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8/3/03 - SOME PROGRESS FOR AFGHAN WOMEN - 2003-08-04

U.S.-led reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan are helping to improve the quality of life for many Afghan women and children. But much more remains to be done.

One area of great progress is education. More girls are attending school this year than at any point in Afghanistan’s history. Estimates are that last year, as many as one-third of the three-million students who returned to school were girls.

But the right of women and girls to become educated is still limited in some parts of Afghanistan. In the western city of Herat, the local government recently decreed that girls and boys are not allowed to be in school buildings at the same time, and men may not teach women or girls in private classes, although girls may study in classes with women teachers. The effect of this ban is to block many women and girls from getting an education.

Unfortunately, the situation in Herat is not unique. In many parts of Afghanistan, progress on female education is being compromised by deeply ingrained cultural patterns and, in some areas, the behavior of local extremists.

Afghan women have made significant progress in politics. Approximately two-hundred women participated in the June 2002 Loya Jirga, or grand council. In the new cabinet, two women were made ministers. Many other women serve in other responsible positions in the new government.

Nevertheless, many Afghan women and girls continue to face obstacles to full integration into Afghan society. Discrimination against women remains severe in many parts of Afghanistan. In Herat, police have forced women to wear the all-encompassing burqa and throughout the country, most women still wear the burqa, due to cultural constraints. In some southern provinces, police forces and others have threatened women and girls on their way to school. But the Afghanistan central government strongly supports girls' education, and its progress will not be stopped.

As President George W. Bush says, the job of reconstruction in Afghanistan is underway but not yet complete:

“Afghanistan still has many challenges, but that country is making progress.”

The U.S. is committed to an Afghanistan in which women and girls are full participants.