Women Around the Globe Face Threats to Human Rights

by Dawn Corbett, Internet/Communications Intern

Women under the Taliban rule in Afghanistan cannot leave their homes without a related male escort and they must wear a burqa at all times in public.  Aghan women have been injured due to limited visibility while wearing the garment and many have been beaten for not being properly covered.  Photo by S. Lyon, AP/World Wide Photos.

Women are increasingly under attack in Afghanistan, Iran and Indonesia, facing draconian restrictions and systematic violence.

"Women around the globe are living under oppressive conditions most of us can only imagine in our worst nightmares," said Vice President Membership Karen Johnson. "It is the duty of women's rights and human rights groups to make the public aware of these atrocities and to pressure the U.S. government and U.S. companies to stand up to those who abuse women's rights and bodies."

Houston Area NOW activists outside Unocal offices in Sugar Land, Texas, protesting the corporation's plans to build a pipeline in Afghanistan that will bring millions of dollars to the Taliban.  Photo by Richar Leuchtag.

Women Denied Basic Rights in Afghanistan

Under the rule of the fundamentalist Taliban, women in Afghanistan continue to be deprived of basic human rights. On July 21, NOW and other feminist activists in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Houston protested against any U.S. support of the Taliban.

The Taliban overthrew the Afghan government in 1996 and has implemented strict restrictions on women under the guise of Islamic fundamentalism. Women and girls are not allowed to work or receive education. (Recently, the Taliban allowed widows with no other source of income to work.)  They cannot go outside unless accompanied by a male relative and covered in a head-to-toe burqa, and health care is virtually nonexistent. Women have been beaten and killed for going out in public without a male escort.

In the last month, Taliban forces have taken over new ground in Afghanistan, increasing their hold to more than three-quarters of the country. Taliban officials have renewed the call for international recognition of their government, and after the bombings of  U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Sudan, Secretary of State Madeline Albright stated that their prospects would improve if they ceased harboring terrorist Osama bin Laden, charged with masterminding the attacks.

Unocal, a U.S.-based oil and gas company, plans to build a multi-billion dollar pipeline through Afghanistan that would result in hundreds of millions of dollars for this oppressive regime.  D.C. activists picketed Unocal's headquarters and Houston Area NOW demonstrated in front of Unocal's office in Sugar Land, Texas, calling upon the company not to collaborate in gender apartheid in Afghanistan. The Houston chapter had previously picketed Unocal in March; following that protest, the Houston Chronicle published an editorial criticizing corporate support for the Taliban.

Sue Ann Lorig, chair of  Houston Area NOW's Task Force on Ending Violence Against Women, stated: "Just as America condemned corporations willing to stoop to doing business with South Africa while apartheid was in effect, America will not tolerate Unocal placing corporate greed above the fundamental rights to education, health care and employment of over half the population of Afghanistan."

In light of recent polticial developments, Unocal has stated that it has suspended all activities involving the pipeline in Afghanistan; however, the company is continuing a skills training program for Afghans-men only-with the University of Nebraska. Should the United States recognize the Taliban, Unocal would likely go forward with construction of the pipeline, regardless of whether or not women's rights were restored.

You can help end the oppression of women and girls in Afghanistan. Check on NOW's web page at www.now.org/issues/global/ for more information. Tell others about the abuses in Afghanistan.

Contact Unocal at askus@www.unocal.com and urge the company to end its business with the Taliban until the rights of women in Afghanistan are restored. And tell U.S. and U.N. leaders they must help secure basic human rights for women in Afghanistan before any recognition of the Taliban government can occur. (See contact information below.)

Iran Passes Devastating Health Care Measure

Using the same guise of Islamic fundamentalism, Iran's parliament has passed a law requiring the segregation of women's and men's health care. This law is likely to have devastating effects on women, since the best resources will surely be reserved for men. Other laws forbid the discussion of women's rights issues unless they are in accordance with the government's interpretation of Islamic law, and prohibit journalists from using pictures of women on the front page of their publications. These laws are only the latest of the regime which came to power in 1979. Restrictions on education, employment and dress are already in effect.

Chinese Women in Indonesia Denied Justice

Reports out of Indonesia have told of the systematic use of rape during the May 13-15 riots over economic strife in the country. The Chinese women who were gang raped in Indonesia continue to wait for their attackers to be brought to justice.  Thousands of ethnic Chinese have fled Jakarta, the city in which the three-day spree of violence occurred.

The Chinese are frequently the victims of prejudice, especially during periods of political turmoil.  With the recent resignation of  President Suharto, the Chinese live in fear of violent attacks.  Indonesia's Chief of  State Intelligence recently claimed that the government has found no evidence that the rapes of at least 168 women took place. Let the global community know that you oppose the failure of the Indonesian government to conduct a thorough investigation of this organized violence against women. (See contact information below.)

International Criminal Court Designates Rape A War Crime

At a July conference in Rome, 160 worldwide delegations drafted a treaty to create an International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC will prosecute future acts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes; the treaty designates rape, sexual slavery and enforced pregnancy as war crimes.  The United Nations recently recognized that rape is used systematically as a war crime after years of tracking such acts.

The establishment of the ICC will allow international action to be taken in countries where the national government has failed to prosecute very serious crimes. It will be more effective than temporary tribunals which are restricted to one country for a specific length of time.

The U.S. government, however, refused to sign the treaty, arguing for a provision that would essentially guarantee that no U.S. citizen would ever be subject to prosecution by the court.  Connect to the Human Rights Watch web site at http://www.hrc.org/ for more information on the ICC.

"NOW is committed to working with feminist and human rights organizations and our government to help bring justice, safety and respect to women around the globe." said Johnson. "No one should accept less."

Contact the U.S. government about women's rights worldwide: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, 2201 C St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20520 (e-mail: secretary@state.gov); U.N. Ambassador William Richardson, 799 U.N. Plaza, NY, NY 10017 (e-mail: usaun@undp.org). 


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