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Afghan Women Fight for Their Rights


Afghanistan's next constitution is currently being drafted, in a process that is expected to be completed in about 18 months. Afghan women's rights advocates see the process as an opportunity to ensure that civil liberties granted to Afghan women prior to the Taleban regime are restored in the upcoming document.

Nasrine Gross was born and raised in Afghanistan but lived for many years in the United States. She has now returned to help rebuild her homeland, where she is a history professor at Kabul University. Ms. Gross, who is also a strong advocate of women's rights, is now working hard and quickly to get a "Declaration of Essential Rights of Afghan Women" incorporated into the next constitution of Afghanistan.

Ms. Gross says that Afghanistan's previous constitution, which went into effect in 1964, included the inalienable rights of women. But this changed when the Taleban came to power. "The problem occured when the Taleban said that this definition of Afghan is only for men," she said. "So what I am trying to do now is make sure that in the next constitution the women are again recognized as equal citizens so that history can never repeat itself."

The Declaration of Essential Rights of Afghan Women demands equal rights for women in work, study and within the justice system. Ms. Gross helped draft the declaration with a delegation of 300 Afghan women at a conference in Tajikistan in June 2000.

Ms. Gross says she wants recognition of the declaration from the United Nations and is working actively with European and American-based organizations to disseminate information on women's rights in Afghanistan. She says the declaration has received wide support both inside and outside of Afghanistan, but that some Afghans fear the declaration will undercut their customs and traditions. She tries to assure Afghans that is not the case. "We want to explain that if you have equal rights as citizens, it doesn't mean that you are forgetting these important parts of your life, parts of your value system, and it doesn't mean that equal rights are against these things," said Nasrine Gross. "The Constitution and its laws are there to protect them, to safeguard Afghanistan, to help them realize their hopes in the future."

Nasrine Gross insists that granting women their rights will not take anything away from Afghan men or women, buy rather give back something important that was lost.