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Global Attention Turns to Plight of Afghan Women - 2001-11-24


As the military action in Afghanistan continues, many in the international community are turning their attention to the plight of Afghan women - who have been suffering under what U.S. first lady Laura Bush has called brutal degradation. Afghan women now have the chance to reclaim the freedoms denied to them under the Taleban.

When the Taleban ruled Afghanistan, women were not allowed to leave their homes by themselves, and even then, they were required to be fully covered from head to toe in a tent-like garment known as a burka. Afghan women were forbidden to work and go to school.

In a recent radio address, U.S. first lady Laura Bush detailed Taleban repression of women.

"Only the terrorists and the Taleban threaten to pull out women's fingernails for wearing nail polish," she said. "The plight of women and children in Afghanistan is a matter of deliberate human cruelty, carried out by those who seek to intimidate and control."

Mrs. Bush indicated the U.S.-led military action against the Taleban and the al-Qaida terrorist network is just the beginning of an on-going campaign to fight terrorism, and the repression of women, in any country.

"Because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes," she said. "They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment. Yet the terrorists who helped rule that country now plot and plan in many countries. And they must be stopped. The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women."

Another crucial issue is the role of women in any post-Taleban government in Afghanistan.

Mary Diaz, executive director of the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, says her group has been monitoring the situation in Afghanistan for the past decade. She says the low status of women under Taleban rule is not new.

"For women's organizations, it is a dramatically changed landscape, although we have to say oppression of women pre-dates the Taleban, so there's still quite a bit of work to do," said Ms. Diaz.

There have been numerous calls for a future Afghan government to include representatives from all of the country's ethnic groups. Ms. Diaz says women should also be allowed to participate in Afghanistan's future political structure.

"We strongly encourage the inclusion of women in the post-Taleban government and are heartened by recent progress on this issue," she said.

Four Afghan factions are set to meet in the former German capital, Bonn, under the auspices of the United Nations, to try to hammer out some sort of future Afghan government.

Northern Alliance member Amena Safi-Afzali, believed to be one the few women who will attend the meeting, is quoted by the French news agency, AFP, as saying the rights of Afghan women have always been ignored. But she said it is time for women to play a more important role in Afghanistan's political decision-making.

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