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Forgetting Afghanistan's Women

Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy
September 9, 2011
Foreign Policy

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Less than a month after the horrible attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan, in a quest to find Osama bin Laden and punish the Taliban for harboring him.

At the time, women's progress was touted as both a reason for and a powerful and positive product of the U.S. invasion. But while Washington showered attention on the plight of Afghan women going into the war, officials have gone largely silent on the fate of Afghan women as they look to its exit.

In November 2001, First Lady Laura Bush took to the airwaves on behalf of her husband -- marking the first time a president's wife has delivered the entire President's weekly radio address on her own -- to highlight the plight of Afghan women and girls.

"The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women," Mrs. Bush said.

"Afghan women know, through hard experience, what the rest of the world is discovering: The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists...In Afghanistan we see the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us."

She concluded, "Because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment. Yet the terrorists who helped rule that country now plot and plan in many countries. And they must be stopped." The State Department issued an accompanying report on the Taliban's "War Against Women," which stated that "restricting women's access to work is an attack on women today."

A month later, the President himself signed the "Afghan Women and Children Relief Act" and pledged that "America and our allies will do our part in the rebuilding Afghanistan. We learned our lessons from the past. We will not leave until the mission is complete."

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