Moderate Taliban an Oxymoron

05/25/2011 01:10 pm ET
  • Martha Burk Money Editor, Ms. magazine; national gender pay equity consultant, Director, Corporate Accountability Project, National Council of Women's Organizations

In my book "moderate Taliban" ranks right up there with "organic vienna sausage" as an oxymoron. But the President mentioned reaching out to the so-called moderate militias in Afghanistan a couple of weeks ago in talking about how to quell the violence and fix the mess W left him with. Obama fleshed out his blueprint for gaining a peace on Friday, when he announced plans to send 4,000 more American troops and a few billion more dollars through a supplemental appropriation.

Women's groups, both in the U.S. and Afghanistan, want to make sure any shifts in policy don't further harm women and girls. Despite Bush administration claims to the contrary, females have been set back -- way back--since 2001. Most are once again in the burqua, and girls are being attacked with acid for the crime of going to school. Women are often deprived of food, and have been kicked out of bread lines by the Taliban.

Dr. Sima Samar, chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill to sound the alarm. "I do not believe there are any moderate Taliban," she said Friday at a news aconference sponsored by the Feminist Majority Foundation. "The U.S. must not provide support for those who have terrorized women and girls and violated their rights."

Pointing out that women's rights are human rights and not subject to so-called cultural norms, foundation President Eleanor Smeal called for increased attention to health and education, and expressed strong hopes that the Obama administration will attend to the plight of women. Afghanistan has ratified the universal women's human rights treaty known as CEDAW (the U.S. has not), and the Afghan constitution has basic protections for women. The challenge is bringing culture and practice, still under the grip of Taliban oppression, in line with the law.

Smeal announced a new campaign, chaired by Mavis Leno and supported by women's groups and prominent leaders around the world, to insure that Afghan women will not fall victim to any new alliance of strange bedfellows. With a Secretary of State who is unapologetically pro-woman, and women in the Senate and House on their side, the the campaign has allies on both ends of Pennsylvania avenue. Congressional hearings led by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on what is to be done for women have been promised.

Due to a scheduling snafu, the women's news conference was taking place at the same time the president was announcing his plan for breaking the hold of the extremists. To his credit, he indicated that women and girls will not be forgotten in the new push, and he's no longer using the term "moderate Taliban. " But beyond that, there were no specifics on how to protect women. Good thing the girls were speaking up on the other side of town, because good ol' Ross Perot taught us the devil is in the details. It couldn't be more true for the future of women in Afghanistan.