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The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Leno speaks at Dallas Women’s Luncheon

Political+activist+Mavis+Leno+discusses+the+issue+of+women%E2%80%99s+rights+in+Taliban-occupied+Afghanistan+with+CNN+producer+Maria+Ebrahimji.
Spencer J Eggers/ The Daily Campus
Political activist Mavis Leno discusses the issue of women’s rights in Taliban-occupied Afghanistan with CNN producer Maria Ebrahimji.

Political activist Mavis Leno discusses the issue of women’s rights in Taliban-occupied Afghanistan with CNN producer Maria Ebrahimji. (Spencer J Eggers/ The Daily Campus)

Mavis Leno has grown accustomed to being surrounded by celebrities and important people courtesy of her husband, late night talk show host Jay Leno. However, she said it wasn’t until she found herself surrounded by truly good people, and felt that she had earned her place among them, that she appreciated the difference.

Leno, who is chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Campaign to Help Afghan Women and Girls, spoke at the Dallas Women’s Foundation luncheon Monday afternoon to help spread awareness about issues affecting women in Afghanistan.

Leno was interviewed on stage in front of luncheon attendees by Maria Ebrahimji, director and executive editorial producer for Network Booking at CNN Worldwide. Ebrahimji also co-edited “I Speak for Myself,” a collection of 40 personal essays written by American Muslim women.

When Ebrahimji asked why supporting Afghan women was a cause Leno was passionate about, Leno explained that around 1998 she felt that American feminists were “kind of dropping the ball” when it came to helping women globally.

She slowly began to learn more about women in Afghanistan who were being oppressed by the Taliban regime, and worked tirelessly to spread awareness about what she found.

 

Before the Taliban took over the country, she said, women functioned as elected officials, doctors, lawyers and held any other position that they desired. In many ways, according to Leno, the country was even more liberal with women in the 1970s than the United States was.

Suddenly, all of their rights, along with their voices, were taken away.

The Taliban cut off lines of communication, and women were unable to tell others what was happening to them and how they were being treated. Leno thought of her father, who was a miner, and his fear that he might be caught in a collapsed mine and no one would ever know that he was there. To her, the Afghan women were in a similar situation.

“I wanted to tell them, ‘we know about you, we’re coming for you,'” Leno said.

Leno worked to get the American media to spread the word about what Afghan women were being subjected to, but said that all of them declined to publish stories on the subject.

According to Leno, many of the reporters who declined to give the issue coverage said that, according to their publishers, the American people “were not interested in human rights issues,” especially those pertaining to women.

She called upon the resources afforded to her by her celebrity husband. “He knew that I was going to try until I died to make [the Afghan women’s] lives better,” she said.

She was able to get coverage on the topic in “People” magazine, and said that once the story was published, all of the other media outlets became interested.

According to Leno, many outsiders mistakenly view the way women are treated in Afghanistan as a cultural practice, and don’t want to interfere with the country’s culture by attempting to aid the women.

“They have not consented to that culture,” Leno said. “In the words of Hillary Clinton, ‘it’s not cultural, it’s criminal.'”

According to Ebrahimji and Leno, the Quran does not say anything about women being inferior to men or technically even having to be conservative and cover themselves. In fact, they said, the Quran is much more liberal towards women than the Bible is.

Ebrahimji cited a passage in the Quran that compares women to rose petals, which makes special note that this comparison does not imply that they are weak.

Most Americans, unlike Leno, did not find out about the Taliban and the way it was treating women in the country until after 9/11 happened. The media coverage after these events helped to shed some light on how the Taliban treated women, but Leno had worked for this coverage long before it happened.

“The most important thing I took from [Leno’s] talk was her effort to create the awareness and how long has taken her to do that,” Regina Weaver, an attendee of the luncheon, said.

Leno said that although things have improved since the Taliban’s initial takeover in the country, women and girls in Afghanistan still need help.

Education is among the most important issues facing women in Afghanistan today. Girls in the country still face death threats for attempting to go to school, and many still go anyway. The women’s literacy rate in the country is only 12 percent.

Since the start of Leno’s foundation, over 80 Afghan girls have been given scholarships to help them return to their country and make a positive impact.

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