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U.S. must help the endangered women of Afghanistan

Security. It's something we all want and need. Especially mothers. It is also something that I, as many Americans, often take for granted.

It is different elsewhere in the world. In Afghanistan, women and girls are caught in the cross-fire of war. A recent story from CNN reported that at least 140 Afghan schoolgirls and female teachers were admitted to a local hospital after drinking poisoned water. Health officials in Afghanistan blamed the act on extremists opposed to women's education.

The people responsible for this are doing what they can to ensure that Afghan women and girls cannot feel safe or secure. Unfortunately, this targeting of women and their fundamental rights is all too common during war.

When the Obama administration issued the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, it acknowledged that women are uniquely victimized by war. But the plan also recognizes this empowering truth: "Deadly conflicts can be more effectively avoided, and peace best forged and sustained, when women become equal partners in all aspects of peace-building and conflict prevention, when their lives are protected, their experiences considered, and their voices heard."

Along with a majority of the American people, I hope that our combat troops will begin to leave Afghanistan soon. At the same time, we need to focus attention and resources on helping Afghanistan to build a sustainable peace.

We have unique power to encourage and support Afghan women's participation in reconciliation and reintegration activities. We need to shift from trying to impose military solutions to developing real political solutions.

It was Boston resident Julia Ward Howe who first tied Mother's Day to women taking action for peace in her "Mother's Day Proclamation" of 1870. "In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace."

The costs of war are too high -- a truth that is not new. More than 140 years ago, we knew that violence and war were not the answer to conflicts, yet they continue to wreak havoc on the lives of women everywhere.

This Mother's Day, let us support and empower the women and mothers in Afghanistan, who are trying to do what is necessary to create a safe and peaceful environment, and sincerely need our help.

I call on the women and mothers of America, as Howe did: "Arise, all women who have hearts." It is up to us to let the leaders of our nation hear our voices on behalf of those Afghan women who cannot speak out. We must help them gain security to allow for sustainable peace in Afghanistan.


Susan Shaer is the executive director of Women's Action for New Directions and co-founder of Win Without War.