Afghan women stores make a mark

The women's affairs department in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif has launched a scheme to help women set up their own retail businesses.

Five shops, owned and run by women, have already opened in the city and the women say the stores are doing well.

The provincial governor is now planning a shopping centre with about 200 shops, exclusively owned by women.

The initiative is also helping customers as many families do not allow their women to enter shops run by men.

Since the Taleban were ousted from Afghanistan, many women have found that gaining or regaining their rights is a long and difficult process.

Yet in some places, they are managing to chip away at patriarchal institutions.

Thriving again

North Afghanistan's biggest city, Mazar-e-Sharif, is trying to put behind it the bloody years from 1997 to 2001, when it was fought over by militias, including the Taleban, and thousands of people were killed in the streets.

Today, this low-rise city, baked by the sun of the central Asian grasslands, is thriving again.

The broad boulevards have been resurfaced with Japanese funding.

Each city roundabout is being designed by a different local business, some with outlandish sculptures as their centre-pieces, and Mazar is the hub of a part of Afghanistan vastly more peaceful and secure than the south or the east.

It remains socially conservative, with most women going about in white or blue burkhas, the all-encompassing veil.

But the provincial women's affairs department has now started a scheme for women to own their own shops, something almost unheard of in Afghanistan.

The five that have so far opened in Mazar-e Sharif are mostly devoted to women's clothing or foodstuffs.

Women's garden

The shop owners are getting good returns, giving them more financial security.

And they appear to be popular with the customers - in conservative Afghanistan, many families do not want their womenfolk entering shops run by men.

And now, the number of such shops is set to soar.

The provincial governor has laid the foundation stone for a complex called Bagh-e-Zanana, or Women's Garden, which will contain about 200 shops owned by women.

Men as well as women will be able to shop there, but officials say their behaviour will be closely monitored.

Some conservative local clerics are unhappy with the moves.

One has said that the new female entrepreneurs are misleading other women, encouraging them to claim freedoms that are inappropriate. But other religious scholars are satisfied with the initiative, arguing that the new commercial activities are a step towards advancing women's role in society.

The new shopping complex is expected to open within weeks.

For Afghan women footballers, goal is acceptance

ISLAMABAD (AFP) — Six years ago in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan football looked like a thing of the past, banned for men and unimaginable for women, who were barred from all outdoor sport.

But with the demise of the Islamic extremists -- who also banned music, dancing and kite-flying -- the sport has made such a spectacular comeback that there are now 17 women's football teams in the war-battered country.

And this week in Islamabad, Afghanistan's women players, participating in the third Pakistan National Women's Championship, sprang a major surprise by reaching the final.

In a major upset Afghanistan beat Baluchistan by 1-0 to gate-crash into the final scheduled for Friday.

Captain Shamila Kohistani scored the lone goal in the 11th minute to stun favourites Baluchistan, who had reached the semi-finals after beating last year's runners-up, the Islamabad team.

"Long Live Afghanistan," jubilant players shouted, waving their national flag while supporters danced over a drum beat.

"Yes, I was very confident to win this match and to reach the final. My team has high morale to win the championship," Kohistani told AFP.

Kohistani is proud and thrilled to be leading her squad on its first trip abroad.

She sees it not only as promoting the sport to young Afghan women at home, but fostering friendship between the two countries, which have had a somewhat fractious relationship.

"I am very happy about this," Kohistani said.

"We have never played outside Afghanistan. My players are very happy and our visit to Pakistan will promote goodwill and friendly relations between the two nations," she said.

Their coach Abdul Saboor Walizada said football was gaining popularity among young Afghan girls and many schools were starting to field teams.

"There is no national women's football team in Afghanistan, but Insha Allah (God willing) we are going to have one soon," he said.

The 18 members of the Afghan squad here, aged 15 to 18 years old, wear red and black T-shirts and trousers.

They hope that the kit is baggy enough not to offend anyone who thinks it indecorous, and in contravention of any religious mores, for them to be playing football in the first place.

While many women and girls in Afghanistan still remain behind the veil, cloistered in their homes and denied access to education and sport, things are changing, Kohistani says.

"In Afghanistan we did not face any difficulty to play football," she said of the members of her squad. "My family fully supported me and encouraged me.

"I know women in Pakistan also face same situation and without the support of their families they would not be able to play.

"But it is very important for the future of my country that women take active part in all walks of life, not only sports."

Taking part in Pakistan, she said, was all about gaining experience that will firmly help establish the game among young Afghan women at home.

"Winning and losing is not so important, I always hope and wish to get experience in the game."

