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Mavis Nicholson Leno is the chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation's Campaign to Help Afghan Women and Girls, and has been the United States' most outspoken critic of the Taliban's horrific treatment of women. She assumed her role as chair of the Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan in 1997, less than one year after the Taliban's brutal treatment of women began. She joined the Board of Directors of the Feminist Majority Foundation in 1997, after playing an active role in the effort to defeat Proposition 209, the anti-affirmative action initiative on the 1996 California ballot.
Ms. Leno testified on gender apartheid in 1998 before Senator Diane Feinstein of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and consistently urged the Clinton and Bush presidential administrations as well as the U.S. Congress to do more to restore women's human rights in Afghanistan.
Mavis Leno's involvement in the Feminist Majority's Campaign was instrumental in defeating the energy company UNOCAL's efforts to construct an oil pipeline across Afghanistan. It is estimated that the pipeline would have supplied the Taliban with over $100 million and dramatically increased their control in the region.
Ms. Leno is a leader in the effort to make the restoration of women's rights a nonnegotiable element of a post-Taliban Afghanistan, and has been at the forefront of insuring that the plight of Afghan women is included in the world's reporting of the war in Afghanistan. Her television appearances include Larry King Live, The Today Show, CNNwith Paula Zahn, Hardball with Chris Mathews, MSNBC Nightly News and the Tonight Show, and she has been featured in TIME, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Vanity Fair, US Magazine, and People.
Married to late-night talk show king Jay Leno since the late 1970s, Mavis Leno happily stayed in the background of his career until she became passionate about the cause against gender apartheid in Afghanistan. Interested in feminist issues all her life, after numerous unsuccessful attempts at getting the press involved in the gender apartheid issue, she freely admits she pulled out her biggest trump cards--her husband and her money.
Since the Taliban government took over the country in 1996, according to Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, women have been denied education, the opportunity to work, and access to adequate medical care. They are not allowed to leave their houses without a male member of the family, and those who break the rules are often beaten or even killed, according to reports.
After Ms. Leno and her husband made a $100,000 contribution to the foundation, they appeared on CNN's Larry King Live to explain the subject matter and take viewer calls. She admits celebrity is what makes the difference. Back when few in the United States understood her cause, she tapped celebrities to raise money for the secret home schooling of girls in Afghanistan.
"Prior to the country falling to the Taliban," Mavis Leno says, "women were 70 percent of the teachers, 50 percent of the medical workers--including surgeons. They held elected positions, they voted. The universal source of torment to the women there is that they cannot educate their girls. Many of them say, 'Our lives are over,' but they are not willing to write off their children's lives. This is why we got involved."