On March 8, women throughout the world celebrate International Women's Day. Many observances, however, will focus on the policies of the Bush administration and the harsh results those policies have had on women, both at home and abroad.
Prior to the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush went to great lengths to explain how bringing democracy to these countries would liberate women who lived there.
But in Afghanistan, maternal mortality rates continue to be high. And in many areas, it is still dangerous for girls to attend school even if they are allowed to do so. The female literacy rate is 14 percent (compared to less than 5 percent before the U.S. invasion), according to Human Rights Watch, and young girls continue to be forced into early marriages (more than 50 percent of marriages take place before girls reach the age of 16). While Afghan women's rights are guaranteed by the new constitution, there is a provision that states that laws can't be contrary to the beliefs and tenets of Islam.
In Iraq, the continuing violence puts women at particular risk. According to the human rights group Madre, "Iraqi women have been targeted with unprecedented levels of abduction, rape, domestic abuse and sexual slavery." Women are afraid to leave their homes for work, food, water or even medical care. Many girls remain out of school because it is too dangerous for them to leave their homes. Women have been imprisoned because of their relationships to men who are wanted for questioning, which is in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions. Like male prisoners, some of these women have been tortured and sexually assaulted.
Intimate violence against women has escalated steeply since the U.S. invasion, according to Madre. There have been sharp increases in reports of battering and honor killings, and in many parts of the country, women who are not properly covered or are not escorted by men are subject to violence.
"The U.S.-U.K. occupation has pushed Iraqi society back into a medieval world in which 'honor killings,' beheadings, forced veiling and seclusion and sexual servitude are now a part of everyday life," according to the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq.
The U.S. government's emphasis on military spending -- rather than domestic spending -- also adversely affects the lives and safety of women in this country.
President Bush recently signed legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, which included significant increases in funding, as well as several new programs to aid victims of domestic violence. But shortly after signing the bill, the president submitted a budget proposal that provided no funding for the new programs and decreased funding for existing programs.
When it comes to respecting women's lives, the Bush administration offers empty rhetoric and destructive policies.
Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is founder of the Feminist Peace Network (www.feministpeacenetwork.org). She can be reached at email@example.com.