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Women's Equality Highlighted in Afghanistan

By Staff Sgt. Monica R. Garreau, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM, Afghanistan, Sept. 2, 2004 – The ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on Aug. 26, 1920, was a turning point for America. The amendment officially acknowledged all U.S. citizens, regardless of gender, as equal. Most importantly, it gave women the right to vote.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Sgt. Jade Fry, a member of the 25th Military Police Company, meets with local Afghan women in a voter-registration center in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The presence of female soldiers displays to Afghans, especially the women, America's resolve as a democracy to give equal rights to all its citizens. Photo by Sgt. Frank Magni, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"Women were the last group to be allowed the right to vote," said Master Sgt. Carol Cheley, Combined Joint Task Force 76 equal opportunity adviser. "It opened the doors for everything else. Once we had the right to vote, it gave us a voice in the government and a voice in the decision-making process. And because of that voice, women have been given the right to defend their country."

With many female troops serving in a country where women have been oppressed for so many years, it is even more crucial to recognize the changes and painful lessons learned from American history.

It's important for us to recognize Women's Equality Day here in Afghanistan. The fact that many soldiers in the coalition are women demonstrates our nation's belief that women should be considered equal citizens in all societies, said Cheley.

The picketing, hunger strikes, political rallies and petitions of the Women's Suffragist Movement in America lasted nearly 20 years. All this was brought to an end when the Constitution was amended with the phrase, "The right of citizenship of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State, on account of sex."

And with the assistance and guidance the coalition is providing to the newly formed democratic Afghan government, local women will not have to picket or hold hunger strikes to make their rights known.

In the United States, all people are recognized as citizens with equal rights, which is an integral part of democracy, said Cheley. By recognizing Women's Equality Day, "we present democracy to the Afghan people, (showing them) that everyone has a right to citizenship and a voice in the government, to include the women."

This is evident, considering the milestones laid in a history-making election year for the Afghan national government. The Joint Electoral Management Body has reported that 41 percent of registered voters are women -- an astounding number, considering the harsh restrictions placed on the women of Afghanistan during the ruthless reign of the Taliban.

With the progress made since the fall of the Taliban regime, the women of this country have been granted many rights that were out of their reach for decades. If the last 84 years in America are any indicator, the women of Afghanistan have a bright future ahead of them.

(Army Staff Sgt. Monica R. Garreau is a member of the 17th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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