Her team was drawn from the best players after competitions between 17 school clubs in Kabul.

Centre forward Sajia Saharfarid, 17, said the team came from different parts of the country, including southern, central and northern Afghan provinces.

"We have played with the ISAF team as well," Saharfarid said, referring to the NATO-led military's women's football team.

In Kabul there was little fear of retribution from the Taliban -- which is waging an increasingly violent insurgency in the country -- and girls were free to enjoy whatever sport they liked.

But for girls in the south, where the insurgency is concentrated, it was a different story, she said, with girls' freedoms strictly controlled.

Nevertheless, team manager Halima Sanger has high hopes for the development of football in Afghanistan.

"I see a very bright future," Sanger said, adding she envied the facilities available to Pakistani teams.

"If we have similar facilities in Afghanistan, we can become the best women's team in the world," she said.

New Report Shows Hope, Dire Conditions in Afghanistan

August 30, 2007

New Report Shows Hope, Dire Conditions in Afghanistan

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Refugee Agency released a report today assessing the status of economic and social rights in Afghanistan. The second of its kind, the report consolidates interviews with over 11,000 people, many of whom are former refugees, internally displaced persons, members of "vulnerable groups," and residents in remote rural areas.

Among the key findings were high incidents of poverty, housing problems, and an inability to access the formal justice system. More than 62 percent of all interviewees reported having no stable income, and over 64 percent reported that their household is in debt. Thirty-seven percent said that at least one of their children under 15 was working. Of those with children working, nearly half reported that most or all of their children work.

Among women, maternal health care is scarce. Only 21.5 percent of interviewees said that a midwife or trained birth attendant was present during their last delivery. Some 46 percent of interviewees had a relative or friend present, 14 percent had nobody present, and 4.5 percent had a local untrained midwife present. According to the report, an estimated 78 percent of maternal deaths could be prevented by increasing the presence and availability of trained birth assistants and midwives.

The report also finds that girls in Afghanistan are severely disadvantaged. Despite overwhelming attitudes and acknowledgement that schools are available, just over two-thirds of respondents reported sending their children to school. Girl children are much more likely to be kept home than boys. Some 22.5 percent reported that their girls never go to school, which is almost double the rate of boys who do not attend school. Nearly three-quarters of interviewees reported sending boys to school regularly, while less than two-thirds of parents sent girls to school regularly. Child marriage also continues to be a problem. About 12 percent of interviewees responded their children were married before the age 16. Of those married young, 84.7 percent are girls.

Perhaps most surprisingly, 78.8 percent of interviewees reported feeling positive about the future despite the present conditions. Respondents said that job opportunities, safe drinking water, and improvement of health facilities were their main priorities.

Quarter of Afghan Children Forced to Work

June 19, 2007

Quarter of Afghan Children Forced to Work

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) announced yesterday that almost one quarter of Afghan children are forced to work. Girls are more likely to be working than boys, and the problem is worst in rural areas, UNICEF says, pointing to "poverty, lack of educational opportunities, and the demand for cheap labor" as the principal conditions contributing to child labor. Additionally, the low rate of registered births in the war-torn country makes it difficult to verify a child's actual age.

Much of child labor can be detrimental to the mental, physical, and social development of children. They are employed to cheaply perform often-dangerous labor. Employers prefer young workers, because, as Noriko Izumi, head of child protection for UNICEF in Afghanistan, points out, "Children are cheaper to employ than adults and easier to manipulate."

UNICEF is urging the Afghan government to sign and ratify two conventions of the International Labor Organization: one concerns the minimum employment age and the other addresses hazardous work.

Still, many children are forced to work because of the lack of educational opportunities. Girls' schools in particular have been targeted by Taliban insurgents. Teachers and parents who chose to educate girls have been targeted -- including a girls' school headmaster who was murdered in her home earlier this month -- as well as students. Last week, two gunmen opened fire outside a girls' school, killing two students and wounding six others.

Violence in Afghanistan Surges; Taliban Commits Deadliest Attack Since 2001

June 18, 2007

Violence in Afghanistan Surges; Taliban Commits Deadliest Attack Since 2001

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for a suicide bomber who blew up a bus transporting police recruits in Afghanistan yesterday. The attack killed 35 people, the LA Times reports, making it the deadliest bombing since US-led forces overthrew the Taliban in December 2001. At least 35 other people were wounded in the attack.

