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Book Scandal Must Not Reflect on Afghan Girls Schools

Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy
April 22, 2011


Editor's note: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow and deputy director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council of Foreign Relations. She writes extensively about women entrepreneurs in conflict and post-conflict zones, including Afghanistan, Bosnia and Rwanda. She wrote "The Dressmaker of Khair Khana," a book that tells the story of an Afghan girl whose business created jobs and hope during the Taliban years.

We live in the Charlie Sheen era of wall-to-wall, "shock and awe" scandal coverage. And at the moment, Greg Mortenson is in the crosshairs. The man from Montana who toured America promoting the potential of girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan is now experiencing the painful flip side of the media adulation that catapulted him to fame.

Mortenson has built schools in Afghanistan, focusing on the most remote parts of the country. A recent investigation from the U.S. news magazine "60 Minutes" has raised questions about his foundation's finances and the veracity of his book, "Three Cups of Tea."

However you may feel about this controversy, it cannot be denied that Mortenson has been one of the most effective advocates for girls education -- an issue that so often traffics in obscurity and penury. (A recent Time magazine article noted that 2 cents of every development dollar goes to girls -- and that is an improvement over where it was in the last decade.) The media firestorm threatens to overshadow, or worse, discredit the heroines at the heart of his work building schools in Afghanistan.

I have reported from Afghanistan since 2005, focusing on a largely overlooked and underreported story: the contributions women and girls make every day to their families and their neighborhoods. And in full disclosure: I have just written a book about young women who became entrepreneurs and breadwinners under the Taliban, a book Mortenson endorsed.

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