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Afghan Women's Summit Calls for Substantial Rights - 2001-12-06

While Afghan leaders were meeting in Germany this week to hammer out details of a temporary post-Taleban government in Afghanistan, Afghan women were having a summit of their own in Brussels. Their goal was to make sure that women play an integral part in the re-building of Afghanistan.

That the demands of the 50 Afghan women meeting in Brussels are so basic shows just how devastating the impact of more than 20 years of war has been on Afghanistan's people, especially its women and children.

The three-day summit, organized by women's groups worldwide, concluded with a statement, the so-called Brussels Proclamation, which makes a number of demands. It calls for Afghan schools to be re-opened by March, along with the staff and supplies to make them function; the right for Afghan women to vote; and the re-establishment of health care centers and health insurance.

There are other demands, too: that Afghan women lawyers help draft the new constitution, that women be included in the future national assembly, and that they be protected from forced marriages and sexual harassment.

One Afghan woman at the Brussels conference talked about the role of women in the country. "Afghan women will no longer wait," she said. "We have waited for 22 years. We're demanding we have a seat at these tables where peace is being negotiated and where programs and funding is being disseminated and talked about."

Sima Wali is from Afghanistan but now lives in the United States where she works on behalf of women refugees. She came to Brussels from Germany, where she was one of a handful of women delegates participating in the Bonn negotiations.

She called the Bonn agreement, with its inclusion of two women in the post-Taleban administration, a positive step. One of the reasons Afghan men were able to reach an agreement at all, says Ms. Wali, is that the world was watching. "And the fact that there was going to be large amounts of assistance coming into Afghanistan was another issue that helped the men from the various political viewpoints move forward very quickly," she added. "So, I urge you to continue to help us in our very difficult struggle in the future."

It was a rallying call that some European parliament members took up Thursday at the end of the summit. They want future economic assistance to Afghanistan to be linked to the funding of projects that address women's concerns, from healthcare, to education, to children.

A delegation of Afghan women is expected to take their demands to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and the United Nations Security Council in the coming weeks.