Since Friday, at least 14 other people were killed in four other suicide bombing incidents. Mullah Dadullah, a top Taliban commander who was killed during a US military operation in May, had warned in March that there would be a surge in suicide bombings and attacks, mirroring al Qaeda's methods in Iraq. "The suicide martyrs, those willing to blow themselves up, are countless," Dadullah stated, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Amid the violence, Afghan women and girls are particularly targeted. In the past two weeks, two women reporters -- one of whom was a headmaster at a girls' school -- were murdered. Last week, two gunmen opened fire outside a girls' school, killing two girls and wounding six others.

Fatal Shooting Outside Afghan Girls' School

June 14, 2007

Fatal Shooting Outside Afghan Girls' School

Two gunmen killed two girls and wounded six others, including a teacher, outside a girls' school in Logar Province, Afghanistan on Tuesday. The gunmen, who were on a motorbike and have not been identified, attacked the school at midday as students were leaving. Girls' schools in Afghanistan have been under constant threat from extremists who aim to intimidate families from sending their girl children to school, particularly as the Taliban has resurfaced. Although the Taliban has denied responsibility for this incident, they have warned women and children to stay away from schools and remain at home in the past.

"The sight of girls in school is an obvious sign of progress, and there are those who are afraid of such progress," said Catherine Mbengue, a representative of the United Nations Children's Fund in Afghanistan. "This is a heinous, cowardly act against students and a teacher whose only crime was to be in school. By attacking students and the teacher, the perpetrators are attacking children’s right to education and threatening the very fabric of Afghan society."

Afghan Education Minister Hanif Atmar immediately condemned the attack, saying, "Those who carried out this cowardly attack are enemies of the country."

This shooting follows two other recent murders of Afghan women journalists Shokiba Sanga Amaaj and Zakia Zaki, who was also the headmaster of a girls' school.

US House Approves Afghanistan Aid Bill with Provisions for Afghan Women and Girls

June 7, 2007

US House Approves Afghanistan Aid Bill with Provisions for Afghan Women and Girls

The US House of Representatives voted 406 to 10 yesterday to pass an omnibus bill that will provide security and economic assistance to Afghanistan and will limit funds given to warlords in high-level offices. The bill includes the major provisions of the Afghan Women's Empowerment Act, including the authorization for three years of $5 million for the Afghan Ministry for Women's Affairs, $10 million for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and $30 million for Afghan-led non-governmental organizations that are providing assistance to Afghan women and girls.

Norma Gattsek, director of government relations and global programs at the Feminist Majority, said of the House's vote, "This bill finally recognizes the dire conditions for Afghan women and girls, who are under constant attack by fundamentalists who want to deprive them of their rights. The Feminist Majority has worked long and hard to pass legislation to address their critical needs and to increase humanitarian and reconstruction assistance for Afghanistan, of which so much was promised and so little has been given."

The bill authorizes a $6.4 billion aid package with measures aimed to decrease the flow of money to corrupt government officials and drug lords. The White House has already expressed discontent, saying that these measures will set "an unrealistically high bar" and will limit the president's power to act in Afghanistan, the Associated Press reports. A companion bill in the Senate is expected to be introduced soon.

Afghan Radio Owner and Reporter Killed

June 6, 2007

Afghan Radio Owner and Reporter Killed

Zakia Zaki, the owner and manager of Peace Radio and a headmaster of a girls' school in Parwan province, was shot dead inside her home early this morning. Three gunmen fired seven shots before fleeing her home. Police have begun an investigation, but no motive has been determined. Rahimullah Samander, the head of the Independent Association of Afghan Journalists (IAAJ), condemned the murder, which illustrates the difficulties that reporters -- particularly women reporters -- face in Afghanistan. "She believed in freedom of expression, that's why she was killed," Samander said, according to the BBC.

Zaki has managed the station since its inception in October 2001, following the fall of the Taliban. According to the Middle East Times, Zaki was a critic of "warlords" during the anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s that led to Afghanistan's civil war. She spoke out against the Taliban during its rule and was involved in Afghanistan's recent reconstruction, attending the 2003 meeting to draft Afghanistan's new constitution. According to the BBC, the IAAJ reports that Zaki did receive threats but had no known enemies.

The murder of Zaki comes six days after another female reporter in Afghanistan, Shokiba Sanga Amaaj, was shot dead in her house. While the motive in Amaaj's murder has not been determined, police are exploring the possibility that it is "family-related," the BBC reports.

