Mrs. Bush criticizes Taliban treatment of women in first radio address solely by a president's wife

Saturday, November 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) _ Laura Bush decried the Afghan Taliban militia's ``brutal oppression'' of women Saturday, opening an administration campaign meant to discredit the collapsing regime.

Mrs. Bush took over the microphone for President Bush's weekly radio address and gave what aides said was the first such broadcast delivered entirely by a first lady. Predecessors Nancy Reagan and Hillary Rodham Clinton had shared airtime with their husbands.

``That regime is now in retreat across much of the country, and the people of Afghanistan, especially women, are rejoicing,'' Mrs. Bush said.

``Afghan women know, through hard experience, what the rest of the world is discovering: The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists.''

The first lady offered a catalog of examples of mistreatment of women and children, an account bolstered by a State Department report on their plight released Saturday.

``With one of the world's worst human rights records, the Taliban has perpetrated egregious acts of violence against women, including rape, abduction and forced marriage,'' the report said.

``Women have been denied access to doctors when they're sick,'' Mrs. Bush said. ``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 emphasized that her remarks were not aimed at most other Muslim nations.

``Only the terrorists and the Taliban forbid education to women. Only the terrorists and the Taliban threaten to pull out women's fingernails for wearing nail polish,'' she said.

But women face harsh treatment in some other Muslim countries, including key U.S. allies.

In Saudi Arabia, religious police financed by the Saudi government instruct women appearing in public to cover their hair and all of their faces with a black cloak, called an abaya, except for a slit revealing the eyes _ much like the Afghan cloak called the burqa. If they disobey, they can face possible fines or even jail.

Girls can go to school, but women in Saudi Arabia are prohibited from many professions including law and engineering. The monarchy that runs Saudi Arabia imposes a style of Islam that does not allow women to drive or travel alone.

In Kuwait, which the United States defended against Iraqi invasion in the Gulf War, women cannot vote or run for office.

However in Iraq, it's not uncommon to see women in skintight pants or short skirts. Iraqi women hold high ranks in the governing party, run newspapers and train for war.

Other countries, such as Yemen and crucial U.S. ally Pakistan, have deeply conservative tribal areas where women are essentially required by local traditions to stay at home, to not work and to stay fully covered.

The administration has said its effort to highlight the Taliban's record on women is meant to secure women a better place in whatever new government emerges in Afghanistan.

``I hope Americans will join our family in working to ensure that dignity and opportunity will be secured for all the women and children of Afghanistan,'' Mrs. Bush said.