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Foreign Women Refuse to Ignore War
Published on Saturday, October 1, 2005 by the Toledo Blade (Ohio)
Foreign Women Refuse to Ignore War
by Rose Russell
 

As the Republican Party looks like it's crumbling, it must be miserable being a GOP member these days.

The President's approval ratings are down. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was indicted the other day on a charge of conspiring to violate the Texas election law. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is under investigation for having inside information prior to selling HCA Inc. stock. And some have called for the resignation of Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, convicted of four first-degree misdemeanor ethics violations, and that was before his office disclosed eight other gifts he failed to report.

There's more. Consider Under-Secretary of State Karen Hughes' trip to the Middle East this week. Her meeting with women's rights advocates in Istanbul wasn't what she expected on a five-day trip intended to improve Middle Easterners' view of U.S. citizens. The women's groups are unhappy about the U.S. occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Turkish and Saudi Arabian women wouldn't play nice-nice when the under-secretary opened a meeting stating that she is a working mother. The women promptly made sure Ms. Hughes understood their displeasure with the occupation, which has made life worse for women. Nobody was persuaded when she told Saudi Arabian women on Tuesday that she favored improving their status. She ended up defending the pre-emptive strike on Iraq.

On Wednesday, in Istanbul, Hidayet Sefkatli Tuksal of the Capital City Women's Forum, said pointedly, "This war is really, really bringing your positive efforts to the level of zero." Ms. Tuksal said the war directly affects women and children, and that it isn't realistic to give serious consideration to cooperation between American and Turkish women now.

And Monday's arrest of war-protester Cindy Sheehan did little to improve matters for Ms. Hughes. The New York Times reported that a Kurdish woman said she was not just "ashamed" of the war. Fatma Nevin Vargun said Ms. Sheehan's arrest "was a pity for us as well."

Ms. Vargun isn't alone in her lament. Americans know the hypocrisy of the administration's claim to make life better for the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan, all the while letting it deteriorate into worse conditions. Ms. Hughes' retorted that Mr. Bush tried to avoid war. Sure he did. She then told the women, "It is impossible to say that the rights of women were better under Saddam Hussein than they are today."

Well, while I'll be the last to uphold a dictatorship, I wonder how she would explain the general consensus at home and abroad that you can't force nations to become democracies.

The Toronto Star said in May that extremists still make life difficult for women and religious minorities. "Women cover their heads in mounting numbers, hoping to avoid the attention of gangs who routinely kidnap and rape 'loose' women ..." the Star said.

The decline in women's rights since the U.S. occupation has been reported previously. For another idea as to how bad it is, last month, Beth Benson, of the Daily Aztec at San Diego State University, quoted an email from a woman on the committee to write the Iraqi constitution that was sent to the San Antonio Express-News. Dr. Rajaa Khuza wrote: "We thought we would benefit from the Americans, the new technology, human rights, women's rights. We haven't seen any of these... it is more than two years."

It isn't better in Afghanistan either. The Taliban's treatment of women before the war was incredible, but since the U.S. occupation, little has changed. So where's the outcry?

Rather than address these issues, the administration that promised a better life for the people in occupied nations inconceivably sends its under-secretary to the Middle East to offer - and to expect - niceties.

© 2005 The Blade

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