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Education Is Key To Change In Afghanistan

(Washington, DC--December 24, 2003) Two Afghan-Americans working on the reconstruction of Afghanistan told a RFERL audience last week that constitutional guarantees of human rights will only be achieved through long-term education and not the results of the Constitutional Loya Jirga currently meeting in Kabul.

Sara Amiryar, a delegate to the 2002 Afghan Loya Jirga and Associate Director of Affirmative Action Programs at Georgetown University; and Zieba Shorish-Shamley, Executive Director of the Women's Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan, both agreed that even if the new constitution seeks to guarantee the rights of women and ethnic or religious minorities, true equal protection under that constitution will only come about through education and "when the people know their rights," said Shorish-Shamley.

Amiryar, who also served as Director of the "AED Blue Pack Project" that distributed 200,000 backpacks with basic school supplies and a thermos for clean water to first and second graders in the poorest and most remote areas of Afghanistan in 2002, said that "the war of 25 years has deeply scarred Afghanistan, but we have made progress in the last two years, except for women's rights." She expressed concern that articles 44 and 45 of the draft constitution might exclude women from free education in Afghanistan. "Women need the right to education; it will mean freedom for Afghan women," Amiryar said.

Shorish-Shamley, agreed with her colleague, saying that the word "citizen" lacks a clear definition in the draft constitution. "Historically, women have not been acknowledged as citizens," Shorish-Shamley said, and, "the president of the [Constitutional] Loya Jirga has already said publicly that women are not equal to men." She stressed that "not just illiterate people, but the mullahs also" don't understand that the Quran does not limit the rights of women, nor deny them education. "Education becomes the key, over the long term," said Shorish-Shamley.

Both women also expressed concern about the structure of the 10 working groups within the Constitutional Loya Jirga evaluating the document because not a single group is headed by a woman despite the fact that 100 of the nearly 500 delegates are women. Amiryar noted that the groups are in fact headed by former mujahedeen, or as Shorish-Shamley said, "the powerful people with guns who will probably control the 2004 elections."

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