The women of Afghanistan have been the focus of intense interest and notoriety for decades. Under the Taliban they were seen as oppressed creatures swathed head to toe in burqa blue, publicly stoned to death and forced to live in an unspeakably cruel world where they were not to be educated, make noise or even be seen. When a U.S.-led coalition invaded the country at the beginning of the last decade, first lady Laura Bush portrayed the mission as one that would save Afghan women. The global fascination with their plight has created a smorgasbord of sympathy-driven initiatives and activity: billions of dollars and thousands of hours have been spent on female empowerment programs; Afghan women have appeared as heroines in novels and the subject of countless books; magazine covers have featured their tortured faces; and they have been nominated for Nobel Peace Prizes.
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