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First lady blasts Taliban treatment of women

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- First lady Laura Bush fired the first salvo in what she called "a worldwide effort to focus on the brutality against women and children" by the Taliban as she delivered the weekly presidential radio address on Saturday.

"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," she said. "Women cannot work outside the home, or even leave their homes by themselves."

Laura Bush's delivery of the address was in itself a part of the campaign against the Taliban's policies: It was the first time a first lady has delivered the president's weekly radio address in its entirety.

The State Department launched the second volley, releasing a nine-page report it on what it called "The Taliban's War Against Women," calling the group's policies "particularly appalling" in "its systematic repression of all sectors of the population."

"The Taliban has prohibited schooling for girls over the age of 8, shut down the women's university, and forced women to quit their jobs," the report said. "It has restricted access to medical care for women, brutally enforced a restrictive dress code, and limited the ability of women to move about freely."

Before the Taliban took control of the country in 1996, the report says, 70 percent of Afghanistan's teachers and 40 percent of its doctors were women. The Taliban's repression of women, it says, "has stripped a society in desperate need of trained professionals of half its assets."

Saying the Taliban treatment of women is not in line with treatment of women in many other Islamic nations, the report advocates a role for women in a post-Taliban Afghan government.

"Afghan women should have the right to choose their role in that future," the report says.

The report took pains to keep its complaints about the fundamentalist Taliban's policies apart from any view of Islam as a whole.

"Islam is a religion that respects women and humanity," the report said. "The Taliban respects neither."

The Taliban's treatment of women "is not a matter of legitimate religious practice," the first lady said.

The timing of the radio address and the release of the report is intended to add more fuel to an international fire of outrage against the Taliban, but with that regime in apparent retreat, the twin blasts against them instead signified a bold step by the Bush administration into the forefront of the fight for women's rights.

"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," the first lady said.

"Afghan women know, through hard experiences, what the rest of the world is discovering: The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists," she said.

But it is indicative of an even greater threat, Bush said -- that the Taliban's treatment of women and children is a clear picture of "the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us."


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