By Ruth Ann Harnisch
Jill Kanter walked out of the movie theater and knew she had to do something. She wasn't sure just what, but she knew she could not ignore the feelings stirred up by what she had just seen.
Osama, the first feature film made in post-Taliban Afghanistan, is a compelling dramatization of women suffering under the repressive religious regime. Women without male relatives and providers, forbidden to hold jobs and confined to their homes, found themselves with few options for survival. Writer-director Siddiq Barmak's film tells the story of a desperate mother who disguises her daughter as a boy-whom they call "Osama"-so that "he" can work.
Kanter, a Boston-area management consultant, confesses that she wasn't aware of the extent of Afghan women's dilemma before she saw the film. "I also didn't know what their situation was before they lost their power," she says. Before the Taliban, women had equal rights, education, and employment. "I left wanting to help them, but also thinking about women and power in my own country. What are the keys to having enough power to maintain our rights as women? I think the keys are having equitable laws, women in political office, and economic power."
Soon after Kanter saw Osama, she was celebrating a birthday. "I have several friends who give me gifts every year, and we were
Help Afghan Women , a project of the Feminist Majority Foundation, provides assistance to nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations led by Afghan women. The organizations offer education, health, and relief services to Afghan women and girls. You can join or form your own "action team" to help raise funds. To learn more, visit www.HelpAfghan Women.com
||pays for rent for a school year
||pays for medical supplies for a women's health clinic
||pays for a teacher's salary for a year
||pays for classroom chalk boards for a school
||pays for supplies like notebooks, pencils, and pencil sharpeners for 300 students
going out to dinner," she recalls. Inspired by the movie and the thoughts and emotions it stimulated for her, she asked her friends not to give her birthday presents and, instead, contribute to a local organization that helps women. "Rather than receive presents, I asked for contributions to the Newton Community Service Center's Parents' Program. It helps at-risk women with children become selfsufficient. When I saw the movie, it struck me that everyone has the power they need within themselves if they can just access it. I want to help women learn to access that power."
That is also the goal of the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), an organization devoted to women's issues. Mavis Leno, wife of comedian Jay Leno, joined the board of the FMF in 1997. Seven years before the release of Osama, Leno became a leading voice speaking out against the treatment of the women of Afghanistan.
"Women were suddenly forbidden to work, even if it meant starvation for their children," said Leno. She decided to step out from the comfort of her private life and act boldly in the public arena, pressuring the State Department, testifying before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making demands at shareholders' meetings, and appearing in television interviews. "If I had been one of those women trapped in that situation," Leno said, "I would have hoped that someone, somewhere, had not forgotten me and was trying to help me. I had to help. I could not let them be forgotten."
Norma Gattsek, deputy director for policy and programs of the Feminist Majority Foundation, says, "We're continuing to provide money to the womenled organizations we've personally seen on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We're helping the women and girls through projects and programs for health care, literacy, and skills training. We're continuing our advocacy through the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development."
Gattsek, the first person from the Feminist Majority Foundation to enter Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, is excited about the results of the FMF's work. "One of the women has run a little school in Pakistan for refugees for more than 20 years. More than 400 of her graduates have become doctors!"
Meanwhile, Jill Kanter plans to expand her efforts to empower women closer to home. She is creating coaching and training programs to help women access their power in the workplace. "When any group has something to overcome, they don't succeed because other people give them power. They may have help, but it seems they succeed when they have the courage to fight for themselves. They can connect with that state of courage when they get in touch with their inner power, and I'm inspired to help others do that."
(MGM Studios, 2004), Rated PG-13
In some theaters and available on DVD
Feminist Majority Foundation
Newton Community Service Centers
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