04/17/2009 01:16 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What Can We Do to Support the Women Who Stood Up to Extreme Patriarchy?

The sight of Afghan women marching for their rights in Kabul this week, shouting, "We want our rights!" was both exhilarating and terrifying. Exhilarating because this appeared to be one of the first public protests staged by women in Kabul against repression, prompted by a new law that permits marital rape and demands that women ask their husband's permission to go to school or work, and even to leave the house. Terrifying because they were met with physical and verbal abuse, and shouts of, "Get out of here, you whores!"

A crowd three times the size of their group that included men and older women met the 300 protesting women. Tradition dies hard, it seems, even for some women.

I ask myself, what can we do to support these women who risked their lives to stand up to extreme patriarchy? What can we do to convince President Hamid Karzai not to implement the law? Outside pressure will intensify the rabid emotions of some of those who fought for the law and feel besieged by foreigners but it may also put additional pressure on Karzai who is beginning to feel the heat. The United States should put intense pressure on Karzai to protect his country's women. This is the country to which we are sending 16,000 thousand more troops to protect Afghanistan's citizens, including those who called these women whores. And some of our troops will die in the effort and some of these American soldiers will be women. What greater irony can there be?

This was originally posted at Chelsea Green.

Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.