Bill Including Major Provisions for Afghan Women Moves Out of Committee

May 24, 2007

Bill Including Major Provisions for Afghan Women Moves Out of Committee

A comprehensive bill for assistance, stability, and security in Afghanistan was introduced in the House and voted out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee by a unanimous voice vote yesterday. Introduced by Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA), HR 2446 would reauthorize and expand upon the Afghanistan Freedom Support Act of 2002. The bill includes the major provisions of the Afghan Women Empowerment Act, including the authorization for three years of $5 million for the Afghan Ministry for Women's Affairs, $10 million for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and $30 million for Afghan-led non-governmental organizations that are providing assistance to Afghan women and girls. The new bill's section on assistance to women and girls is almost identical to the Afghan Women Empowerment Act, except that funding for "Afghan women-led" organizations was replaced with funding for "Afghan-led, including Afghan women-led" organizations.

In introducing the bill at the Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, Rep. Lantos said that Afghanistan is "once again on the brink... It is at real risk of falling into the hands of the Taliban... We cannot and will not allow [this] to happen. This time, we aim to get it right."

The bill addresses issues related to the drug trade in Afghanistan, corruption in government, and the extension of International Security Assistance Forces. The bill also includes assistance for energy development for internal consumption and export of natural gas and other energy sources.

Women's Rights Activist Suspended from Afghan Parliament

May 22, 2007

Women's Rights Activist Suspended from Afghan Parliament

Women's rights activist and lawmaker Malalai Joya, a 29-year-old from the Farah province, was suspended from the Afghan Parliament yesterday after she described the Parliament as a barn full of animals. Joya is known for infuriating former mujahedeen fighters that now hold seats in the legislative body – some elected and some appointed by US-supported President Hamid Karzai – by openly accusing them of being criminals. Lawmakers threw water bottles at her after she gave a speech last May calling some of her colleagues warlords.

Lawmakers in Afghanistan are not permitted to criticize each other under Article 70 of the Parliament's rules. Joya feels the rule was created as a “political conspiracy” against her. According to the Associated Press, Joya said, "Since I've started my struggle for human rights in Afghanistan, for women's rights, these criminals, these drug smugglers, they've stood against me from the first time I raised my voice." Joya interrupted Afghanistan's constitutional convention to insist that the mujahideen were responsible for the country’s civil war. She has received numerous death threats since then.

The Parliament did not hold a formal vote to oust Joya, instead raising colored cards in favor of suspending her, but it is not clear if she can appeal the decision. Joya told reporters that she will not abandon her fight for women's rights. "I'm not alone," she said. "The international community is with me and all the Afghan people are with me."

Ms. Hosts Successful Forum on Afghanistan

March 29, 2007

Ms. Hosts Successful Forum on Afghanistan

The state of Afghan women and girls and the need for better US policies in Afghanistan were the focus of a community forum hosted by Ms. magazine yesterday morning. Dr. Sima Samar, chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the UN Special Envoy to Sudan, offered important insight into the reality of the corruption and poverty that is being experienced in Afghanistan today, more than five years after the US first attacked in October 2001. Ms. Executive Editor Katherine Spillar -- who spoke with Dr. Samar for an exclusive interview in the Winter 2007 issue -- joined Dr. Samar, along with Ms. Publisher and Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation's Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls Mavis Nicholson Leno, and Christian Delsol of the United Nations Populations Fund.

Each panelist explained the dire need for money and resources to reach Afghanistan. The US claims that its involvement in Afghanistan is a success, but clean water and electricity are still scarce for Afghan citizens, Smeal reminded the audience. She called for a differentiation in funding allocated to Afghanistan and Iraq. Currently, funding for projects in both countries are part of the same legislation, and the vast majority of US dollars goes towards fighting the war in Iraq, instead of rebuilding projects.

Afghan Human Rights Leader Visits US

March 27, 2007

Afghan Human Rights Leader Visits US

Sima Samar, chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Special Envoy to Darfur, will speak at a special forum tomorrow with other women's rights and human rights leaders to address the US's failed policies in Afghanistan. Dr. Samar, who is the highest ranked woman official in Afghanistan, will expose the reality of the dire conditions for Afghan women and girls and the inadequate policies of the US and Karzai governments. She will be joined by Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, who will call for a new direction for US policy in Afghanistan; Mavis Leno, who chairs the Feminist Majority's Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls; and Ms. magazine Executive Editor Katherine Spillar, whose interview with Dr. Samar was featured in the winter issue of Ms.

Dr. Samar arrived in the US on Saturday, and spoke at the Feminist Majority Foundation's National Young Women's Leadership Conference on Sunday. She is scheduled to meet with key members of the Senate and House. Dr. Samar will also be participating in media interviews during her visit.

Afghanistan: Drought-Stricken Villagers Resort to Selling Child-Brides

January 16, 2007

Afghanistan: Drought-Stricken Villagers Resort to Selling Child-Brides

A second drought in Afghanistan has affected over two-and-a-half million villagers, some of whom are selling their young daughters as brides in order to feed and clothe their families. An article in The Guardian earlier this month documented the recent surge of bride-selling in Afghanistan that has resulted from two disastrous droughts to hit Afghanistan in the past three years. The Guardian reports that more than 80 percent of Afghans depend on agriculture, and the droughts resulted in some farmers losing between 80 and 100 percent of their crops. Additionally, areas affected by the drought experienced higher rates of malnutrition, infant mortality, and difficulty accessing water and firewood. Abdul Zahir, the head of the men's council in Houscha, said of the selling of girl children, "There is widespread poverty. We have to sell off our children to survive. We are not proud of it, but we have to do it."

According to Refugees International, an organization that provides humanitarian aid and assistance for displaced persons, about five percent of households in Afghanistan rely on selling the girl children as the main source of income. "I need to sell my daughters because of the drought," one mother, Sahatgul, 30, told The Guardian. "We don't have enough food and the bride price will enable us to buy food... We were not so desperate before. Now I have to marry [my daughters] younger." Additionally, families in need of money and food are accepting lower bride prices for their daughters; Refugees International reports that the price has decreased from $1,800 or 100 goats or sheep to less than $300 or 20 goats or sheep.

A separate article in The Independent points out that the criminalization of growing poppies also may have contributed to the increase of child-bride sales. Opium cultivation dropped 96 percent in the past year under a British-led eradication program, and farmers are having difficulties paying back loans to drug traffickers, according to The Independent.

Afghanistan Launches Plan for Action Amid Violence

December 13, 2006

Afghanistan Launches Plan for Action Amid Violence

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday launched a three-year action plan to stabilize and bring justice to the country, which has been in conflict since 1979. The "Action Plan on Peace, Reconciliation and Justice in Afghanistan" outlines five major elements that are deemed necessary to bring justice to Afghanistan; according to IRIN Newswire, these five principles are "acknowledgment of the suffering of the Afghan people, strengthening state institutions, finding out the truth about the country’s bloody past, promoting reconciliation, and establishing a proper accountability mechanism." Tom Koenigs, the UN envoy to Afghanistan, approves of the plan and pledges the UN’s support, saying, "This is a remarkable step, and especially so for a country that has suffered so much and in which conflict remains all too present… I applaud this courageous move," IRIN reports.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, headed by human rights champion Sima Samar, led a National Consultation on Transitional Justice and made recommendations for the national plan. According to Samar, in interviews with over 7,300 people, 69 percent identified themselves as victims of human rights violations and 76 percent believe that a sincere effort to prosecute war criminals will increase stability and security in Afghanistan.

The announcement of the action plan comes during a time when increased violence and turmoil continue to plague the country. Reuters reports that an estimated 1.5 million Afghans have died and some 5 million have been forced to flee the country since the Soviets occupied the country in 1979. Between 1989 and 1994, Afghanistan was in a state of civil war, which was followed by the oppressive Taliban rule until late 2001. Recently, a suicide bomber outside the governor’s compound in Kandahar killed eight people and wounded eight others, the Associated Press reports, and two women teachers along with three of their relatives were murdered in their home, ABC News reports.

Violence against women is on the rise, and the reemergence of the Taliban has severely restricted girls from attending school. Lawmaker Shinka Kharokhail told ABC, "Many villagers have stopped letting their girls go to school, fearing they will be targeted by the Taliban." Over 400 girls’ schools have been burned, and teachers are murdered for continuing to teach girls. ABC reports that the female literacy rate in Afghanistan is just 13 percent.

Afghan Teacher Murdered for Educating Girls

December 5, 2006

Afghan Teacher Murdered for Educating Girls

A teacher from Afghanistan was murdered recently for disobeying Taliban orders to stop educating girls. Mohammed Halim, a 46 year-old man from Ghazni, was taken from his home and partly disemboweled before his limbs were tied to motorcycles and torn off, according to the New Zealand Herald. Halim is the fourth teacher to be murdered by Taliban extremists in Ghazni, a center of violence among the Taliban, US, and Afghan militaries, reports The Independent.

The number of attacks on students, teachers, and girls’ schools have risen dramatically this year, with 108 assaults occurring between January and June, reports the New Zealand Herald. Many educators are still under attack, receiving warnings to stop teaching girls. Fatima Mustaq, the director of education in Ghazni, says she has received many death threats, due to her gender and her unwillingness to stop educating girls, The Independent reports. "I think they killed him that way to frighten us, otherwise why make a man suffer so much?" said Mustaq, according to The Independent.

