Speaking Out for Women in Afghanistan

Oct 25 2001

Murray Cosponsors The Afghanistan Women and Children Relief Act of 2001

I am pleased to join my colleagues today to again raise the plight of women, girls and children in Afghanistan. I commend Senator Hutchison and Senator Mikulski for taking the initiative to introduce the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act of 2001.

Many of us have been working since the Taliban seized control in Afghanistan to give voice to women who have been silenced, beaten, harassed and even executed.

Afghanistan has been in a cycle of war and conflict for more than twenty years. These two decades have been hard on the Afghani people but especially difficult for women, young girls and children. When the Taliban seized control in Afghanistan, the plight of women, girls and children went from a crisis existence to a catastrophic one.

As noted in our bill and mentioned by my colleagues, women in Kabul, Afghanistan represented 70 percent of the teachers when the Taliban came to power. Women in Kabul represented 50 percent of the public employees and more than 40 percent of the medical professionals including doctors. Women students made up 50 percent of the student body at Kabul universities.

Throughout Afghan society women served their country, their culture and their families as scientists and professors, as members of parliament, as leaders of their communities. The Taliban changed all of that quickly and cruelly with little consideration for the rights of women or the many roles played in Afghan society by women.

The Taliban now bans women from working as teachers, doctors or for that matter, in any profession.

The Taliban closed schools to women. Not just the teachers. But to all young girls. It is against the law for a young girl to attend a school in Afghanistan. To attend school, women and young girls in Afghanistan risk floggings, death by stoning, or single shot execution.

Women cannot leave their homes without the heavy veil style clothing. They must be accompanied by a male. Women must not laugh or make noise in public. The punishment for violating Taliban law as we have now seen in several informative documentary pieces can be deadly. Many of my constituents have contacted me shocked and outraged at the video clip of the woman ushered into a soccer stadium to the jeers of a crowd. She's forced onto the playing field on her knees where she is quickly executed by a single shot from a rifle.

Women in Afghanistan, every generation now living, is suffering under the Taliban rule. Some have been forced from meaningful lives to absolute poverty. Others now see no future in Afghanistan for themselves and their children. Still others, war widows and elderly women, are forced into prostitution or forced to sell all of their possessions to feed themselves.

Yesterday, we passed the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. I served on this subcommittee for a long time and its many programs offer hope to women in Afghanistan. The Afghan Women and Children's Relief Act notes many of these programs.

We provide assistance to help educate and immunize young girls in the world. We provide assistance in the form of maternal health care and family planning in the most needy areas of the world. We support microcredit lending, particularly to women led households, in many impoverished areas of the world.

We support international organizations from UNICEF and other UN entities to non-governmental organizations based here in the United States and throughout the world. Our bill would include Afghani women and girls in these vital programs.

As we look to aid women, young girls and children in Afghanistan, we must not assume that simply ending the Taliban rule will cure the problem. We walked away from Afghanistan when the Cold War ended, we cannot do that again when the Taliban goes. We must ensure that women and children are fully protected in the Afghan government which will eventually follow the Taliban. Women in Afghanistan must be brought back – fully brought back – into Afghani society. All of Afghanistan will be better when women are allowed again to teach, to serve publicly, and to treat illness.

Mr. President, I thank my colleagues for raising this issue. I join them as an original cosponsor of this legislation and I urge its prompt passage. Further, I call on all of our colleagues to support the appropriate funding levels which will ultimately make a great difference in the lives of Afghani women, young girls and children.