law Group, Ms. Ahmadi highlighted the violation of women's human rights in Afghanistan in 1998 and 1999. Ms. Ahmadi is a founding member of the Afghan Women's Network, started two months before the Taliban takeover of Kabul. She is presently resettled in the United States, working full-time and taking university courses, while serving as guardian to three of her younger siblings.

Background: Women and Girls in Afghanistan

The situation of women and girls deteriorated rapidly with the resumption of fighting between the Afghan factions in 1992. Lawlessness, rape and kidnapping were rampant throughout much of the country, as local militia commanders dominated the country. When the Taliban appeared on the scene in 1994, it enjoyed a series of victories and was initially popular with many who were tired of the war and general anarchy. When they took over Kabul in 1996, they began to enforce a series of highly restrictive social strictures, many of which adversely affected women and their position in society. Educated women suffered the most from the Taliban's restrictions. Some changes have taken place since then, however, and women and girls now do have access to medical services and hospitals in Kabul. In addition, male doctors can and do treat female patients and many female doctors have returned to work (though access to medical facilities is impaired for all by critical shortages). Nonetheless, women are still required to wear a traditional long robe that covers them from head to toe (a "burqa") when outside their home. A small mesh covered opening about five inches square provides the only means to see. Some women have been beaten by the Taliban "religious police" on the street for failure to wear the burqa or for not being fully covered.

The Taliban restricted education for girls to religious instruction only. Although the Taliban claim that they are not against female education and have requested resources from foreign donors for educating both boys and girls, we have seen no serious effort to provide wider educational opportunities for women and girls and they have yet to accept those offers of assistance that have been extended. Taliban restrictions on women are most acutely felt in cities such as Herat and Kabul, where there are educated and professional women. Before the Taliban takeover, Kabul University had several thousand women students, while women worked in varied professions. War widows (there are over 30,000 in Kabul alone) have been particularly hard hit, many of whom are the sole providers of their families. Many were reduced to begging on the streets to feed their children due to employment restrictions and deteriorating economic conditions throughout the country.

U. S. diplomatic efforts. The United States does not recognize the Taliban or any other Afghan faction as the government of Afghanistan. We have made it clear that a future government in Afghanistan should be broad based, represent the interests of all Afghans, and observe international norms of behavior, including respect for human rights and active rejection of narcotics and terrorism.

U. S. humanitarian efforts for women and girls. The United States is the largest donor of humanitarian relief to victims of conflict in Afghanistan, most of it channeled through the World Food Program. In FY99, U.S. assistance for Afghans both inside and outside Afghanistan totaled about $70 million. In addition to food aid through World Food Program (WFP), we have funded NGO efforts to implement health and education projects for Afghan women and girl refugees principally in Pakistan.

Resettlement of refugees. The Administration is also strengthening resettlement efforts, and expects to resettle about 1,500 Afghans and their families this year (a 500 percent increase over FY 1999). Among this number, we seek to identify at least 400 Afghan Women-at-Risk cases for resettlement in the United States. Other resettled refugees will include persecuted ethnic and religious minorities and other groups singled out by the Taliban.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues, U.S. Department of State.

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