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Masuda Sultan in Afghanistan
10.24.03
Politics and Economy:
Afghan Women
More on This Story:
Update Letter from Masuda Sultan

Masuda Sultan was introduced to NOW viewers in August 2002 when she returned to the city of her birth, Kandahar, Afghanistan, to search for her extended family. Read the transcript of our story on her visit, From Ground Zero to Ground Zero, read an online interview with Masuda and view a photo essay of that trip.

After another recent trip to Afghanistan, Masuda wrote the following letter to NOW viewers on current living conditions for Afghan women, and on the work her organization, Women for Afghan Women, is doing to make a difference.

Masuda Sultan
To the viewers of NOW WITH BILL MOYERS,

As an Afghan-American who lost relatives in the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan and as an activist working for the Afghan women whose liberation was cited as a main benefit of the war, I must say that very little has changed for the average Afghan woman. I would like to highlight a few areas of Afghan women's lives that the organization I lead, Women for Afghan Women, is working to improve.

Security
Although Kabul is changing-some women are working and some have even taken off the burqa, women outside the capital still wear it and are often confined to their homes, unable to visit family, let alone work. Many of them say if they felt safe, they would take off their burqas. They have repeatedly told me that politically motivated violence and the absence of security is the number one barrier to living their lives as human beings. On this issue, my organization has joined the voices of the Afghan people in calling for the expansion of ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] to other Afghan cities, something that the UN Security Council finally agreed to recently. This is just a beginning; the commitment is to station between 230 and 450 peacekeepers in Kunduz only. I hope this effort will be expanded to other Afghan cities.

Girls' Education
Girls go to school, but most of them sit on the ground listening to teachers who don't have training. Most don't have books, and walk long distances to school with their families afraid for their safety. Girls' schools continue to be attacked and burned to the ground by warlords who continue to fight for their power and remnants of the Taliban who do not believe in the education of girls.

Women's Rights
The country is preparing for elections in June 2004, and the draft constitution is to be released any day now by [President Hamid] Karzai's administration. To help women contribute their voices to this process, we organized a conference in Kandahar with grassroots women leaders from all over Afghanistan with the help of the guest on the show, Sarah Chayes and Afghans for Civil Society as well as phenomenal Afghan women on the ground. The conference resulted in the Afghan Women's Bill of Rightss. This historic document was presented to President Karzai, the Women's Ministry, and the Constitutional Commission, which has the task of drafting the constitution. It is being distributed throughout the country by Afghan NGOs.

These are just some of the issues that concern me. I know that the international community has expressed its support for Afghan women's rights, and that the US wants to liberate Afghan women. It is therefore saddening to see that out of the $87 billion requested by the Bush administration for Iraq and Afghanistan, no money has been earmarked for women, and only 1% of the money is for reconstruction in Afghanistan. Congresswoman [Carolyn] Maloney managed to introduce an amendment that passed to earmark $60 million for women's programs in Afghanistan, but opponents of the amendment may succeed in stripping it from the package before it goes to President Bush.

I write this letter knowing that the viewers expect only honesty and truth. I know this because it is now almost two years since the show took the bold step of broadcasting footage from my documentary shot in Afghanistan. "From Ground Zero to Ground Zero", as it was called, gave a chilling firsthand account of the attacks from the men, women, and children of my extended family. Everyone else we showed the tape to expressed their sympathy, but said they could never show that on American TV. Bill Moyers' show took the most difficult part of the footage, and addressed the issue of civilian casualties directly. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the show for continuing to highlight the issues of the Afghan people, especially those facing women.

Best Regards,
Masuda Sultan
Women for Afghan Women


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