Prior to the rise of the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were protected under law and increasingly afforded rights in Afghan society. There was a mood of tolerance and openness as the country began moving toward democracy. Women were making important contributions to national development. In 1977, they comprised over 15% of Afghanistan's highest legislative body. It is estimated that by the early 1990s, 70% of schoolteachers, 50% of government workers, and 40% of doctors in Kabul were women. These professional women provide a pool of talent and expertise that will be needed in the reconstruction of post-Taliban Afghanistan.
The Taliban regime began its systematic repression of all sectors of the population soon after taking control of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, in 1996. The Taliban's war against women, however, is particularly appalling. The Taliban has prohibited schooling for girls over the age of eight, shut down the women's university, and forced women to quit their jobs. It has restricted access to medical care for women, brutally enforced a restrictive dress code, and limited the ability of women to move about freely. The Taliban has stripped a society in desperate need of trained professionals of half its assets.
With one of the world's worst human rights records, the Taliban has perpetrated egregious acts of violence against women, including rape, abduction, and forced marriage. As many as 50,000 widows, who have lost husbands and other male relatives in the course of Afghanistan's long civil war, have been forced to sell all of their possessions and beg in the streets, or worse, to provide for themselves and their families.
Islam has a tradition of protecting the rights of women and children. Despite Taliban claims that it is acting in the best interests of women, the truth is that the Taliban regime has cruelly reduced women and girls to poverty, poor health, and illiteracy -- conditions that are not in conformity with the treatment of women in the Muslim world or with the tenets of Islam.
Throughout the Muslim world, women fill countless positions as doctors, teachers, journalists, judges, business people, diplomats, and other professionals. The large and increasing number of women students, in countries such as Saudi Arabia, ensures that in the years to come, women will continue to make an important contribution to the development of their societies.
Islam is a religion that respects women and humanity. The Taliban respects neither.
The United States Government, which has been the largest individual national donor to Afghan humanitarian assistance efforts, believes the Taliban's oppression of women must come to an end. The U.S. Government supports a broad-based government representative of all the Afghan people and which includes women in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Only Afghans can determine the future government of their country. And Afghan women should have the opportunity to play a role in that future.