One day after the United Nations issued a report condemning the prevalence of violence against women and the lack of progress in protecting women's human rights around the world, the Islamic Taliban movement sent a delegation to New York City to lobby the UN for recognition of its rule in Afghanistan.
That's what I call chutzpah.
They may pull it off because despite lofty rhetoric, the State of the World Population 2000, issued this week by the United Nations Population Fund, doesn't make Afghanistan look any worse than the rest of the world.
Still, it's hard to imagine another country where in the year 2000 women are so thoroughly oppressed that aid workers are being forced to pull out; where a girl child can be beaten unto death for trying to go to school, where badly needed doctors and nurses are under virtual house arrest if they are female, and where women with no means of support are not allowed to hold a job.
The Taliban calls the mujahadeen alliance that controls a tiny fraction of the country and is recognized by the UN, a "band of thugs." Afghan women wouldn't dispute that. Women have been beaten, raped and killed by both sides in that country's decades-old civil war. But the Taliban has gone a step further than even its onerous predecessors by institutionalizing the repression and abuse of women and has carried its religion to its illogical extreme in defending a brutal regime in the areas it controls.
If the UN is going to do nothing to rescue these women, let it at least not add insult to the injury by granting their tormentors an audience.
Women in Washington, D.C., will mark the fourth anniversary of the Taliban's takeover of Kabul with a demonstration at the State Department on Monday.
In the meantime, the Feminist Majority Foundation hopes to heighten public awareness of what is going on with a campaign that links Americans, especially teachers and students, with young girls in Afghanistan who have been shut out of regular schools.
The campaign includes scholarships for Afghan refugees to attend colleges and universities here. Schools and organizations are adopting clandestine home schools in Afghanistan and the few illegal schools for girls in rural areas.
Girls are not much better off in neighboring Pakistan, home to millions of Afghan refugees. According to the UN population report, girls are not thriving in very many places in the world.
Around the world, the report says, one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or abused in some other way.
At least 60 million girls who would otherwise be expected to be alive are "missing" from various populations, mostly in Asia, as a result of sex-selective abortions, infanticide or neglect.
Domestic violence is widespread in most societies, says the UN, and is a frequent cause of suicide among women.
Rape and other forms of sexual violence are increasing and 2 million girls between the ages of 5 and 15 enter the commercial sex market each year.
At least 130 million women have undergone female genital mutilations and another 2 million are at risk each year. "Honor" killings take the lives of thousands of young women, more than 1,000 of them last year in Pakistan alone. The UN says that a 1 percent increase in female secondary schooling results in a 0.3 percent increase in economic growth. That's a lesson not many developing countries have learned and the gender gap in education, while narrowing, remains too wide. In 22 African and nine Asian countries, enrollment for girls is less than 80 percent that for boys. Twenty-nine percent of the world's females over age 15 are illiterate, compared to 16 percent of males.
The world pays a heavy price, billions of dollars each year, for its wholesale discrimination against women, according to this report. While statistics are sparse, the report claims that the low status of women's health and education is impeding development in poor countries and is costly to businesses and governments, even in developed countries.
National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and Erie Community College are sponsoring Wellness Walk 2000 Sept. 30 starting at the North Campus at 9:30 a.m. The walk is designed to increase awareness of ovarian cancer and will benefit a medical assistance fund for ECC students. September is being observed as National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
If you're in Dallas on Friday, step into the new Women's Museum: an Institute for the Future, which will be marking its opening day after a week of Texas-size festivities. Celebrities, including former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, will guide you through the museum's high-tech interactive exhibits via "mentor phones." The exhibits are designed to give a glimpse of what the future holds for women.