At a White House Celebration of International Women's Day, March 12, 2004, President Bush said: "In the last two-and-a-half years, we have seen remarkable and hopeful development in world history. Just think about it: More than 50 million men, women and children have been liberated from two of the most brutal tyrannies on earth—50 million people are free. All these people are now learning the blessings of freedom."
The "blessings of freedom" are these:
Grinding poverty and the escalating war is driving an increasing number of Afghan families to sell their daughters into forced marriages.By November of 2006, there were reports out of Kabul that cases of self-immolation among Afghani women had doubled. The president has never publicly addressed the issue—and, suffice it to say, it was not mentioned when the First Lady hosted a U.S.-Afghan Women's Council Roundtable last month. In fact, aside from Mrs. Bush's casual reference to "Afghanistan's high maternal mortality rate," her remarks would leave one believing that Afghani women's lives were better, not worse than ever. There is no suggestion at all that we have made Afghanistan "one of the most dangerous places in the world to be female."
Girls as young as six are being married into a life of slavery and rape, often by multiple members of their new relatives. Banned from seeing their own parents or siblings, they are also prohibited from going to school. With little recognition of the illegality of the situation or any effective recourse, many of the victims are driven to self-immolation – burning themselves to death – or severe self-harm.
…The statistics in the report from Womankind, Afghan Women and Girls Seven Years On, make shocking reading. Violent attacks against females, usually domestic, are at epidemic proportions with 87 per cent of females complaining of such abuse – half of it sexual. More than 60 per cent of marriages are forced.
Despite a new law banning the practice, 57 per cent of brides are under the age of 16. The illiteracy rate among women is 88 per cent with just 5 per cent of girls attending secondary school.
Maternal mortality rates – one in nine women dies in childbirth – are the highest in the world alongside Sierra Leone. And 30 years of conflict have left more than one million widows with no enforceable rights, left to beg on the streets alongside an increasing number of orphans.
International Women's Day is March 8 this year, and it is an occasion which the president will certainly use, once again, to claim success on behalf of the women in Afghanistan and Iraq. This will be a lie. It is a lie every year.
It was a lie in 2002, when the "staggeringly high" maternal mortality rate in Afghanistan was first reported. It was a lie in 2003, when there came reports from Afghanistan of enforced "chastity tests" on women who merely spoke to unrelated men and imprisonment of women for "moral crimes." It was a lie in 2004, when he spoke of "the blessings of freedom." It was a lie in 2005, when it was becoming clear that Iraqi women's lives were less and less free. It was a lie in 2006, when we learned that self-immolations were increasing in Afghanistan and that large numbers of female Iraqi refugees were being sex trafficked by male family members or voluntarily turning to prostitution out of necessity for survival. It was a lie in 2007, when we learned that Iraqi women still in-country were prostituting themselves to feed their children, and we all saw a haunting image of an Afghani child bride.
And it will be a lie this year, too.
Women's lives worse than ever. We did that. Our president won't tell the truth about it. We have ruined millions of women's and little girls' lives—and he will tell us, on March 8, that we have set them free.