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Women's Rights a Priority; Humanitarian Aid Improves

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2001 - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today joined first lady Laura Bush i, Nov. 19, 2001 – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today joined first lady Laura Bush in waving the banner for women's rights in Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld addressed the issue during the daily Pentagon press briefing. Bush used her husband's weekly radio address Nov. 17 as a platform to bang the drum in support of Afghan women who have been brutally repressed in Taliban-held Afghanistan.

"Afghan women know, through hard experience, what the rest of the world is discovering: The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists," Bush said during the nationally aired broadcast.

Rumsfeld noted that Afghanistan is not traditionally anti- women's rights. "Before the Taliban took power, Afghan women were protected by law, had important freedoms, were active participants in the society," he said.

The secretary noted that in 1977 women made up 15 percent of the Afghanistan's highest legislative body. "By the early 1990s women comprised something like 70 percent of the school teachers, 50 percent of the government workers and 40 percent of the doctors in Kabul," Rumsfeld said. "Then the Taliban took over."

Under Taliban rule, girls are denied a right to education, and women are forbidden to work or to leave their homes without a male relative. Rumsfeld said the Taliban "brutally enforced restrictive dress codes and even beat women for the crime of laughing in public."

Recent military victories against the Taliban have served to free women from this oppression, Rumsfeld said. Bush agreed.

"Women are no longer imprisoned in their homes," she said. "They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment." Even with these successes, Bush urged Americans to maintain their resolve in the fight against terrorism.

"The terrorists who helped rule that country now plot and plan in many countries," Bush said. "And they must be stopped. The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women."

During his briefing, Rumsfeld also discussed bringing humanitarian relief into Afghanistan. He noted the United States has turned a corner in bringing humanitarian relief to needy Afghans.

"We are now out of the strictly airdrop stage, so to speak, and are turning the efforts towards rebuilding some roads and bridges and restoring other infrastructure so that substantial amounts of aid that will be needed before the onset of winter can be moved into the country," the secretary said.

He noted much of this aid would move through the corridor north of Mazar-e Sharif, which was impossible while the Taliban held the area. He said U.S. military forces will probably help repair roads, clear mines and make airports safe for humanitarian deliveries.

Earlier today Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said more than 32,000 humanitarian daily ration packs were dropped into Afghanistan Nov. 18. U.S. forces are also providing wheat and blankets, but Clarke wasn't sure whether these supplies are being airdropped or trucked into the country.

International aid organizations are working to determine the best types of aid to provide and how best to deliver it, Rumsfeld said. "The delivery of humanitarian aid remains a priority," he said.

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Related Sites:
Radio Address by Laura Bush to the Nation, Nov. 17, 2001
DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld, Nov. 19, 2001

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