MSNBC Hypes Intl. Women's Day, Mostly Ignores Obama Administration Backtracking on Women's Rights in Afghanistan

In its daytime programming today, MSNBC has been hyping today's 100th anniversary of  International Women's Day.

On her 1 p.m. Eastern program, anchor Andrea Mitchell noted how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled the International Women of Courage Awards to "ten women rights leaders from around the world."

While Mitchell then noted the lack of progress that Afghanistan's government was making in terms of women's rights, she failed to report how the Obama administration has backtracked on efforts aimed at promoting advances towards equal rights and greater access to education for Afghan women.

As Rajiv Chandrasekaran noted in his Sunday  Washington Post article -- "In Afghanistan, U.S. shifts strategy on women's rights as it eyes wider priorities" -- the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has backed down from earlier ambitious, concrete goals for female property ownership and education in Afghanistan, quite possibly in accord with the desire of top-level Obama administration officials to wind down a U.S. presence there (emphasis mine):


When the U.S. Agency for International Development sought bids last March for a $140 million land reform program in Afghanistan, it insisted that the winning contractor meet specific goals to promote women's rights: The number of deeds granting women title had to increase by 50 percent; there would have to be regular media coverage on women's land rights; and teaching materials for secondary schools and universities would have to include material on women's rights.

 

Before the contract was awarded, USAID overhauled the initiative, stripping out those concrete targets. Now, the contractor only has to perform "a written evaluation of Afghan inheritance laws," assemble "summaries of input from women's groups" and draft amendments to the country's civil code.

 

The removal of specific women's rights requirements, which also took place in a $600 million municipal government program awarded last year, reflects a shift in USAID's approach in Afghanistan. Instead of setting ambitious goals to improve the status of Afghan women, the agency is tilting toward more attainable measures.

 

"If you're targeting an issue, you need to target it in a way you can achieve those objectives," said J. Alexander Thier, director of USAID's Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs. "The women's issue is one where we need hardheaded realism. There are things we can do, and do well. But if we become unrealistic and overfocused . . . we get ourselves in trouble."

 

A senior U.S. official involved in Afghanistan policy said changes to the land program also stem from a desire at the top levels of the Obama administration to triage the war and focus on the overriding goal of ending the conflict.

 

"Gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities," said the senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations. "There's no way we can be successful if we maintain every special interest and pet project. All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down."

So the dignity and equal treatment of women is a "pet project" for the Obama administration and the Obama/Clinton State Department?

Shouldn't that be an issue of concern for Andrea Mitchell, a longtime foreign affairs correspondent?

It was for anchor Tamron Hall, who questioned Donald Steinberg of USAID about the Post article's findings in her interview with him in her 2 p.m. "NewsNation" program. At no point, however, did Hall suggest that either President Obama nor Secretary Clinton were personally to blame for dropping the ball on advancing equal rights for women in Afghanistan.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters