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11/23/03 - WOMEN IN AFGHANISTAN - 2003-11-24

Successful societies protect freedom and ensure the rule of law. They guarantee religious liberty and secure the rights of property. And they recognize the rights of women. Putting these principles into practice, says President George W. Bush, is the goal of a draft constitution now being discussed by the Afghan people:

“With the steady leadership of President [Hamid] Karzai, the people of Afghanistan are building a modern and peaceful government. Next month, five-hundred delegates will convene a national assembly in Kabul to approve a new Afghan constitution. The proposed draft would establish a bicameral parliament, set national elections next year, and recognize Afghanistan’s Muslim identity, while protecting the rights of all citizens.”

Afghanistan’s draft constitution is an important milestone in the country’s political and social development. The constitution’s provision for equal rights for all citizens will give women the right to vote and to run for office. One article requires the Afghan government to promote women’s education and eliminate illiteracy. Another provision sets quotas to ensure that women are represented in both houses of the new parliament.

After suffering years of oppression and rights violations under the Taleban regime, says Habiba Sarabi, the Afghan Minister for Women’s Affairs, “we women can have our position in the society, and our people in Afghanistan can be under one constitution.”

Afghans are now preparing to select five-hundred members for a Constitutional Loya Jirga, or national council, that will meet in December. Women will elect sixty-four members throughout the country. President Karzai will choose another twenty-five women to serve on the Loya Jirga.

But while conditions for women have improved in Kabul, the capital, there are still problems in many other parts of the country. Restrictions on women’s participation in public life remain, and according to news reports, rapes and forced marriages continue. Many girls are afraid to go to school because of lack of security. As Tahmeena Saryal, of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, put it, “Regardless of what is being said in the [draft] constitution, the most important question is its implementation in the society.”