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Human Rights Report: Afghan Women Still Fear Violence - 2002-05-09

The New York-based group, Human Rights Watch, released a report Thursday finding that women in Afghanistan continue to fear physical violence and insecurity despite the fall of the Taleban.

In Afghanistan, women are no longer forced to wear the burka or chadari, the head-to-toe clothing often associated with the Taleban. But according to Human Rights Watch, many women continue to wear the garment because they fear for their physical safety.

The watchdog group found that although conditions have recently improved for Afghan women and girls, many continue to live under threat.

In its report "Taking Cover: Women in Post-Taliban Afghanistan," the group publishes the results of field research and interviews with Afghan women in February and March of this year.

"Although women have, since the fall of the Taleban in 2001, gained greater freedom to participate in public life, which means greater access to health care, employment and education, there are still concerns because of threats to their personal security," said Farhat Bokhari, a Human Rights Watch researcher. "Basically, from civilians as well as armed men, belonging to various political factions. Ms. Bokhari says that some women live in fear, even in the capital, Kabul, where international assistance forces have been deployed.

But she says conditions are far worse outside Kabul, beyond the reach of the security force. Throughout much of Northern Afghanistan, a situation of lawlessness prevails, as rival warlords battle for control.

According to the report, women in the north face serious threats and ethnic Pashtun women are specifically targeted for violence, harassment and even sexual assault.

Ms. Bokhari says that Human Rights Watch documented several cases of attacks against women, including gang rapes, in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.

"In Mazar-e-Sharif city itself, women of all ethnicities were actually vulnerable to rape and sexual assault," she said. "And this had the effect of course of them living under constant fear of being assaulted. And they basically felt compelled to cut down their movement, on what kind of dress they wore, so they were still clinging to wearing the chadari [head-to-toe garment], even if they would rather not to" [wear it].

In its recommendations, Human Rights Watch is calling on the international community to expand the presence of the international security forces, to help restore peace and protect women from sexual violence.