Conference Seeks to End Self-Immolation in Afghanistan

November 16, 2006

Conference Seeks to End Self-Immolation in Afghanistan

A conference to find solutions to a growing problem of self-immolation in Afghanistan and other countries began on Tuesday in Kabul, Afghanistan. The conference, hosted by the German women’s rights group Medica Mondiale, includes 400 delegates from nations such as Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq, India, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. The delegates will hear recent research from Medica Mondiale and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and work to find solutions to the problem. While the number of cases of self-immolation is hard to determine because of lack of proper record-keeping by police and by families hiding the suicide, Medica Mondiale argues that the number is rapidly rising. In Kabul alone, 36 cases of self-immolation have been recorded this year.

While reasons for self-immolation tend to vary, Ancil Adrian-Paul, German program director of Medica Mondiale, believes that most women commit this type of suicide for fear of physical or sexual violence, according to Radio Free Europe. Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission Chief Sima Simar said of self-immolation, "It is the final decision for women who don’t have any other way to solve their problems," BBC reports.

Adian-Paul said he hopes "the conference will raise awareness and move some toward breaking the collusion of silence… [We want] to demonstrate to Afghans that it’s not only a problem of Afghanistan, it happens everywhere but people [in their countries] take steps to deal with it," reported Radio Free Europe.

Tribal Elders Work to Reopen Schools in Southern Afghanistan

November 14, 2006

Tribal Elders Work to Reopen Schools in Southern Afghanistan

Over 20 schools have reopened in the southern Afghanistan province of Helmand after being demolished by the Taliban insurgency, IRIN, a UN newswire, reported last week. Helmand tribal elders worked with the Afghan government to open 14 mixed gender temporary schools and called upon the government and international organizations to help rebuild permanent structures and stock the schools with furniture and supplies.

Over 300 schools have closed because of attack or threat of attack since the Taliban began its insurgency. Ahmed Rashid, a well known author and expert on the Taliban, wrote in the Washington Post that "...every single day somewhere in Afghanistan a girls' school is burned down or a female teacher killed by the Taliban." IRIN reports that over 200,000 girls and boys cannot get an education due to the lack of schools.

Afghan Women Lack Access to Contraceptives, Still Need Basic Healthcare

October 30, 2006

Afghan Women Lack Access to Contraceptives, Still Need Basic Healthcare

Only 10 percent of married Afghan women ages 15 to 49 use a form of contraceptives. Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world, and experts hope that increased use of family planning techniques will extend women’s life expectancy. In Afghanistan, a woman dies giving birth every 30 minutes, according to the St. Lois Dispatch.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) started a program two years ago that dispenses highly subsidized contraceptives to women in 13 rural Afghan provinces in markets and hundreds of clinics and hospitals. While the USAID program is said to have increased family planning methods, Afghan women still lack access to basic reproductive healthcare. In its study of the Afghanistan’s Herat Province, Physicians for Human Rights found that only 1 percent of women have a trained health care professional present when giving birth, many of whom lack knowledge of how to handle even the most basic of birthing issues. Only 11 percent received prenatal care.

Greater work is needed to increase women’s access to quality reproductive healthcare to lower the rate of maternal mortality. Said Dr. Lynn Amowitz, Senior Medical Researcher at Physicians for Human Rights, "The rate of maternal mortality in a society is a critical indicator of the health and human rights status of women in a community."

Afghan Women Demand Greater Protection from Government

October 11, 2006

Afghan Women Demand Greater Protection from Government

Four Afghan women's groups came together to demand greater protection from violence against women in a demonstration on Thursday. The demonstration is a response to the recent murder of Safia Amajan, the provincial director of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs for Kandahar and women’s rights crusader. The four groups participating in the demonstration presented a 13-point outline of changes they would like to see within the Afghan government, including: bodyguards and drivers for officials, quick and effective prosecution for terrorists, better pay for police, remuneration for families of terror victims, and international aid for “the root causes of social insecurity and terrorism,” according to Dzeno Association, a Czech Republic newswire.

“This murder of Safia Amajan shows that those fighting against freedom and democracy in Afghanistan are committed to removing women from public life as they are seen as an obstacle to achieving their goals…. The Government and International community must support, protect and encourage women’s full participation and just efforts in all aspects of public life,” said the open letter to President Hamid Karzai released by the Afghan Women's Network, Agency Coordination Body for Afghan Relief, Afghan Civil Society Forum, and the Foundation for Culture and Civil Society.

Violence against women in Afghanistan, especially under the Taliban, is widespread. The Feminist Majority is working to pass the Afghan Women's Empowerment Act, which provides funding for women-led non-profits, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. It is anticipated that Congress will take up the Act when it returns after the November 7 election.

