Leaders' wives take stand in push for women's rights

WASHINGTON: The White House has placed Laura Bush in front of a new

effort to raise international awareness of the Taliban's abuses against


In fulfillment of her role, Bush became the only first lady ever to

deliver the weekly Presidential radio address by herself last


"Only the terrorists and the Taliban forbid education to women," she

said. "(They) threaten to pull out women's fingernails for wearing nail


Bush is not alone in her efforts. Wife of British prime minister Tony

Blair, Cherie, is playing a similar role in Europe. She joined a

roundtable of female cabinet members last Monday to discuss the

violations of the regime, now in swift retreat in Afghanistan.

President Bush adopted the theme in his own comments in Texas last week,

immediately before his wife began her address. "There's no question the

Taliban is the most repressive, backward group of people we have seen on

the face of the Earth in a long period of time, including and

particularly how they treat women," he said. Even his guest, Russian

President Vladimir Putin, echoed the message: "Women in Afghanistan are

basically not treated as people," he said.

Critics have accused both Bush and Blair of having political motives in

waging the campaign. Bush struggled to attract female voters in the 2000

election, and women's rights groups have targeted him for his pro-life


Bush and Blair representatives denied having such political motives: "We

need to lift the veil and show what has been happening to women in

Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. I don't think you can underline

too often the way their rights have been denied," said a Blair


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