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Celebrating International Women's Day, a Milestone in Afghanistan

Ceremonies were held in Afghanistan Friday marking International Women's Day. It was a milestone for Afghan women, coming after the departure of the Taleban, under whose rule women were greatly oppressed. The U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights called for increased security to prevent more human rights abuses.

At ceremonies marking International Women's Day, U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, called for international peacekeepers to extend their reach outside of Kabul.

"Everyone I have met here has told me that what is needed is human security and peace, not just here in Kabul, but throughout the country of Afghanistan," she said. " I hope the international force will be extended throughout the country to help being about that peace and security."

The 4,000-member International Security Assistance Force, drawn mainly from European nations, has been deployed to keep peace in the capital. Interim government chairman Hamid Karzai has been calling for more peacekeepers to be sent elsewhere in Afghanistan to check the power of local warlords. But the European nations have refused to extend their area of control.

Reports have surfaced of intimidation and violence by ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks against ethnic Pashtuns in the north, including rape and looting. Ms. Robinson said Afghan society cannot rebuild if such human rights abuses are not checked.

The International Women's Day celebration was unlike anything seen in Kabul in recent years. Hundreds of women attended the ceremonies in a bombed-out Kabul theater wearing head covering but not the all-encompassing burqa that was required dress for women during the years of Taleban rule.

When the Taleban were in power, women were confined to the home, not allowed to work, barred from education, and could not go out unless they were wearing a burqa.

Ms. Robinson said on previous Women's Day celebrations elsewhere, people reflected sadly on the plight of Afghan women. Now, she said, there is a new hope.

"Now that peace and stability are being restored in Afghanistan, it is Afghan women at home and abroad who must speak up about the rights and protection from abuse that they have been denied for so long," said Ms. Robinson.

Interim leader Karzai pledged that women will be allowed to fully participate in the political process. Mr. Karzai, who has two women in his cabinet, including a minister form women's affairs, said they can run for office and participate fully in the upcoming Loya Jirga, or grand council, that is to shape Afghanistan's political future.

However, Afghanistan remains a male-dominated, deeply conservative Islamic society. Even with the departure of the Taleban, jobs for women are few, and many more women are seen in the streets with a burqa than without.