Frist: Taliban Should Be Incorporated into Afghan Government

October 3, 2006

Frist: Taliban Should Be Incorporated into Afghan Government

US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) made comments yesterday about the Taliban’s extensive presence in Afghanistan, the unlikelihood that the war against the Taliban could be won militarily, and the need to incorporate "people who call themselves the Taliban" into the Afghan government. Frist said to the Associated Press during a visit with Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) to a military base in Afghanistan that there appeared to be an "unlimited flow" of individuals "willing to pick up arms and integrate themselves with the Taliban… It sounds to me… that the Taliban is everywhere."

According to All Headline News, Frist told reporters that the only way to resolve the conflicts in Afghanistan is to "assimilate people who call themselves Taliban into a larger, more representative government." Martinez then told the Associated Press that negotiating with the Taliban is not "out of the question," but that Taliban militants who continue to be violent must be attacked.

The Taliban regime protected Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda leaders after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The Taliban regime, which brutally took away the rights of women and girls, has reemerged in Afghanistan. Recent Taliban attacks and violence are once again depriving Afghan women and girls of many rights and the ability to obtain an education. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the recent assassination of Safia Amajan, the provincial director of Afghanistan's Ministry of Women's Affairs, who was gunned down outside of her home in Kandahar.

The Feminist Majority Foundation and other organizations have been working to pass the Afghan Women's Empowerment Act, which provides funding for the Afghan Ministry of Women's Affairs, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, and women-led non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan. It is anticipated that Congress will take up the Act when it returns after the November 7 election.

Afghan Women's Affairs Provincial Director Killed

September 25, 2006

Afghan Women's Affairs Provincial Director Killed

Safia Amajan, the provincial director of Afghanistan's Ministry of Women's Affairs in Kandahar, was killed by gunman today outside of her home. There is speculation that she was killed in retaliation for her outspoken support of women's rights and her work opening schools for women in Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press and BBC News. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the murder.

Amajan had unsuccessfully requested bodyguards and secure transportation from the Afghan government; at the time of the attack, she was getting into a taxi to go to work, BBC reports. Aleem Siddique, spokesperson for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said his agency "is appalled at the senseless murder of a woman who was simply working to ensure that all Afghan women play a full and equal part in the future of Afghanistan."

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that because of threats against girls' education and violence against girls' schools, many Afghan girls are turning back to the secret home schools that were the only means for the education of girls under the Taliban regime. Some experts have estimated that every day in Afghanistan a girls' school is destroyed or a teacher is murdered. The Post reports that almost half of the 748 schools in the four southern provinces, where Taliban insurgents have been most active, have closed, and in Kandahar, all schools are closed in five districts.

Increase in Honor Killings in Afghanistan

September 18, 2006

Increase in Honor Killings in Afghanistan

There has been a significant increase in so-called honor killings of women in Afghanistan from last year, announced the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) on Friday. The AIHRC believes that the increase is due to discrimination against women, the lack of enforcement of laws protecting women, and a weak judiciary, according to IRIN News, a United Nations humanitarian news and information service. So far this year, 185 women and girls have been killed by family members, though many cases go unreported, IRIN reports.

While the Afghan Constitution protects women’s rights, long-term changes in men’s attitudes towards women are necessary to end the practice of honor killings, said Dad Mohammad Rasa, an interior ministry spokesperson, reports IRIN. The number of killings is worse in the south, where there has been a resurgence of the Taliban.

The Feminist Majority conducts a campaign urging the US to increase security in Afghanistan, to protect the rights of women and girls, and to increase funding for organizations working to advance women's rights in Afghanistan and Afghan women-led non-profits.

Focus Must Return to Afghan Women -- Before It's Too Late

September 11, 2006

Focus Must Return to Afghan Women -- Before It's Too Late

Afghan women's rights are slipping away. With increased violence, “[t]he Taliban are showing that they can operate anywhere at will, even in very high security areas” said Joanna Nathan with the International Crisis Group in Kabul, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Taliban attacks on girls’ schools are increasing. Experts estimate that a girls’ schools is bombed or a teacher murdered every day. According to Human Rights Watch, attacks have closed schools in several entire districts in Afghanistan, and nearly one-third of all districts have no schools for girls.

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation/Feminist Majority, which conducts the Campaign to Help Afghan Women and Girls, said, “We must step up security and funding for programs for Afghan women and girls. The Afghan Women’s Empowerment Act to provide increased funding is yet to find one Republican cosponsor. We can’t say we have freed the women of Afghanistan as we watch their rights slip away.”

