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Rights Group: Afghan Women Face Violence Despite More Freedoms

Recently, some Afghan women set themselves on fire to escape domestic violence
Recently, some Afghan women set themselves on fire to escape domestic violence

Womens' rights advocates say that despite winning more freedoms in the past nine years, Afghan women still face constant threats and limitations in their country. They point to the case of the young woman who is recovering in the U.S. after her husband mutilated her face.

At 19, this Afghan woman, known publicly only as Aisha, has become a symbol of courage worldwide.

Her Taliban husband and relatives cut off her nose and ears and left her to die in the Afghan mountains punishment for trying to escape years of abuse.

She is now being treated in the United States and wears a prosthetic nose. She is awaiting surgery to fix her nose and ears permanently.

"I was discouraged that something like this could happen, and still happens," said Anita McBride of the U.S. Afghan Women's Council.

The status of many women changed after U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power in 2001. Advocate Lyric Thompson of the organization Women for Women International says before the Taliban government forced women into burqas, many urban Afghan women were educated and cosmopolitan.

"Women [were] dressed often in very Western style [clothing]. Miniskirts were certainly visible on the streets of Kabul," noted Thompson

Then the Taliban took over the government in the mid 90s, strict laws banned girls from schools and women from the workplace.

"Immediately, their lives changed and it was horrible. To be able to go out on the street one day and the next day not or to be completely covered and not know how to wear the burqa barely be able to see," added McBride.

Anyone who broke the law would be severely punished. When U.S. forces entered Afghanistan, things changed again.

THOMPSON: "It was a moment of hope and a moment of opportunity where there was a real sense of a new beginning for all of Afghanistan including, but not limited to women."

MCBRIDE: "There has been progress in so many ways. You have 2.5 million children going to school now. You have schools opening up all over the country. You do have women who are running in parliament who are serving in parliament."

But many women still face violence at home. To escape the abuse these women tried to set themselves on fire.

Advocates say they fear what will happen to women's rights if the Afghan government succeeds in reconciling with the Taliban and reintegrates insurgent fighters into society.

Anita McBride says the international community needs to continue to pressure the government and make women's rights a priority.