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Lack of Security, Jobs Holding Afghan Women Back

(Washington, DC -- March 10, 2004) The lack of security and of employment opportunities is holding back women in Afghanistan, according to a panel of distinguished Afghan women's experts that met at RFE/RL on International Women's Day. The panel, which included U.S. State Department Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues Charlotte Ponticelli, Zieba Shorish-Shamley of the Women's Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan (WAPHA) and Sima Wali of Refugee Women in Development (RefWID), said that while Afghan women have made progress in the two years since the fall of the Taliban, more needs to be done to create opportunities for women to obtain jobs, an education and their civil rights.

Ponticelli said the situation for Afghan women is improving and that the "progress is unstoppable." She cited over 175 projects that currently benefit Afghan women, including the U.S.-Afghan Literacy Council, dedicated to educating Afghan women and children how to read. Ponticelli said that more women are gaining literacy, attending school, working and registering to vote. Even though education and health care continue to be major concerns for Afghan women, Ponticelli said that, during a recent trip to Afghanistan, women told her that their number one priority is jobs.

The situation for Afghan women is dramatically worse, however, in rural areas, according to Shorish-Shamley, who said that large numbers of women continue to be subjected to forced marriages, sex trafficking and slavery. A majority of women in rural areas have not registered to vote. Shorish-Shamley asserted that the lack of security in rural areas is the main cause for the suffering of these women.

Wali noted that human rights awareness is the key to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, stating that women must lead and play vital roles in the reconstruction effort. Although they have started slowly, Wali believes that programs such as the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), the Afghan government's Ministry of Women's Affairs (MOWA) and U.S. government efforts embodied in the Afghanistan Freedom Support Act of 2002 all help empower Afghan women to boost their level of education, civil rights and standard of living. Wali concluded that national and international support is needed to improve education, beat terrorism and build security and trust in Afghanistan.

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