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Afghanistan: Will Obama Listen to the Women? By Jodie Evans

With the eighth anniversary of our invasion of Afghanistan nearing and a leaked letter from our general in Afghanistan that he wants another 40,000 troops before the funding for the last request of 21,000 has really been fully voted on, we felt it was time to go to Afghanistan and speak to the women. What do they want to say to President Obama?

Nine of us arrived September 27 in the midst of an election scandal and reports of kidnapped Americans being held for a ransom of Taliban prisoners. A journalist, photographer, gynecologist, teacher, attorney, retired colonel and State Department member who opened the Afghan Embassy for the United States in 2001, we CODEPINK co-founders and our token male from a partner organization, Peace Action, made up our delegation. As the plane lowered through the clouds, we entered the dusty and broken city of Kabul. We wouldn't take a clean breath until our return eight days later to Dubai. Rumor has it that more feces pollute the air of Kabul than anywhere in the world.

Women were to be our window into this broken world, but you cannot avoid the men. At our first meeting, the deputy director assigned to speak with us from Women to Women International was a man. In shock I asked why he had such a role, the woman who was program director for the last seven years smiling at the question. "Because so much of our work is too dangerous and can't be done by a woman."

Of course Nader, the deputy director, was needed in his role. Just to talk to the women they must first win over the Mullah, showing him how their work comes from the teachings of the Prophet. (The United States hasn't been that smart in their communications with the Afghans.) At least Zainab and Sweeta, Nader's bosses, have created an intelligent, highly functioning program that works. My western prejudices were constantly being uprooted.

I left the states with a judgment about some of the women who were members of the Parliament: So many are sisters and wives of warlords or tribal leaders chosen merely to fill the required quota of women. But Member of Parliament Shinkai Karokhal, a radical feminist from Kabul, reminded me that just their existence, that they constitute 25 percent of the body, is inspiring to women throughout the country. I told her she was right, it is a big step. We didn't have such a thing in our country. She still managed to complain that it is a ceiling and not a floor: "Many of the women have received the majority vote for their election but were stuck in a quota slot."   

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