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Women are vital to political, social and economic progress everywhere around the world. This is especially true in Afghanistan, where women’s human rights have been ignored, attacked and eroded over decades, especially under Taliban rule.
Under draconian restrictions instituted by the Taliban, girls were not allowed to be educated. They could be beaten or even killed for violating laws prohibiting them from getting a job or leaving their homes unaccompanied by a close male relative. Women, even infant girls, could not seek treatment from a male doctor or go to a hospital, and of course, women were not allowed to practice medicine.
No country can prosper if half of its citizens are left behind, said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a recent speech. Women are the single most effective poverty alleviation mechanism, contributing to a society’s prosperity; similarly, lack of investment in women characterizes failed states. "I also believe very strongly, as is apparent in what I say about this issue, that women have to be involved at every step of the way in this process," said Secretary Clinton:
"To that end, I unveiled our Women’s Action Plan. It includes initiatives focused on women’s security, women’s leadership in the public and private sector; women’s access to judicial institutions, education, and health services; women’s ability to take advantage of economic opportunities, especially in the agricultural sector. This is a comprehensive, forward-looking agenda that stands in stark contrast to al-Qaida’s recently announced agenda for Afghanistan’s women, attempting to send female suicide bombers to the West."
For Afghanistan to prosper, women must participate fully in Afghan society. That is why the U.S President's plan for Afghanistan includes programs to improve women’s and girls' access to education, healthcare and the justice system, and strengthen programs related to women's security, leadership development, and capacity building for Afghan-led nongovernmental organizations focused on empowering and advancing women’s rights. There will be support for women learning a new skill, starting a small business or becoming leaders in their communities.
Afghan women must not be viewed simply as victims who need to be sheltered. They must be respected and valued as leaders -- a reserve of talent that Afghan society needs to draw upon in order to prosper and succeed.