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Little Improvement in Conditions for Afghan Women, says Rights Group - 2003-10-06

Human rights group Amnesty International is condemning a lack of effort to address the plight of Afghanistan's women.

Amnesty International says the lot of Afghan women is only slightly better than it was during the country's former Taleban regime, which was notorious in its mistreatment of women.

The London-based group says women in Afghanistan face widespread domestic violence, forced marriage, rape by armed groups, and discrimination by the country's justice system.

It further criticizes the Afghan government and its supporters in the international community for not doing enough to improve women's rights.

The head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Ahmad Nader Nadery, agrees that there is a serious problem for women, particularly those living outside major cities.

"There are lots of opportunities provided for women in Afghanistan, but still there are some problems, mainly in rural areas," said Mr. Nadery. "Still there are some threats against women not to be involved in the reconstruction of the country [or] take an active part in the social, political life of the country."

Speaking Sunday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted that women still face serious difficulties, but added that all Afghans, both men and women, face threats in their daily lives.

Unlike the days during the hardline Taleban regime, President Karzai said Afghan women now enjoy access to education and employment.

But as Mr. Nadery points out, women in rural areas are rarely allowed such rights.

The Afghan countryside has seen a rash of arson attacks on girls' schools, while other school have closed amid threats by conservative elements against female education.

Similarly, some villages have seen "night letters," anonymous posted warnings promising danger for women daring to take jobs with international relief groups.

Mr. Nadery says the crux of the problem is providing a safe environment so women can take advantage of the rights they are supposedly entitled to under the new leadership.

"Security is a big issue for the women," he emphasized. "They themselves do not want to practice most of their rights because they feel insecure in going out of their houses."

Amnesty International also agrees with the important relationship between security and human rights.

In its report, it calls for the expansion of international peacekeepers beyond the current mandate that limits it to Kabul, saying this will have a positive impact on women's rights.