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Expanding Women's Rights

"Freedom, especially freedom for women, is more than the absence of oppression," said U.S. First Lady Laura Bush at a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Jordan. "It's the right to speak and vote and worship freely. Human rights require the rights of women. And human rights," said Mrs. Bush, "are empty promises without human liberty."

In the last few years, women in Afghanistan have won significant freedoms. Under the Taleban, Afghan women were forbidden to attend school, work, or participate in society. But since the overthrow of the Taleban by the U.S.-led coalition, more than two-million Afghan girls have gone back to school. And Afghan women are heading back to the classroom as teachers. Afghan women are also participating in political life; a woman ran for president in the October 2004 election. Eight million Afghans voted in that election, and forty percent of them were women.

In Morocco, more than one-million women petitioned their government to reform the family code, or Moudawana, to ensure that women have equal legal rights in marriage and other family matters. Under Morocco's King Mohammed the Fifth, a new legal code was passed, demonstrating that Islamic values are consistent with universal human rights.

But too many women in the Middle East still face violence and prejudice. And many continue to live in fear, imprisoned in their homes, said First Lady Laura Bush. Nonetheless, said Mrs. Bush, the U.S. remains optimistic that democratic change will eventually spread and bring with it expanded rights for women:

"The pace of this improvement will vary from country to country. But we see hopeful signs in many places. And we believe that one day, every family will know the dignity of freedom."

"Without women," said First Lady Laura Bush, "the goals of democracy and peace cannot be achieved. Women's rights are human rights, and the work of advancing human rights is the responsibility of all humanity."

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.