Afghan women longing for freedom

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AMERICAN FORK -- The war in Afghanistan has brought greater awareness to the plight of women living under the tyranny of the Taliban.

An American Fork woman just returned from Afghanistan where she visited several women's prisons. Anne Marie Gunther made her visit to Afghanistan when she worked for the Bush administration as an aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney. She went back a few weeks ago for humanitarian work. She says it was a very different experience but equally powerful.

Children playing with their first piƱata as their mothers watch from behind barred windows. These women long to return to their homes and families but most will never be able to reclaim the life they lived before prison.

Gunther says, "What's scary is when they leave prison, a lot of them will be shunned for life, labeled as a prison, a criminal."

They will be labeled a criminal though many of them committed no crime. She says, "It takes three witnesses for a man to be found guilty of a crime, but it takes only one witness -- and it can be the accuser -- for a woman to be found guilty of a crime."

Gunther came to Afghanistan with the Child Light Foundation.

The foundation is trying to improve conditions for women and children living in prison. She says the foundation is "creating opportunities for the women while they are in prison, and then some knowledge and skills they can take with them once they are released from prison."

As Gunther went from prison to prison, she often found the greatest thing she had to offer was simply a shoulder to cry on. That was the case for a woman falsely accused of kidnapping. She says, "She just broke down sobbing, just sobbing. I couldn't do anything but just hug her. I didn't speak her language. She didn't speak my language, but for probably a full minute and a half she just literally sobbed on my shoulder."

Anne Marie says most of the women are without hope. She met a Pakistani woman who told her that her efforts were pointless.

Anne Marie recalls, "The last thing she said to me was you should stay home and have fun. You'll never bring peace to Afghanistan."

But on this trip Anne Marie knows she at least helped bring peace and comfort to women desperate for freedom, and she hopes these small acts will one day make a big difference.

"There's a lot to fix," she says. "I think the key is they have to want to change it."

She's planning to return next year with the Child Light Foundation. Click here for more information.


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