Afghanistan: Change for some as Kabul women celebrate

News and Press Release
Originally published
KABUL, 10 March (IRIN) - Under the theme of 'Empowering Women in Peace and Reconstruction', there was enthusiastic International Women's Day in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Saturday - the second time since the demise of the Taliban. "The participation of 1,500 women from the capital and provinces in today's ceremony is a big change in Afghan women's life, as well as a significant sign of their interest in social affairs," Minister of Women's Affairs Habiba Surabi told IRIN in Kabul.
Organised by Surabi's ministry and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, with support from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the event received large-scale participation by Afghan women, after years of having been victims of massive and systematic violations of their most basic human rights - particularly under the Taliban regime.

But according to Surabi, despite recent progress made, many challenges remain to be met, particularly in the areas of security and education. Indeed, intimidation and violence against Afghan women continue unabated in rural regions, where their situation has remained largely unchanged.

"Women have security problems in Kabul and throughout the provinces," she said, noting that girls' schools had been set on fire in some provinces or the girls had not been prevented from going to school for the past 12 months. Afghan women were in a state of close confrontation with a number of traditional complexities. "We want freedom from slavery of male-dominated societies," she asserted.

But Fatana Said Gillani, the head of the Afghan Women's Council, used the day to appeal for more international support. "The UN and other donors have failed to discern the fundamental needs of Afghan women," the head of the Pakistan-based NGO told IRIN, citing the economy, education and security as the most pressing needs.

She asserted that the assistance thus far received by aid agencies had been primarily humanitarian and relief, with little political support for women. "Until and unless the previous criminals and warring groups are kicked out of power, Afghan women will have no political development," she said, noting that she had not seen a measurable change in women's political circumstances since the fall of the Taliban.

Gillani went on to say that women had had a symbolic presence in the Loya Jirga (The national assembly that selected President Karzai and his cabinet for the transitional government last June), but expressed concern over the role of women in the 2004 elections. "I don't see any particular measure for enabling women to play a challenging role in upcoming elections," she said, calling on the Ministry of Women's Affairs to raise women's political awareness and take decisive measures in ensuring that their rights were upheld.

But despite the many challenges ahead, the situation has improved for some. Suhaila Kabir, an Afghan journalist, feels more secure than she did a year ago. "I would never dare go out to report without a man to accompany me," the 40-year-old, working for Islah, a Kabul-based, government-sponsored weekly, told IRIN, noting that she was now producing features and reports by herself.

"There is a significant change in my life as a journalist, but there has unfortunately been almost no change for those I report on," the mother-of-five said, citing the thousands of disappointed widows and increasing maternal mortality rates, as well as illiteracy among women in the capital and provinces.


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