This Thanksgiving, American women may well offer thanks for all that we enjoy and pray that every Afghan woman and child may soon share in the blessings of a free society.
Here we know nothing of burqas and beatings, schools closed to girls, summary executions — in short, the brutal world of women and girls under the Taliban terrorist regime in Afghanistan.
Before the Taliban takeover in 1996, the University of Kabul had several thousand female students while thousands of professional women worked in different capacities in the city. During those earlier times, women made up 60 percent of teachers at Kabul University, 50 percent of its students, 70 percent of school teachers, 50 percent of government workers, and 40 percent of physicians.
With the onset of Taliban rule, Afghan women and girls were denied education and any chance to work outside the home. The female literacy rate is only 15 percent.
The Taliban forbid women to leave home without the company of an approved male relative. Outside the house, women were required to wear the tent-like covering called the burqa, which is suffocating and obstructs vision. But to go out has been rare, for women were primarily confined indoors where windows must be kept shut and painted black to keep them from view.
Medical care for women has all but disappeared. Male doctors have not been allowed to treat women, and since female doctors were forbidden, women and children have gone untreated but for a few meager clinics.
The cruel restrictions never ceased. Women could not wear white socks or colored clothes, not walk “too fast” or make noise as they walked. The penalty for any infringement was beating, often with an automobile radio antenna.
The Taliban stoned women and men to death for suspicion of adultery, and the penalty for homosexuality was to be crushed under stones. Before a crowd in the sports stadium in Kandahar, two women were hung as prostitutes in February, 2001 while two other women were publicly lashed and sentenced to prison for adultery. In May, a woman was stoned to death for adultery before a crowd in a sports stadium in Mazar-e-Sharif.
Truly, these women have been trapped in a living hell.
Life is far different for American women. We are the women that author Midge Decter has called “among the luckiest, healthiest, freest people on earth.”
American women set the world standard for education and workforce attainment. With a 97 percent literacy rate, our women outnumber men in higher education and earn the majority of associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Women make up close to half of the workforce; they start businesses at twice the rate of men and employ about 24 million others. We hold thousands of elected and appointed offices, serve in the military, go where we want, when we want, with whom we want, wearing what we want.
The American woman’s lifespan is double that of the Afghan’s. Our medical care is tops.
The contrast between Afghan and American women — one so weakened by oppression, the other so strengthened by freedom — fills our thoughts today. The Independent Women’s Forum joins with all the women of America to offer, along with thanks for our blessings, a commitment to work with others toward a decent and civilized future for the women and children of Afghanistan.