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Feminists v. The Taliban

Professional feminists had a spotty record during the last decade, but they've been reliable on Afghanistan's misogynistic rulers.

12:01 AM, Oct 8, 2001 • By BETH HENARY
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WHEN AN EVANGELICAL CHRISTIAN Republican president agrees with radical feminists, there's only one explanation: The subject is the Taliban.

The feminists, of course, would have the world believe that they condemned the Taliban first: back in 1996, as soon as that band of militant Islamists seized power in Afghanistan. The Feminist Majority Foundation, headed by Eleanor Smeal, quickly launched the Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan. Among its successes the campaign counts the Clinton administration's decision not to extend diplomatic recognition to the Taliban, although governments around the world adopted the same policy.

Other feminist organizations joined the FMF in decrying a regime the United Nations labeled one of the most "misogynistic on earth." The Taliban forbids women to read (female literacy is 4 percent), laugh in public, or venture unaccompanied outside their homes. In 1998, the National Organization for Women picketed the Washington and Houston offices of Unocal, an oil and gas company planning to take part in a multi-billion dollar pipeline venture in Afghanistan that would have lined the pockets of the Taliban. The company cited feminist groups' objections as one reason for its ultimate decision not to participate. Later that year, NOW Vice President Karen Johnson penned an article entitled "The Day the Music Died," noting that the day the Taliban took power, women became invisible in Afghan daily life.

Since the World Trade Center attack, Eleanor Smeal has met with State Department officials to brief them from her long involvement with the issue. She's also shown surprising self-awareness in suggesting why the American public was deaf to her organization's campaign to depose the Taliban. She told the Los Angeles Times, "People just thought, 'Oh, there they go about the women again.'"

The late 1990s, after all, were a time when the standing of feminist groups sank to an all-time low. Press releases about gender apartheid in Afghanistan got lost amid the spectacle of both NOW and the Feminist Majority cooing in solidarity with Bill Clinton as his workplace philandering with a young employee was exposed. By the time NOW supported a male challenger over Christine Todd Whitman in her bid for reelection as governor of New Jersey even though Whitman, a Republican, was pro-choice, few regarded the feminist groups as anything but lobbies for the Democratic party.

This time last year, NOW's "Bush-Whacker" campaign was in full swing, casting candidate Bush as the archenemy. Maybe some voters agreed: 54 percent of women voters backed Al Gore, and 42 percent Bush. So it is not without irony that it now falls to Bush to overthrow the Taliban and presumably replace it with a government less repressive toward women. If he does, he will have secured the feminists' most worthy goal of the last several years.

Beth Henary is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.