UN Study Declares Violence against Women a Widespread Problem in Afghanistan

August 17, 2006

UN Study Declares Violence against Women a Widespread Problem in Afghanistan

A new report by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) is shedding light on the extent of violence against women in Afghanistan. Uncounted and Discounted is based on over 1,300 incidences of violence against Afghan women between January 2003 and June 2005. Among the main conclusions of the report are that women are subjected to physical and psychological violence, often from an early age, and that neither employment, education levels, or marital status determines who will be victimized.

Intimate partners are often the abuser and often act “with impunity,” as there are few repercussions, either legally or within families. Furthermore, Afghan women who are suffering violence at the hands of family members often have nowhere to turn to for support. The report suggests that while further research is necessary to understand the full extent of violence against women, the state must step in immediately to provide support to those against whom acts of violence are committed.

Meanwhile, a resurgence of the Taliban in recent months has brought an increase in militia bombings, burnings of girls' schools, and the killing of teachers. Under the Taliban regime, education for Afghan women and girls was banned. Attacks on girls' schools began immediately following the reopening of the schools by the new Afghan government in 2002, but the current situation has reached crisis proportions, undermining the rights that Afghan women and girls were just beginning to enjoy.

Taliban Kills Woman and Son in Afghanistan

August 10, 2006

Taliban Kills Woman and Son in Afghanistan

A woman and her son were killed Monday in Dast Mastan, Afghanistan, by Taliban militants on accusations of spying for local troops and the local government. Both were shot dead and the bodies were hung in the town as a warning to other villagers who might sympathize with the NATO troops stationed in the province or with the local government, said local province officials, according to DPA. The son had recently joined the local police forces, but no connection could be found between the woman and the local government.

Local Afghan officials and community leaders gathered yesterday to condemn the Taliban’s actions. President Hamid Karzai said in a statement, “The gruesome act is unforgivable and no one can justify it. This shameful act is an affront to all Afghans and their historical traditions,” according to the New York Times.

'Close to Anarchy' in Afghanistan

July 26, 2006

'Close to Anarchy' in Afghanistan

NATO's commander in Afghanistan recently described the situation in the country as "close to anarchy," saying Afghan and coalition forces are "running out of time". Lt. Gen. David Richards, who will lead NATO as it takes control of the US-led coalition in southern Afghanistan at the end of the month, spoke at a conference in London of "a lack of unity between different agencies," according to the Guardian.

Gen Richards also spoke of his concerns that "poorly regulated private security companies" are "all too ready to discharge firearms," as well as a shortage of equipment for NATO forces, the Guardian reports. This grave depiction contrasts sharply with his interview in TIME magazine which appeared earlier this month when he said, "If I didn't have optimism about what we are doing, I shouldn't be here."

Possible Return of Taliban’s Religious Police Threatens Afghan Women's Rights

July 20, 2006

Possible Return of Taliban’s Religious Police Threatens Afghan Women's Rights

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his cabinet have approved the reestablishment of the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The Afghan Parliament will consider the proposal when it reconvenes later this summer. Initiated by the Taliban, the Vice and Virtue Department sent religious police to patrol the streets where they brutally punished Afghan citizens for disobeying the Taliban's interpretation of Sharia law.

Women were particularly affected by the religious police as they were publicly beaten for such arbitrary offenses as wearing white shoes, showing their wrists or ankles, or going outside their home without a male relative. Women were also prevented from attending school, working, or being seen by a male physician, while women doctors and nurses were banned from working.

It is not clear what powers the proposed Vice and Virtue Department would have. Nader Nadery of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission told The Independent, "It will remind people of the Taliban. We are worried that there are no clear terms of reference for this body." The Minister for Haj and Religious Affairs, Nematullah Shahrani denied that the Department would have police powers, instead claiming that it's duty would be to "tell people what is allowable and what is forbidden in Islam…through radio, television and special gatherings," reports The Independent.

This proposal comes at an especially critical time for Afghan women and girls as the burning and bombing of girls' schools has reached crisis proportions. Ahmed Rashid, a well known author and expert on the Taliban recently wrote in the Washington Post that "...every single day somewhere in Afghanistan a girls' school is burned down or a female teacher killed by the Taliban." Many districts have closed all of their schools according to a recent Human Rights Watch Report

"Afghan women and girls face increasing insecurity, and it's more important for the government to address how to improve their access to public life rather than limit it further," said Coursen-Neff of Human Rights Watch, "Reinstatement of this controversial department risks moving the discussion away from the vital security and human rights problems now engulfing the country."