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Heeding Calls from Shaheen to Prioritize Plight of Afghan Women & Girls, Secretary of State Blinken Commits to Bolstering State Department’s Response Efforts

**Blinken’s response comes one day after he announced he will appoint a State Department official to lead administration efforts in support of Afghan women and girls, heeding calls from Shaheen and others in Congress to make this a priority**

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the only woman and a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), today questioned Secretary of State Antony Blinken on several policy priorities following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, most notably, the plight of Afghan women and girls and Afghan allies, and continued efforts to evacuate Americans and vulnerable Afghan communities.

Shaheen has long championed the rights of Afghan women and girls and for years has led Senate efforts in support of bolstering the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. During her questioning, Shaheen underscored the timeline of policy priorities in Afghanistan, including failures stemming from the Trump administration that contributed to the deterioration of conditions in Afghanistan and obstacles in identifying, processing and evacuating individuals last month:

“I want to know where that outrage was – year after year, for 10 years starting with Senator McCain, I and others in the Senate tried to get more Special Immigrant Visa applicants through the process so that they could leave Afghanistan, and leave the threat and come to the United States, and there were a few Republicans in the Senate who blocked us year after year from getting more SIV applicants to the United States. I want to know where that outrage was during the negotiations by the Trump administration and former Secretary Pompeo when they were giving away the rights of women and girls and when Secretary Pompeo came before this committee and blew off questions about what they were doing to pressure the Taliban to have women at the negotiating table for that peace treaty. I think there is a lot of regret, and a lot of recriminations to go around,” said Shaheen.

Shaheen asked Secretary Blinken to specify what steps the State Department is taking to safeguard Afghan women and girls. In response to Shaheen’s questioning, Blinken reaffirmed his announcement yesterday to appoint a senior State Department official to oversee the administration’s efforts to protect women, girls and minorities in Afghanistan. Secretary Blinken also underscored the Department’s continued efforts and commitment to accomplish this policy and moral priority through building international pressure on the Taliban and targeted assistance.

Shaheen’s questioning can be viewed in full here. 

Shaheen long expressed deep concerns about the United States’ unconditioned withdrawal from Afghanistan, particularly out of concern for the immediate danger facing Afghan women and other groups vulnerable to the Taliban’s violence and oppression. Senator Shaheen repeatedly fought to make the inclusion of Afghan women in negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan government a U.S. foreign policy priority. Earlier this year, Senator Shaheen met virtually with women members of Afghanistan’s Parliament to discuss the rights and futures of women and girls in Afghanistan. Shaheen also raised her concerns about the safety of women and girls with Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, during a Senate Foreign Relations hearing. During a congressional delegation visit to Afghanistan in 2019, Shaheen met with a group of Afghan women who described how dramatically their lives had improved since the Taliban government was toppled nearly two decades ago. Shaheen is the author of the Women, Peace and Security Actwhich was signed into law in 2017 and ensures women’s leadership roles in conflict resolution and peace negotiations. Last week, Shaheen participated in a live virtual discussion hosted by The Washington Post to discuss the future of Afghan women and girls.

Senator Shaheen historically partnered with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) on efforts to protect Afghans who’ve risked their lives to support U.S. diplomatic efforts abroad by strengthening the Afghan SIV program. She continues to lead bipartisan efforts in Congress to reauthorize additional Afghan SIVs. The President signed into law key provisions from the Afghan Allies Protection Act, a bill led by Shaheen and Senator Ernst, as part of spending legislation. Their legislation helps protect the Afghan civilians who risked their lives to support the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.