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Women Call on White House to Restore Afghan Aid

20 August 2002

A women's group this week is organizing a call-in campaign to the White House to protest United States President George W. Bush's last-minute refusal to approve legislation that would have released money for relief and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, including funds for the newly created Ministry of Women's Affairs.

The US$134 million in Afghan humanitarian aid, which was included in the 2002 Supplemental Appropriations Act blocked by Bush last week, would have supported "critical, lifesaving programs desperately needed by the citizens of Afghanistan," said Washington D.C.-based Women's Edge in a statement kicking off the campaign.

"Women, who comprise over 60 percent of the Afghan population, will continue to bear the brunt of this crisis," the statement said.

About US$2.5 million had been earmarked for the Ministry of Women's Affairs - a government department created in the post-Taliban era to work towards greater gender equality - which planned to use the money to build women's centers in each of Afghanistan's 32 provinces, where health, education, and vocational programs were to be carried out.

Decades of civil war and Taliban policies that excluded women and girls from school and work have taken their toll. Afghanistan currently has the second-highest number of maternal deaths in the world, and female literacy is only 11 percent. A recent survey by the United Nations Children's Fund found that parents in the south of the country, where the Taliban was based, are still not allowing their daughters to attend school.

"The $2.5 million is really a question of life or death for the Ministry and Afghan women," Women's Edge president Ritu Sharma told OneWorld Monday, noting that, so far, the U.S. had contributed only $120,000 to the ministry. Other donor nations have also been slow to come through on earlier pledges.

Women's Edge is asking supporters to call the White House and express their "outrage" and "disappointment" over last week's decision and let the president know they will be closely monitoring how much money will be allocated to Afghan women in the future.

Bush justified his decision not to release the funds by citing growing economic problems in the U.S., but according to Peter Bell, the president of CARE-USA, a major U.S. aid agency, the $134 million that Afghanistan was supposed to receive represents just three percent of the total spending bill.

"Disallowing the modest amount of funding for Afghanistan is penny-wise and pound foolish," said Bell, who added that U.S. national security would be strengthened by a more stable Afghanistan.

Women's Edge and CARE-USA have joined other nonprofit groups in their criticism of the Bush budget decision, which has also cut funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Of the total $5.1 billion in spending blocked by the president last week, about US$200 million each had been designated for aid to Afghanistan and spending on global AIDS.

Bush pledged to support new legislation that funds "truly pressing needs" related to homeland security, but analysts have said that it would be difficult for Congress to see to new requests before adjourning prior to November elections.

Alison Raphael
Published by © 2002

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