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Involvement of Women a Must for Afghan Future - 2001-10-31


An Afghan woman says women must be involved in developing a new government for Afghanistan and that her country will need sustained help from the United States.

For security reasons she uses only the name Jamila and has been leading an Afghan women's welfare group that helps refugees in Pakistan. Based in Peshawar, Pakistan, the group provides health care, basic education and vocational training to Afghan women in the refugee camps.

Jamila was in New York to join an international delegation of women who met with the United Nations Security Council to discuss the role of women in building and maintaining peace. She says that historically, women in Afghanistan had important roles in government and society. "Before the Soviet invasion [of Afghanistan] we had women in parliament, we had women [government] ministers. We had doctors, engineers and teachers. Women were fully involved," she said. "But after the Soviet invasion most of those people left the country because they had become westernized. Then the Mujaheddin came to power. They were the same extremist element as the Taleban but the Taleban are worse than the Mujaheddin."

She says the Taleban oppression of women is severe, with girls not allowed to attend school beyond elementary grades and women not allowed to work outside the home. She says such policies are inconsistent with Islam.

Jamila looks forward to a post-Taleban Afghanistan and says women can play an important role in a new government, especially in reconciling the nation's ethnic groups. "I am a woman and I am a woman who has a feeling of wanting to help all my people regardless of their ethnic background, whether Pushtun, Tajik, Hazara or Uzbek. We are all the same," she says.

Jamila expressed hope that the United States and other western nations will provide ongoing assistance to a new government in Afghanistan. "The United States supported us and we defeated Russia. But then they [the United States] left us and now the United States can see the result," she says. "If they had not left us we might have had a stable government. Now terrorists were invited into Afghanistan, why? because we did not have a stable government."

The United Nations is now attempting to facilitate the establishment of a broad-based multi-ethnic government in Afghanistan. Western diplomats say, if that effort is successful, the international community must make a sustained commitment to a stable and economically viable Afghanistan.

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