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International Women's Day: Letter to Helen Clark

Greetings on International Women's Day 2002!

Below is a letter to Helen Clark, NZ Prime Minister, from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (Aotearoa) to mark this day. If you would like to send Ms Clark an International Women's Day message, the fax number of her office is 04 473 3579 ( + 64 4 473 3579 for those of you reading this overseas).

8 March 2002

The Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister
Parliament Buildings

Dear Helen,

I am writing this letter on International Women's Day 2002, to again urge you and your government to reconsider your support for the war against the people of Afghanistan, in particular because of the consequences for women and children.

As you are already aware, it is of great concern to us that the New Zealand Government supported this war, which was launched by the United States without any attempt to use other paths, such as negotiation with the Taliban to hand over the alleged terrorists, so that they could be dealt with through the United Nations mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court. In late September 2001 the Taliban government's offer to surrender Osama Bin Laden and others to a third party government, as suspects in the 11 September attacks in New York and Washington, was rejected totally by US President Bush. The possibility of peacefully bringing to justice those responsible for the attacks was not even explored.

Instead the people of Afghanistan have been subjected to continual terror by the armed forces of the United States and its allies through the use of indiscriminate weapons such as daisy cutter and cluster bombs, and indiscriminate military tactics such as carpet bombing. Estimates of civilian deaths, including women and children, from these attacks range from a minimum of 1,000 to 4,000.

The deaths from bombing are unfortunately only the tip of the iceberg - there are no figures available of the number of those who are maimed and injured, nor of the future consequences of unexploded cluster bombs and other unexploded munitions which will go on destroying lives indefinitely. There are no clear figures available yet to judge the scale of suffering from the humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan which has been exacerbated by the ongoing bombing, but UN agencies have stated that women and children are particularly vulnerable due to the lack of food, basic medicines, warmth and shelter.

It is abhorrent that your government has pledged military support to an undeclared and illegal war which has such tragic consequences.

While the Taliban government has mainly been routed, the newly installed Northern Alliance is of the greatest concern to women in Afghanistan because of their past history of violent and repressive treatment of women.

In a report released in mid-February the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called for increased support for measures to promote gender equality in Afghanistan. The UN report highlights the fact that women suffered massive abuses during the civil war and the Taliban regime, and that although women are now gradually beginning to live normal lives again, there is still much work to be done.

In the associated media release form the UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), which has been at the forefront of promoting women's rights in Afghanistan since 1977, are quoted as saying the situation for women has not changed much. Many women are still wearing the burka because they are scared they will be attacked if they do not. When the Northern Alliance was previously in power, rape was so widespread that many women committed suicide to avoid it.

The RAWA spokeswoman was further quoted as saying "There needs to be a peacekeeping force for the whole country. Afghanistan is by no means safe, especially for women". Instead we note with some horror, that the US and British armed forces are training separate armies in Afghanistan. Surely the most urgent need is for disarming, not re-arming, the various factions. The consequences will be an increased level of violence which will cause more harm to women and children.

Women's groups in other countries are also denouncing the 'war on terrorism' and asking for a better and more positive way of dealing with terrorism, whether perpetrated by state or non-state agencies.

A combined statement from many women's groups in South Korea was recently released in response to President Bush's announcement that North Korea, Iran and Iraq form an 'axis of evil'. The women reject any kind of military action that increases tension and conflict on the Korean peninsula; they insist that the US government stop forcing arms purchases on their government, and cease using alleged threats from North Korea as an excuse to justify the Missile Defence Programme; they call on peace and human rights organisations to assist in halting the spread of war rhetoric and the threat of military action.

Women's groups in Palestine have issued a press release for International Women's Day 2002 again calling for an end to occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state. They are asking for a civil society based on healthy foundations and equality, based on international law and the UN charters. They demand a halt to all forms of war crimes and the violations of human rights they face daily. Similarly, Israeli women working for peace are demanding an end to their government's excessive violence.

In the Philippines, women's groups have been demanding the expulsion of US armed forces for years, in part because of the level of violence against women associated with the presence of US troops there - yet now additional US special forces have been sent to the Philippines as part of the 'war on terrorism'

In Iraq women and children have borne the brunt of eleven years of appalling economic sanctions and ongoing bombing raids by US and British warplanes - UN agencies estimate that more than 4,000 children a month die from the effects of economic sanctions alone. Now it seems that Iraq is being named as the next target for this escalating 'war on terrorism'. Is the New Zealand government going to continue to support this war?

Around the world today women's groups are holding rallies and vigils to demand an end to militarism and war; and the diversion of the $6 billion spent globally every day on weapons and armed forces, to instead meet the needs of women, children and men to live their lives in peace, with access to sufficient food, clean water, shelter, medical care, education and the opportunity to earn a decent living.

On this International Women's Day we urge you and your government to support these messages from women around the world, and look for better ways of dealing with terrorism rather than being part of it.

Yours sincerely,
Joan Macdonald
President, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (Aotearoa/NZ Section)

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