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Afghan Women Seek Change

In Mazar-I-Sharif, Afghanistan, fourteen-year-old Zahra Amiri is realizing a childhood dream. As a child, she says, “I wanted to prove women can play music.”

Zahra Amiri is the youngest of eighteen Afghan women and girls training to become music teachers at the Nagashand Fine Art Gallery. Until late 2001, under the Taleban regime, music was banned and Afghan women were barred from teaching.

Nilofar Sakhi is co-founder of an Afghan women’s rights organization. She says Afghan women have made substantial progress since the overthrow of the Taleban regime in December 2001. Ms. Sakhi says her Herat-based organization, the Women’s Activities and Social Services Association, is having much success in remote villages teaching women basic literacy, vocational skills, hygiene, health care, nutrition, and infant care.

Ms. Sakhi says Afghan women are also learning about their rights as citizens. “At first,” she says, “even the educated women of Herat city could not express what their legal rights were, but after a year and a half of these workshops, even uneducated women from the provinces spoke up about their rights.”

Many Afghan women were among the twelve million registered voters who defied Taleban terror to vote in September 2005 for the national assembly’s two-hundred-forty-nine member lower house. About a quarter of those members are women. Afghan women hold more than one-hundred-twenty of the four-hundred-twenty seats on the country’s provincial councils. More than half a million Afghan girls were newly enrolled in school during 2005.

But violent extremists are determined to wipe out the gains made by Afghan women. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands have been displaced this year in stepped-up attacks by Taleban insurgents and their allies. A major target of these attacks have been schools for girls. Malalai Joya, a member of the Afghan parliament, says the extremists will fail. “You can cut the flower,” she says, “but you cannot stop the coming of spring.”

President George W. Bush says America stands with the Afghan people:

“Our enemies saw the transformation in Afghanistan, and they’ve responded by trying to roll back all the progress. . . .They’re trying to return to power by attacking Afghanistan’s free institutions. And they will fail.”

“The future of Afghanistan,” says Mr. Bush, “belongs to the people of Afghanistan.”

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