U.S. Department of State
August 15, 2002
U.S. Support for Women in Afghanistan and Surrounding Region
Since September 11, the Department of State, through its Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues (G/IWI), has planned and implemented extensive programs and policies to improve the lives of the 15 million women and children in Afghanistan. In addition, we have increased our outreach efforts to other women in the region who are affected by similar circumstances.
Life under the Taliban
The Afghan war against the Soviet Union and the ensuing civil war resulted in the devastation of the country, millions of deaths, and the flight of additional millions of refugees, chiefly to Pakistan and Iran. In the chaos that ensued, the status of women deteriorated sharply. The Taliban came to power in 1996, in part by pledging to restore order to the country. However, the Taliban regime soon began to enforce a series of ultra-conservative laws, many of which repressed the human rights of women, such as:
- Most women were banned from working outside the home.
- Girls over eight years of age were denied education.
- Access to medical treatment was severely restricted.
- There was a brutally enforced restrictive dress code.
- Women were forbidden from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a male relative.
For more information about what life was like for women under the Taliban regime, see "Report on the Taliban's War Against Women"
- Since the Taliban's defeat, the situation of Afghan women has improved considerably, and they have made tremendous strides forward toward a more active role in society.
- One indicator is the appointment or election of women to important political roles.
- Some 220 women participated actively in the Loya Jirga (the Grand Council that was convened to decide the future leadership of Afghanistan). President Karzai appointed women to head the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Women's Affairs and the Human Rights Commission.
- Women are also now able to travel more freely, return to work, receive better medical care, and girls are back in school.
- The United States has spent nearly $300 million this year for Afghan relief and reconstruction.
- In addition to specific initiatives for women, children and refugees, the overall reconstruction program focuses on Afghan women as planners, implementers, and beneficiaries.
- U.S.-supported health projects focus on maternal and child health needs.
- Teacher training, textbook distribution, and food-for-education projects reach female teachers, students, and schools.
- The United States also contributes three-quarters of all food aid distributed by the World Food Program, on which at least one in every four Afghans depends for survival.
- The Bush Administration donated $4 million to the United Nations Development Program's Afghan Interim Authority Fund to cover start-up costs for all ministries.
- A percentage of this contribution provided the Ministry of Women's Affairs with two computers, a satellite telephone, office furniture and supplies and a vehicle.
U.S.-Afghan Women's Council
- Earlier this year, President Bush and Afghan Interim Authority Chairman Karzai announced the establishment of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council.
- The Council was created to promote public/private partnerships between the United States and Afghanistan that will help mobilize resources to enable women to obtain the skills and education they were deprived of under the Taliban.
- Programs respond directly to priority issues raised by the Afghan Ministry for Women's Affairs and will serve to complement U.S. efforts in the region.
- In September-October, the Council is bringing a group of women working in the government of Afghanistan to the U.S. for computer training, grant-writing education and other capacity-building activities.
- As in most post-conflict situations, women and children constitute the majority of returning refugees in Afghanistan.
- Repatriation has exceeded expectations -- nearly one million refugees have returned. Continuing support will be needed to help reintegrate these new arrivals, to sustain the inflow, and to care for those still outside of the country.
Report to Congress
- In accordance with the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act of 2001, the State Department on July 12, 2002 delivered to Congress its report "U.S. Support for Afghan Women, Children and Refugees."
- The report shows that although reconstruction in Afghanistan will be a long process, U.S. programs are off to a solid start.
- The report is available on the Department of State's website at www.state.gov/g/wi. For hard copies of the report, please contact the Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues at (202) 312-9664.
- Beyond Afghanistan, the International Women's Issues Office (G/IWI) is taking on a much-needed leadership role in the emerging US dialogue with the peoples in Muslim-majority countries regarding issues of concern to women.
- In late June, the Senior Coordinator traveled to Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Afghanistan on a fact-finding mission to speak with women about progress that has been made in women's legal rights, access to education and participation in the economic and political arenas.
- The International Women's Issues Office has sponsored roundtable sessions with and about Muslim women (including Muslim-American) community leaders, with leaders in the Arab-American community and with many representatives of non-governmental organizations who deal with the rights of women in Muslim-majority countries.
- We will continue these dialogues and create new connections to help us find the best way to support the advancement of women's rights in the many regions where Muslims reside.