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Progress For Afghan Women

Afghanistan’s first-ever gymnasium for sportswomen has opened in Kabul. Afghan Women's Affairs Minister Massouda Jalal presided at the inauguration of the new one-hundred-ten-thousand dollar sports facility. Ms. Jalal said the gym will give Afghan sportswomen a place of their own to develop their athletic skills.

During the Taleban regime, women were forbidden from taking parts in sports. For many Afghan women the new sports facility is a symbol of hope for a better way of life.

Millions of Afghan women are struggling to overcome poverty, prejudice, and the terrible effects of decades of war and oppression. Maternal and child mortality rates remain high. Illiteracy among Afghan women and girls is reportedly as high as eighty-five percent. Despite the many challenges, Afghan women are speaking out to defend women's rights.

More than five-hundred women are running in the September 18th election for parliament and the provincial councils. Safura El Khani is running for a seat in the National Assembly. She campaigns in Bamiyan province under the protection of armed bodyguards due to threats from local narcotics traffickers. “I’m not frightened,” says Ms. El Khani. But she says extremists are intimidating other women candidates. “Even our local male leaders have encouraged looting and kidnapping to block us from entering the parliament," she says, "so we’ll have to speak very carefully."

“Our society has always thought of women as weak,” says Shukria Barakzai, a candidate in Kabul. “But it’s time for equality and with so many brave women having come forward to be politicians,” she says, “these elections will be the first small step to getting there.”

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann says the upcoming elections are “part of a much longer process of stabilizing Afghanistan both as a nation and as democracy.” And that, he says, “is a big job.”

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