AOL Live On-Line Chat with April PalmerleeApril Palmerlee,
Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues
Remarks to AOL Subscribers
March 20, 2002
NewsStacie: We would like to welcome April Palmerlee from the U.S. State Department to AOL Live.
April Palmerlee: Thank you. I am very happy to be here on behalf of the State Department and the Bush Administration to discuss international women's issues and the U.S. foreign policy towards women.
NewsStacie: April, can you tell us what you do for the State Department?
Ms. Palmerlee: I am the new senior coordinator for international women's issues, which means I run the office in the State Department that is responsible for supporting and sometimes leading the other bureaus in formulating policies and programs of concern to women around the world.
NewsStacie: This AOL member, CatloverBeth, would like a little more clarification:
Question: What do you mean by issues for women?
Ms. Palmerlee: Some of the key issues that our office is dealing with right now focus on the women and girls in Afghanistan, economic empowerment, and political participation by women.
NewsStacie: AOL member Dikadesborder4u asks:
Question: Are the women in Afghanistan currently going to school once again?
Ms. Palmerlee: That is an excellent question! You may have seen on the news today, [President and Mrs. Bush] visiting the Samuel Tucker School in Virginia, where they announced the donation of 1,000 chests filled with school supplies from the Red Cross, as well as a global consortium created to provide materials and equipment to create uniforms for school girls in Afghanistan. This has highlighted the return to school for girls in Afghanistan, which will begin on Saturday, March 23. Schools for girls have been closed since the Taliban took power in 1996, so for many girls, this week will mark the first time they will attend school.
NewsStacie: How involved is the U.S. Government in shaping the new role of women in Afghanistan?
Ms. Palmerlee: The U.S. Government supports the right of the people of Afghanistan, as well as people everywhere, to a broad-based, representative government. To that end, we have strongly encouraged the Afghan interim authority to include women in the decision-making process as the country rebuilds. U.S.-funded programs focus on ensuring that women in Afghanistan are planners, implementers and beneficiaries.
NewsStacie: AOL member LittleNeon123 has a more immediate question about Afghanistan:
Question: How are the women and girls in Afghanistan doing?
Ms. Palmerlee: The situation of women and girls in Afghanistan has improved greatly since the defeat of the Taliban. As I said, girls are returning to school, women are returning to work, and the people of Afghanistan are working together to rebuild their country. Much work remains to be done, but we welcome the progress that has been made and will continue to work with the Government of Afghanistan to ensure women's rights are restored.
NewsStacie: April, perhaps you can give us a little history lesson. AOL member Kamikazedrgn asks:
Question: Why do women get treated poorly in Afghanistan?
Ms. Palmerlee: Women used to play an important role in society in Afghanistan. As early as the 1920s, women had the right to vote. In the 1970s, a great proportion of the teachers and the medical profession were women, and women were able to participate alongside with men, which changed in 1996 when the Taliban came to power. At that point, women were prohibited from working. Girls from over the age of 8 years were prohibited from attending school, and women were not allowed to leave their houses without male relatives and escorts. In addition, of course, the Taliban instituted a very repressive dress code, which demanded that women cover themselves completely with the garment known as the burqa. Failure to do so, even to just show an ankle, would precipitate a violent beating.
NewsStacie: AOL member Spcbyrom asks:
Question: Are there going to be trades for the women? Are they going to be allowed to work?
Ms. Palmerlee: Yes, we already see women going back to work. For example, two of the ministers in the government are women. The minister of women's affairs and the minister of public health are both women. And women are joining other ranks of the government as well. At the end of this week, when school begins, the majority of the 60,000 teachers who will go back to work will be women. And women are also taking up the traditional trades that they used to practice, such as seamstresses, weavers, etc. They are also extremely involved in the work of NGOs -- non-governmental organizations -- such as UN agencies and other relief projects or programs.
NewsStacie: AOL member morgueslayer asks:
Question: April, is there anything church groups could do to help?
Ms. Palmerlee: The president has called on Americans to help Afghans rebuild their society. One of the ways Americans can help is through the American Fund for Afghan Children. President Bush asked children to earn or contribute a dollar to help buy clothing, medicine, books and toys for people they may never meet. So far, this fund has raised $4.6 million. There are several other organizations and funds that are helping to provide expertise and materials to rebuild that country destroyed by 23 years of war. We have a list of several organizations that are contributing to rebuilding Afghan society on our Web site, www.state.gov/g/wi.
NewsStacie: AOL member OForsaken asks:
Question: Do Afghan women still have to cover their heads in public or be with a male in public?
Ms. Palmerlee: The situation has improved greatly for Afghan women, but security is still a concern. For religious reasons, many Afghan women choose to wear a head covering. In addition, many women still feel more comfortable leaving the house covered in a burqa. We have been told, however, that once the women get to their offices, they frequently remove the burqa and work with only a headscarf. The requirement to have a male escort has been eliminated.
NewsStacie: One of our younger members has a question for you, April:
Question: Hi, I am 15, and I was wondering, what is being done to help teen girls in Afghanistan who have to marry at a young age?
Ms. Palmerlee: One of the main concerns for girls your age is that they haven't been to school in six years. How would you feel if you had to start the fifth grade again? So we are looking at strategies to create accelerated education programs for young women so they can finish high school more or less on schedule. That allows them to go on to choose a career or a family or both, according to their social, cultural, and religious mores.
NewsStacie: We are just about out of time, April. Do you have any closing comments for us?
Ms. Palmerlee: I am very honored to be given this opportunity to talk to all of you about women around the world, especially about women of Afghanistan. President Bush and the administration are deeply committed to addressing the concerns of women, be it by small-business owners in the United States or girls in Afghanistan.
NewsStacie: We would like to thank April Palmerlee from the U.S. State Department for chatting tonight.
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Released on April 1, 2002