Last week, I testified before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Congress as one of five witnesses in a hearing on women in Afghanistan. The session was chaired by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), with 4 other members of Congress participating: Susan Davis (D-CA), James McDermott (D-WA), Joseph Pitts (R-PA), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). It took place in the grand Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building.
The participation of five members of Congress and the presence of a substantial public audience were significant. The copies of our Afghan Women Speak report were snapped up quickly, with requests for more. I gave Congresswoman Schakowsky my last copy.
At the witness table I was paired with Marzia Basel, founder and former head of the Afghan Women¹s Judges Association. Our statements revealed contrasting views. She pleaded for maintaining the international military presence to protect women and guard against the Taliban taking over. She spoke favorably of permanent U.S. military bases. My focus was on the need for military disengagement. I urged a negotiated political and security agreement within Afghanistan, the introduction of a Muslim-led interim security force under UN authority, support for constitutional guarantees of gender equality, the participation of women in the peace process, and increased funding for political, social and economic opportunity.
Judge Basel and I were the last witnesses, so we had ample opportunity to field questions from the Congress members. We were very cordial and respectful toward each other and as the discussion proceeded began to find common ground. I agreed with her emphasis on protecting women and avoiding a Taliban takeover. She agreed on the need for an interim Muslim-led security force. When I suggested that U.S. bases be turned over to Afghan security forces, she nodded. It was a bit of peacemaking right there in the hearing room.
The hearing came just after the death of Osama bin Laden, a point mentioned in my remarks and by the members of Congress. This decisive blow to Al Qaeda strengthens the case for military withdrawal and increases the urgency of developing a responsible and effective strategy for transition, one that places the needs Afghan women front and center.
Check out my CNN commentary on supporting women’s rights without war.
(Special thanks and great credit go to my colleague and co-author Sarah Smiles Persinger, who did all the interviews in Kabul and wrote most of the report. I mentioned Sarah¹s name in the hearing and acknowledged her important role. Thanks also to Joan Fallon, Eliot Fackler and other staff at the Kroc Institute for editing, researching and producing the report; to Women¹s Action for New Directions for helping to arrange and publicize the event; and to the Progressive Congress Action Fund and the staff of Representative McGovern for scheduling and organizing the hearing.)