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.
Copyright 2002 OneWorld.net