By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
When President Obama went on TV to announce that Osama bin Laden had been killed by American Navy Seals, I was in Los Angeles at NCL’s national LifeSmarts competitions. Over the last few days I’ve been thinking about why this is such a critically important event for me, my friends, and colleagues. After all, as the Executive Director of the National Consumers League, I’m a consumer advocate and a labor supporter; we don’t work on foreign policy issues unless they affect child labor. Last I checked, Al Qaeda’s issues weren’t affecting child labor issues. So, how could his death have any real relevance to what we do at NCL?
But last Monday night, as I met three other working women in Phoenix for dinner to prepare for an important meeting the next day, I realized the answer to why bin Laden’s death is so significant: because a world ruled by bin Laden and his followers in Al Qaeda represents a life of repression and subjugation for women and girls. That my colleagues and I have the freedom to pursue careers, travel, raise children and earn a living is a world unknown to the women in bin Laden’s world.
In fact, bin Laden took refuge in Afghanistan when it was run by the Taliban, the notorious regime that, immediately upon taking power, forbade girls to go to school. Bin Laden had a close working relationship with Al Qaeda. Under the Taliban, women were barred from working outside the home, precipitating a crisis in healthcare and education. Women were also prohibited from leaving their home without a male relative—those that did so risked being beaten, even shot, by officers of the “ministry for the protection of virtue and prevention of vice.” A woman caught wearing fingernail polish may have had her fingertips chopped off. All this, according to the Taliban, was to safeguard women and their honor.
So the death of Osama bin Laden means that the key iconic leader of this repressive, anti-American political movements gone. So as four working women – my three dinner companions were all very accomplished women – sat at a lovely Phoenix restaurant on Monday and discussed the news of Osama’s death, I took satisfaction in the freedoms we women in the Western world enjoy but so often don’t stop to appreciate.