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1/14/03 - WOMEN IN AFGHANISTAN - 2003-01-14

Sixteen months ago, under the Taleban regime, the women of Afghanistan lived in virtual isolation. Women make up more than half the Afghan population. But under the Taleban, they were not allowed to hold jobs. Women could not attend school. Women could not leave their homes unless escorted by a male relative. The isolation of Afghan women was not normal. Not by international standards. Not by Islamic standards. And not by Afghan standards.

Before the Taleban took over, women were elected to Afghanistan’s parliament. Women worked as physicians, teachers, and in other professions. Today, under the interim government headed by President Hamid Karzai, women are once again playing an active role in Afghan society. Two women serve in President Karzai’s cabinet. Others have resumed their careers in schools, universities, and elsewhere.

And this month, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky led a delegation of high-level government officials and private sector representatives to Kabul to convene the second meeting of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, the first to be held in Afghanistan. The Council’s inaugural session was held in Washington in April 2002. In Kabul, the U.S. announced the donation of two-and-a-half million dollars for women’s resource centers to be established in fourteen Afghan provinces. These facilities will offer women programs in vocational training, political skills, networking, human rights education, and social services for widows and orphans. An additional one-million dollars was donated by the U.S. for educational programs and to encourage Afghan women to become entrepreneurs.

A great deal more progress is needed. Especially in the field of education. “This,” said Under Secretary of State Dobriansky, “is crucial to the development of any society and in particular, women have a role to play. And by having a full education, it can be not only a benefit to them personally, but also certainly to the future fabric of Afghanistan as it goes forward."

The U.S. remains committed to helping with the reconstruction of Afghanistan. As President George W. Bush said, “In helping the Afghan people rebuild their country we have placed a central focus on education, and for a good reason. Education is the pathway to progress.... Educated women,” said President Bush, “encourage their children to be educated, as well. And nations whose women are educated are more competitive, more prosperous and more advanced than nations where the education of women is forbidden or ignored.”