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Afghan Women Call for Continued U.S. Support

(Washington--August 29, 2005) Continued support from other nations, particularly the United States, is critical for security and progress in Afghanistan, according to a group of visiting Afghan women leaders that included some of whom are running for seats in the national parliament in September. Masooda Karoakhi, Executive Committee Member of the Directorate of Women Affairs in Herat, Dr. Homa Shamim, Training Coordinator for the Afghan Center in Kabul, and Palwasha Kakar of the Women's Rights Office in Herat told a RFE/RL audience in Washington last week that the rebuilding of Afghanistan and the progress of its people is tied directly to continued foreign assistance and the security provided by NATO troops and Afghanistan's fledgling national army. They were united in their hope that the "global community not leave Afghan women alone" in the rebuilding of their country.

Karoakhi, herself a candidate, said that September's parliamentary elections will be the first time that the Afghan constitution allows women to run for public office. Although Afghanistan is still a country with a "patriarchal and traditional system," she said, women candidates are determined to "help rebuild our country and have a role in parliament" through which they can have a major impact.

As she faces voters, Karoakhi said, the top issues for Afghanistan, as well as Afghan women, are poverty, literacy and education, and public health. Campaigning is more difficult for the women candidates, Karoakhi said, so she is relying on the "traditional tribal system" to get her message out to the voters. "We must go to the centers of influence," said Karoakhi.

Shamim agreed that the major problems of Afghanistan were public health, literacy and education and the poverty caused by 23 years of war that has left Afghanistan "devastated. " She added, however, that security needs to be improved "so women feel safe." "If not for ISAF (the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force), not a single woman would dare leave her house," Shamim said. She also drew attention to the lack of reconstruction in the rural areas.

According to Kakar, who is also running in the parliamentary elections, Afghan women have been oppressed, but have worked "shoulder to shoulder with men to improve conditions in our country." There is still fear in the country that might prevent people from voting in the election, she said, "but even if it is 50 percent successful, then it will be a good election."

Kakar agreed with Shamim that insufficient aid reaches rural areas and villages: "It is little, and also the short-term projects don't fit the need," said Kakar. For example, her community in Herat needs a women's shelter, but aid organizations have said there is no money in the budget for the shelter. Nonetheless, Kakar said, the international aid, "particularly from the United States,has made a difference, like the training of the national army... if there was no assistance, we could not function. We'd like the assistance to be long-term. We need jobs, we need vocational education, and factories."