- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 21, 2001

''Long before the current war began," first lady Laura Bush said the other day, "the Taliban and its terrorist allies were making the lives of children and women in Afghanistan miserable. Seventy percent of the Afghan people are malnourished. One in every four children won't live past the age of 5, because health care is not available. Women have been denied access to doctors when they're sick. Life under the Taliban is so hard and repressive, even small displays of joy are outlawed children aren't allowed to fly kites; their mothers face beatings for laughing out loud. Women cannot work outside the home, or even leave their homes by themselves. The severe repression and brutality against women in Afghanistan is not a matter of legitimate religious practice… . The plight of women and children in Afghanistan is a matter of deliberate human cruelty, carried out by those who seek to intimidate and control."

Indeed, what we witnessed in recent days, such as women shedding their stifling burqas, is far more significant than the symbolic gestures displayed during America's sexual revolution, when women called men "chauvinists" and burned their bras during brazen public denouncements. Ever since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, women were smothered in more than the floor-length shrouds that they were compelled to wear; they were considered persona non grata.

In Kabul last week, they laughed out loud, freely walked without benefit of male escorts, and snatched off their burqas and washed in the river. Many merely stepped out of doors, or let the sunlight pour over their uncovered faces small pleasures that women elsewhere take for granted.

For those and many other reasons including the fact that Afghanistan ranks No. 1 in the world in maternal mortality it is imperative to follow Mrs. Bush's lead. To be sure, the post-Taliban government must preserve basic human rights for women and children, millions of whom have suffered from years of drought and civil war. "All of us have an obligation to speak out," Mrs. Bush said in a radio address on Saturday, when she substituted for the president. "The terrorists who helped rule that country now plot and plan in many countries. And they must be stopped."

Those are pretty tough words for a lady, and we are proud that she didn't hesitate to articulate them. This is because, as Mrs. Bush said, "The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women."

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