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1/22/04 - WOMEN IN AFGHANISTAN - 2004-01-22

The Kabul Television channel recently aired a taped performance of the popular Afghan singer Ustad Mahwash. It was the first time in twelve years that a woman singer appeared on Afghan TV. Religious conservatives, including some members of the Afghan Supreme Court, objected to the broadcast. But Abdul Rahman Panjshiri, a TV station spokesman, said, “It’s normal. . . . How could we keep [women] off television?”

There have been other changes as well. Since the overthrow of the Taleban, women in Afghanistan have more opportunities for economic and educational advancement as well as political participation.

The Afghan loya jirga, or national council, approved a new constitution affording women equal rights with men. Women made up about twenty percent of the delegates to the loya jirga. The constitution also reserves twenty-five percent of the seats in the lower house of parliament for women.

Afghan women are already participating in the government. The Afghan cabinet includes two women –- the Minister of Women’s Affairs and the Minister of Health. And a woman heads the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

The Ministry of Commerce set up a department to help women establish their own businesses. The U.S. continues to support literacy programs for women in Afghanistan’s Dari and Pashto languages, as well as English. Nearly four-million children are enrolled in school, including more than one-million girls –- more than at any point in Afghanistan’s history.

With U.S. aid, many health programs are underway in Afghanistan to improve the lives of women as well as men. One is a community-based program to train midwives, or birthing assistants. This program is aimed at saving the lives of mothers and infants -- in a country where maternal death rates are among the highest in the world.

Secretary of State Colin Powell says the U.S. sees “considerable progress in Afghanistan”:

“But we are not unmindful of the dangers that still lurk there with respect to Taleban elements. . . . We will stay the course in Afghanistan.”

As Nazeefah Nazeer, a female teacher in Kabul, points out, “From the peaceful situation of Afghanistan that we live in now –- peace and comfort, even –- we are hopeful.”