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Afghan Women’s Photo Exhibit Comes to Capitol

International advocates for women and girls are bringing an exhibit of telling photographs to the attention of lawmakers from countries that have been coalition partners in the decade-long war in Afghanistan, including the United States.

The exhibit, called Women Between War and Peace, launched on Capitol Hill in March and is a production by the Art Works Project, a human rights advocacy organization that uses art and design to raise public awareness of issues around the world.

Leslie Thomas, executive and creative director at AWP, said the exhibit has received approval for display in the British parliament and that she is involved in active conversations with people in charge in Berlin, Paris and other sites.

“We particularly have an interest in reaching out to audiences of political stakeholders,” Thomas told CQ Roll Call.

The images that debuted together in the Rayburn House Office Building on March 14 and 15 show the spectrum of women’s conditions in Afghanistan. There is, for instance, a print of photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair’s famous portrait of an 11-year-old bride and her 40-year-old husband, but there is also an image of Sabrina Sagheb, the youngest female to have run for — and won — a seat in the country’s parliament.

A handful of honchos gazed upon the images on opening night in the Rayburn Foyer, including Sultana Hakimi, the wife of Afghan Ambassador to the United States Eklil Ahmad Hakimi; Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn.; and Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., whose office sponsored the exhibit.

Edwards, who is co-chair of the Afghan Women’s Task Force with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., told CQ Roll Call, “Afghanistan’s future fully depends on our commitment to the success of women in that country.”

That’s never been more clear to her than on her last visit to the war-torn country, when she finally heard girls talking about becoming doctors, scientists and the like when they grow up, she said.

“These girls have dreams, and they have dreams because they’re being educated,” McMorris Rodgers said.

After 12 years of war, American forces are set to depart from Afghanistan in 2014. In her opening night remarks, Afghan women’s activist Wazhma Frogh alluded to women’s ability to dissuade young men from joining the insurgency and the Taliban.

“No question about it,” Edwards said. “Women’s engagement will be what helps define the peace and stability in Afghanistan.”

The United Nations Foundation, a nonprofit that works to advance the United Nation’s goals, helped put on the exhibit in Rayburn.

Maureen Greenwood-Basken, an executive director under the United Nations Foundation’s Women and Population Program, looked at the display and told CQ Roll Call, “It’s so immediate and emotional, and it kind of really brings it home.”

“For instance, there’s a photo of child marriage in Afghanistan. I’ve been working on child marriage legislation for 8 years — and we finally saw it passed on Friday,” she said.

New provisions of the Violence Against Women Act, signed into law earlier this month, direct the secretary of State to develop and implement a plan to prevent child marriage and mitigate its risk factors abroad.

Dovetailing with those provisions, much of Greenwood-Basken’s work focuses on reducing Afghan women’s unusually high rate of death during childbirth. Methods for changing this include improving access to voluntary contraception and training midwives, but also include convincing the powers that be to take notice.

“It means trying to bring attention to these issues and trying to bring some political will in U.S. leadership to address them,” she said.

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