Americans can still help the women and girls in Afghanistan. And we have to
This editorial is part of an occasional series published by the Opinion section of the Dallas Morning News on human rights and human freedom. Find the full series here.
Afghan girls as young as 15 are already forced into marriage, women and children have been assaulted and killed, and women are beaten or worse for not wearing a burqa or being accompanied by a male escort in public.
The warning signs have been around for months: targeted assassinations, kidnappings and attacks on journalists, activists and students. But less than a week after the Taliban took control of the country, atrocities have escalated, according to first-hand accounts from brave lawyers. The lives of those who have worked over the past 20 years to secure human rights, humanitarian aid, education and opportunities for men and women are in imminent danger because they have fought for the best to their families and communities.
We Americans must do all we can to protect the women and girls of Afghanistan and ensure a path to safety for those who have helped the United States. We call on the Biden administration and Congress to take immediate action to meaningfully protect not only our own citizens on the ground, but also our allies, partners and the many leaders and activists who have dared to dream of freedom in Afghanistan. American citizens, businesses and nonprofits are already ready to welcome Afghans to the United States and help them adjust to a new life here.
“The Afghans most at risk are the same people who have been at the forefront of progress at home,” former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush wrote Last week.
What Afghan women and girls have accomplished in 20 years is more than many women’s movements accomplished in decades. Their resilience and tenacity is a testament to the potential that could have been.
Under the Taliban regime before 2001, women and girls were not allowed to go to school, work outside the home, participate in government and even, in many cases, even seek medical care, just because they were born female.
In just two decades, the number of girls in school has grown to 3.5 million per year and one-third of the country’s 300,000 university students were women, according to United Nations estimates. Maternal mortality rates fell by 60% between 2002 and 2015, according to the World Bank. Women sat in the cabinet, and the Constitution guaranteed them a quarter of the seats in the National Assembly, known as Wolesi Jirga. Women have even served in the armed forces.
More than 1,000 women entrepreneurs have invested in businesses, contributing $ 77 million to the economy and creating 77,000 jobs, according to estimates by the Afghan Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Inheritance and property rights have improved, with the aim of increasing women’s economic empowerment and financial independence.
This generation of young women was brought up with the belief that, like their American sisters, they could grow up and go to school, work, and live with free will. To abandon Afghan women and girls today would not only be a betrayal of them, but also of the founding principles of the United States.
The U.S. government must do everything in its power to secure vulnerable Afghans, including those who have worked with the U.S. military, government and activists, and leaders whose work defies everything the Taliban represent.
The Biden administration has promised to speed up visas for Afghans who have worked with US forces. The Ministry of Defense flew additional planes to increase passenger capacity. But we have to do more.
US troops are to be commended for quickly bringing order to the chaos that unfolded at Kabul airport last week, allowing evacuation planes to take off frequently. But while the airport is secure, the road to the airport is not.
We have heard first-hand testimony that holders of US passports and visas and others with confirmed flights have missed their planes because they cannot reach the airport safely. This is because the Taliban are surrounding the airport and controlling all the roads leading to it. They also control provincial airports and all overland routes out of Afghanistan. While some in Kabul have made it to the airport, most Afghans are functionally trapped with no way to escape.
The US government, the United Nations and our allies should establish a safe passage to Kabul airport. And for those who cannot make it to Kabul, it is imperative to create humanitarian corridors and refuges in countries neighboring Afghanistan.
We especially need to get at-risk women and their families out of the country immediately, otherwise they will be brutalized.
The US government must also cut red tape that slows down immigration processing for Afghans trying to escape. Afghans who have worked with the US military or government agencies face several months of processing for the Special Immigrant Visa Program. Vulnerable Afghans who do not qualify for special immigrant visas, including many women, have few options beyond the asylum process that has been going on for years. This icy pace isn’t just a drawback: it’s deadly. Biden administration may act unilaterally to speed up treatment.
We have the power to save lives. There are solutions. There is no time for the usual bureaucracy.
One specific way is to create a special humanitarian parole program for Afghans. Former presidents have done so by decree for other situations. For example, President Jimmy Carter created the Cuban-Haitian Entrant program.
As President Bush and Laura Bush wrote earlier this week, the United States government has the legal authority to cut red tape for refugees during urgent humanitarian crises. And we have the responsibility and the resources to ensure a safe passage for them now, without bureaucratic delay. Our staunchest allies, as well as private NGOs, are ready to help. “
Americans are not alone in this effort. Our allies, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Australia and many others, are working to bring the Afghans to safety. Many countries have offered to host Afghan refugees, including Mexico, Albania and Uganda.
Individuals, businesses and nonprofits around the world are already stepping in to help women, special immigrant visa recipients and their families. For example, some people fundraise for charter flights and associated resources to get people out.
Dear Americans, we must also do our part. Once in the United States, these Afghans will need all of us.
Those who have been granted refugee status can access a formal and supported resettlement process led by non-governmental organizations. It provides the basis for rebuilding their lives, including living conditions, limited financial support, medical care and other resources. Special immigrant visa recipients receive similar temporary assistance, and many veterans and veteran-founded nonprofits are also stepping in to help them integrate into American life.
But most of those admitted as humanitarian asylum seekers will be left to fend for themselves. While some non-governmental organizations will undoubtedly serve them, there is no formal process or legal requirement to support their resettlement. Few people in the asylum process receive work permits. There is no housing assistance or other government benefits. And their cases could take years to resolve. It will be up to American communities to support them until they can support themselves.
If you are interested in helping Afghans arriving in the United States, consider volunteering with a local non-profit organization that helps refugees rebuild their lives.
As millennials grew up on Monsieur Rogers neighborhood, Fred Rogers’ advice to “seek help” comes to mind whenever we see people in need. Ordinary Americans shine when we step in to help. But that can only happen if the U.S. government, intergovernmental organizations, and our allies do their part to move as many people as possible to safety.
Our actions will be essential to the lives of our partners in Afghanistan and to the status of the United States as a beacon of freedom and democracy for the world.
Natalie Gonnella-Platts is Director of the Women’s Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute.
Laura Collins is Director of the Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute.
They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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