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by Abigail Van Buren

Plight of Afghan Women Is Too Appalling to Overlook

DEAR ABBY: Everyone knows if you want America to know something, you should tell Dear Abby. My letter concerns a heartbreaking situation all Americans should know about.

Until September 1996, women in Afghanistan were highly involved in public life. They wore contemporary clothes, participated in government, attended co-ed schools and worked in all professions. Many were nurses, lawyers and teachers. Forty percent of the doctors were women.

Then, an extremist military group, the Taliban, overthrew the government and brutally imposed a system of "gender apartheid." Overnight, 11.5 million free, hardworking Afghan citizens became prisoners in their own homes for the crime of being female.

Under Taliban law, the windows of a woman's house must be painted black. She may leave the house only if accompanied by a close male relative and dressed in a smothering head-to-toe garment -- the burqua -- with just a tiny mesh-covered opening to see through.

Women may not work outside the home, attend school or even, for fear of terrible punishment, wear shoes that make noise when they walk. They are forbidden to teach their own daughters to read, and girls are banned from attending school. If women or girls get sick, they cannot be treated by a male doctor -- and since women can no longer work as doctors, nurses or midwives, health care for women has all but vanished. Many have now died of easily treatable ailments.

The Taliban justify all of this as part of an extremist form of Islam, which only they subscribe to -- and which has nothing to do with mainstream Muslim beliefs or the traditions of the Afghan people.

One young Afghan woman told an interviewer: "There is no hope for us. The Afghan women are the walking dead." Not surprisingly, these women are now committing suicide in increasing numbers.

Please, Abby, help bring these lost women back into the world. I'm heading the Feminist Majority Foundation's nationwide Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan. Please ask your concerned readers to call us at (888) 93-WOMEN to receive a "Take Action" kit and learn how they can help. -- MAVIS LENO, BOARD MEMBER, FEMINIST MAJORITY FOUNDATION

DEAR MAVIS: When I learned about the plight of women in Afghanistan, my first reaction was that they've been buried alive. The facts are appalling. The suffering that has been inflicted upon Afghan women and girls is oppressive and criminal, and the crimes against them are human rights violations.

Readers, it's comforting to know that even though we are far away, we don't have to sit helplessly by. The members of the Feminist Majority believe that if the United States pursues the same course of action with Afghanistan that concerned Americans pursued with apartheid in South Africa, the economic and social pressure will force the Taliban to halt its war against women.

So far, the campaign has helped to stop the United States and the United Nations from recognizing the Taliban as Afghanistan's official government, and has aided in blocking construction of an oil and gas pipeline across Afghanistan that would have provided hundreds of millions of dollars annually to support their regime.

Please don't wait. Call (888) 93-WOMEN and add your name to mine on the list of people who refuse to watch in silence.

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