DEAR ABBY: Some months ago I wrote to you describing the nightmarish situation of women in Afghanistan, stripped of even the most basic human rights by the Taliban militia. I asked people to join the Feminist Majority's campaign to end this cruel system of gender apartheid.
Reporters told me the reason the Afghan situation had received so little coverage was that their editors thought Americans aren't interested in this kind of news. The Taliban assumed that their treatment of women would be of no consequence to the rest of the world. Even the Afghan women, who thought the people of America were their last hope, were afraid to believe we would speak for them.
Well, Abby, someone forgot to tell that to your readers! To date, well over 45,000 of them have called to join our campaign. And they've made a huge impact.
The State Department tells us that the high volume of mail we have generated is historic. The campaign has received unprecedented bipartisan support, with both conservatives and liberals offering backing and action. The president has met with us to express support for our goals and discuss ways to end gender apartheid. We've also met with United Nations officials who tell us that our campaign has put the issue of gender apartheid on the world stage.
The Taliban are now claiming they have eased some restrictions, allowing SOME home-schooling for girls and SOME segregated hospital wards for women. Those changes are unverified. But, true or not, the fact that the Taliban are making these assertions shows that they now realize the rest of the world has drawn a line in the sand over their denial of human rights to women -- a line the Taliban can no longer pretend not to see.
And, Abby, now the Afghan women themselves know we are speaking out for them and will continue to speak. Radio Free Europe and Voice of America have carried news of our campaign into Afghanistan, and letters have been smuggled out to us from women who are daring to hope again.
I would like to share with your more than 45,000 readers who took up their cause a letter of thanks from a woman in Kabul: "I wish I could cover you with flowers to show how grateful I am. I know I cannot do so. From this prison I can only send you a few drops of my tears as a gift. Let me call you 'the angels of mercy.' Your love is our hope." Though she courageously signed her letter, I can't reveal her name for fear she would be killed.
I hope your readers will join us in keeping up the momentum they helped our campaign to build. Our work is beginning to have world impact. -- MAVIS NICHOLSON LENO, CHAIR, CAMPAIGN TO STOP GENDER APARTHEID IN AFGHANISTAN
DEAR MAVIS: I'm sure my readers will be as thrilled as I am to know that their efforts are having such a profound effect. This is our turn on the stage of history, and for the sake of our children and grandchildren, we must not stand idly by.
Those of you who have been a part of this campaign, and those who are interested in joining in the effort, can make your voices heard by calling the action line: 1-888-WE-WOMEN (1-888-939-6636) or visiting the Web site at www.feminist.org. There are many ways we can help. By taking action now, we can make a difference.