By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Friday, March 11, 2011; A18
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that the U.S. government will not back away from supporting women's rights in Afghanistan, despite the removal of some gender-equity provisions from two large U.S. Agency for International Development programs in the war-torn nation.
Clinton told a House panel that the U.S. commitment to Afghan women remains undiminished and that the United States is "currently providing more support than at any time in our government's history" for education, health-care and political empowerment programs.
"We believe strongly that supporting women and girls is essential to building democracy and security," she said.
Clinton spoke in response to a question from Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) about a Washington Post article on Sunday that described how specific requirements aimed at assisting women were stripped from two USAID programs in Afghanistan, one focused on land reform and the other on municipal governance. The article also quoted a senior U.S. government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations, as saying that "gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities."
"This is, quite frankly, unacceptable," Lowey said. "Any progress we've made in Afghanistan with regard to women's rights will be quickly rolled back by the [Afghan] government and others if we do not continue to emphasize the importance of gender equality."
Clinton said the official did not reflect administration policy. But she did not address the changes made by USAID in the two programs.
Promoting gender equity in Afghanistan, Clinton noted, "is really hard. And there are deep cultural challenges to doing this work." But she said the United States has made "real progress."