With the recent confirmation of Madeleine Albright as the first woman to serve as Secretary of State, women's influence on the international agenda has entered a new era.
NOW received credit for pressuring the Clinton administration to name Albright, based on the gender gap in last year's elections. "It would be a real blow, and it would be fairly blatant" in light of her credentials if Albright were not named, NOW President Patricia Ireland said in The Washington Post, in an interview early in the nomination process.
"Foreign policy is a place where women really do need to make some breakthroughs," she said. Albright's appointment sent a strong message that the U.S. intends to include women in major foreign policy-making roles, "and other countries, especially those which subjugate women in their societies, should take notice and do the same," Ireland said.
Despite advances in their rights being made in some developing countries, many women still face great oppression. In Afghanistan, women are experiencing what Amnesty International terms "a human rights catastrophe."
Since April 1992, the Mujahideen groups and warlords have been destroying Afghanistan women's rights that once were guaranteed by its constitution. These "warriors of God" have masked crimes of rape, abduction and slavery of Afghanistan's women behind their military crusade.
The Taliban law of Mullah Omar, an Islamic warlord now in power, restricts women to their homes and forbids them to attend school or work. In the major cities such as Kabul and Herat, women once comprised a sizable part of the workforce. An estimated 8,000 women students attended Kabul University before it closed under Taliban rule.
The Taliban regime controls about two-thirds of Afghanistan's territory and strictly interprets and enforces its version of Islamic law. International humanitarian agencies, including UNICEF and Save The Children-UK, have suspended their relief programs and aid in response to the Taliban's violations of human rights. The United States, along with the international community, must continue to condemn Afghanistan's oppression of women by denying their support and aid to the country and refusing to recognize the Taliban-controlled government.
"I can't look at the women in Afghanistan, who get beaten if they dare go outside, and not feel like they need protection," Ireland said in an interview with a Cincinnati weekly. She said NOW activists must continue "fighting for the rights of women in diverse cultures without simultaneously imposing U.S. values."
Despite the human rights violations in Afghanistan, many U.S. corporations intend to expand their economic development there. For instance, the Unocal Corporation plans to build oil and gas pipelines across Afghanistan. By continuing to fuel the Afghanistan economy, U.S. corporations are effectively endorsing the oppression of Islamic women there.
Activists opposed to Unocal's plans should contact the company and urge it to discontinue its efforts in Afghanistan. Send letters to: Roger Beach, Chair and CEO, Unocal Corporation, 2141 Rosecrans Ave., Suite 4000, El Segundo, Calif. 90245 or e-mail.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is receiving increased media and government attention in the U.S., and feminists and other human rights advocates are stepping up efforts to enforce a new federal law banning the practice in this country.
NOW activists got involved in an FGM case in Seattle. Officials at a Seattle hospital considered performing a limited clitoral incision in response to requests from an immigrant population there. NOW activists wrote letters to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and the Washington state attorney general protesting the procedure.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) responded to the pressure. HHS asked a NOW ally, Dr. Asha Mohamud, and her colleagues at the Harborview Medical Center to conduct a workshop with local ethnic communities, which was to be held in late February. HHS is also planning a national information campaign on FGM, especially targeting communities that advocate the practice.
To join in the fight to end FGM, contact Forward International spokesperson Mimi Ramsey, 1046 W. Taylor St., #204, San Jose, CA 95126.
Political Prisoner Experiencing Abuse
Roisin McAliskey, the pregnant and seriously ill daughter of Irish civil rights leader Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, is being held in solitary confinement in London's Holloway prison. Roisin McAliskey is wanted in connection with a mortar attack on an uninhabited British military base in Germany, and the German government has opposed bail. She has not been charged with an offense.
McAliskey, 25, suffers from severe asthma, an ulcer and rheumatoid arthritis, and as this issue was going to press, was nearing the end of a problem pregnancy, according to supporters working to have her freed from prison. Prison officials have repeatedly denied her medical and obstetric care; she could die from an asthma attack without immediate medical attention.
"The latest we've heard is that Roisin is due to deliver her baby sometime in April, and she's going to be manacled to the bed during delivery," said Betsy Swart with Friends of Roisin McAliskey, a support group working to free McAliskey. "Then they're going to take her baby away from her, according to what I've read in the Irish Times. Every time I hear something new my outrage is renewed."
Prominent feminists -- including Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, U.S. Rep. Constance Morella, R-Md., and actress Ellen Burstyn -- have signed an open letter calling for her release. Members of the British House of Commons and House of Lords, as well as a former Northern Ireland minister, have offered to post bail for McAliskey.
Swart said NOW activists can join in signing the open letter and in petitioning the German government to release McAliskey. Copies of the letter and other information can be obtained from Swart at 508-352-4438.
Special thanks to Amnesty International for their reports on the women of Afghanistan.
Return to March 1997 newspaper / Return to NOW Home Page / Search NOW site / Send mail to NOW / Join NOW