“Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 23:18)
In 2000, the Women of Reform Judaism Executive Committee issued a statement on the Right of Women and Girl Children Worldwide expressing concern about the “plight of women and children victimized by sexual trafficking, women under the Taliban and other governments that repress women, and abused women seeking asylum.” It is an almost unbearable tragedy that the unfolding and fluid events in Afghanistan compel us to renew and expand that call for protection in 2021.
As noted in the Reform Movement’s statement of August 20, 2021, “the takeover of [Afghanistan] by the Taliban [has] created significant, urgent concerns and grave dangers for the well-being of vulnerable groups including, among others, women, LGBTQ+ individuals, members of religious minorities, Afghan government officials and diplomats in the U.S. backed government, human rights activists, journalists, staff of civil society organizations and those translators and others who worked in partnership with U.S. and allied armed forces.”
Women of Reform Judaism has long been an outspoken advocate for the protection of women and girl children from violence at home, domestically, and abroad; for support of their human rights, equality, and economic justice; and in protest against the threats, violence, and subjugation that trap women in their homes, without free access to education or full political and economic participation.
Once again, we use our collective voice to raise awareness, protest against these inequalities and dangers, and call for action now, before the progress of the last two decades is lost. For example, in Afghanistan under the Taliban during 1996-2001, women were substantially blocked from property rights. With a majority of displaced people in Afghanistan being women and children, this issue is an immediate concern for property holders and inheritors.[i] At the same time, reports are coming out of Afghanistan of women being dragged from their homes and beaten, told to “leave or be killed,”[ii] and of the harrowing experiences of women activists, including journalists, health care workers, athletes and scholars, whose only crime is participating fully in life, education, professions, sports, and politics while being a woman.[iii] Central to the exercise of full rights is full access to education. As Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO noted, “Education must continue for girls and women. The future of Afghanistan depends on them.”[iv]
Proactive action now is necessary to protect their rights and their lives.
The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Reem Alsalem, spoke forcefully before the U.N. Human Rights Commission about protecting the rights of women and girls, and states that “The duty to respect (their) fundamental rights is a duty for all parties [and] actors in Afghanistan. Sadly, what we see in any conflict, women’s rights [and] their bodies become part of the battleground and often among [its] first casualty.”[v] And, both the United States and Canada are signatories to a joint statement expressing worry about Afghan women and girls, recognizing that they “deserve to live in safety, security and dignity” without discrimination or abuse, and that “[w]e in the international community stand ready to assist them with humanitarian aid and support, to ensure that their voices can be heard.”[vi] It is incumbent upon us to ensure that these promises are kept for women and girls in Afghanistan, around the world, and at home. We commend Canada Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino for expressly including women leaders in the Canadian plan for the resettling of Afghan refugees.[vii]
In this reaffirmation of over a century of Women of Reform Judaism resolutions, statements, and actions on the rights of women and girl children everywhere, the WRJ Executive Committee calls upon its affiliates and members worldwide to:
- Education: Develop programs that will educate your community about the particular issues facing women and girls in countries around the world.
- Action: Assist in resettling refugees in your community by
- Joining a HIAS Resettlement Partner, a JIAS Toronto resettlement partner, other partners in Canada or the United States, or other local immigrant resettlement organizations to aid immigrants from Afghanistan.
- Engaging your congregation in hosting a refugee family.
- Providing support services for refugees such as English language assistance, housing, employment and acculturation.
- Raising funds to assist in local resettlement efforts or to provide needed items through organizations such as Miry’s List.
- Advocacy (United States and Canada):
- Reduced visa processing times and increased processing capacities,
- Increased emergency aid,
- expansion of the visa programs to include women activists, educators, journalists, and others at heightened risk of harm,
- provisions to reduce the risk of sex trafficking, economic, and other exploitation of refugees and internally displaced people.
- the meaningful inclusion of Afghan women in negotiations and decision-making regarding Afghanistan, including the protection of their human rights, education, economic opportunities and equality, participation in public life, and access to sexual and reproductive health rights.
- State/Provincial: Urge your state/provincial leaders to offer safety and opportunity for Afghan refugees to ensure rapid resettlement and reduce the risk of exploitation.
- International Affiliates: Encourage adaptation of these education, social action, social justice, and advocacy recommendations in your respective countries.
[iii] Taliban not trained to respect women, women told not to go to work: https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/25/asia/taliban-women-workplaces-afghanistan-intl/index.html; Journalists: https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/29/media/arghand-fleeing-afghanistan/index.html; Robotics Team: https://www.reuters.com/world/afghan-all-girl-robotics-team-members-land-mexico-2021-08-25/; mountaineering team: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/08/19/an-afghan-female-mountaineering-team-risked-it-all-their-dreams-now-theyre-stuck/; Soccer team: https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/former-afghan-womens-captain-tells-players-burn-kits-delete-photos-2021-08-18/