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3/12/04 - AFGHAN WOMEN - 2004-03-15

Under the Taleban, fewer than a third of the children in Afghanistan attended school. Ninety-seven percent of Afghan girls received no education at all. Now, says President George W. Bush, “The people of Afghanistan are moving forward”:

“Afghanistan still has many challenges, but that country is making progress, and its people are a world away from the nightmare they endured under the Taleban.”

Afghanistan’s new constitution, approved earlier this year, protects rights for women within a democratic framework. Tayeb Jawad, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S., says that Afghan women are regaining the rights and opportunities they enjoyed before the arrival of the Taleban”:

“The achievements of the women of Afghanistan is tremendous. The constitutional loya jirga that adopted the new constitution consisted of twenty-five percent women. The new constitution allocates twenty-five percent of the parliament seats for women.”

But in rural areas, Afghan women still face difficulties. Masuda Sultan is an Afghan-American who was born in Kandahar. She is associated with the New York-based advocacy group Women for Afghan Women. Ms. Sultan says that, “Even the women who know that Islam encourages and allows women to be educated [know] it’s the culture that stands in the way.”

Atiq Sarwari, an Afghan-born associate at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., says that while there are still many obstacles to women’s equality in Afghanistan, “there is also some hope on the horizon.” Mr. Sarwari analyzed data on voter registration for Afghanistan’s upcoming elections. He found the lowest percentage of registered women was in the conflict-ridden southern and eastern sections of the country. But in the northwestern province of Herat, a conservative region, thirty-three percent of the registered voters were woman, higher than the national average.

“No society can achieve its full potential if it does not use the talents of half its people,” says Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. “Given the suffering and devastation this country has experienced in the last twenty-five years, Afghanistan needs to take advantage of the talents and energy of all its citizens.”