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Wed, Nov 21, 2001 - Page 5 News List

Afghan women show their faces, demand more rights

AFP , KABUL

Around 200 Afghan women threw off their burqa veils in the Afghan capital yesterday in a symbolic protest to demand respect for women's rights after the collapse of the Taliban regime.

They included former politicians, academics, activists and teachers who had been confined indoors or forced to wear the hated burqa, which covered them from head to foot, in public for the past five years.

"You are the heroic women of Kabul," organizer Soraya Parlika told the group, members of the newly formed Union of Women in Afghanistan.

"You have been imprisoned in your own homes, you have been beaten, you have been deprived of work and forced to beg, but you stood firm and you should be called heroes.

"Now it's time to fight for your rights."

But the group was forced to cancel its planned protest march from a residential suburb to the main UN compound due to security concerns.

"They told me they could not provide an assurance of security on the route because they don't have enough police," Parlika said, referring to the anti-Taliban opposition forces who now control the city.

Even so the women, who wore light head-scarves covering their hair, were among the first to show their faces in public here since the Taliban captured the city in 1996.

To uphold a misguided notion of women's "honor," females were denied education and banned from all work except in the health sector.

They could not leave their homes without a burqa and could not travel without a close male relative.

In the last months of the Taliban's radical Islamic regime here, leader Mullah Mohammad Omar even issued a decree banning women from attending picnics, deemed a sinful pleasure with no place in Islam.

But hopes are high that with the collapse of the Taliban a new constitution guaranteeing equal rights for women will be drawn up ahead of the creation of a broad-based, multi-ethnic government.

Parlika, a former communist and secretary general of the Afghan Red Crescent, said the first priority for the women of Kabul was the right to work.

Many have lost husbands in the past 20 years of war, but under the Taliban widows were reduced to begging to support their families. Thousands of others relied on foreign food aid.

The opposition Northern Alliance, which is not as hardline as the Taliban but has a far from spotless record on women's rights, has urged women to go back to work.

In a symbolic gesture a few hours after they marched into the city last yesterday, a woman's voice was heard reading the news on Radio Afghanistan.

"I did not expect that I would ever be back on the radio," said newsreader Jamila Mujahed. "Now I sit here at the microphone and think that I am dreaming."

UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson on Monday said a post-Taliban government in Afghanistan must include women.

"With regard to the future of Afghanistan it is crucial that strong government institutions be established with the full participation of women," Robinson said in New Delhi.

"They should have the capacity to promote and protect all human rights in a non-discriminatory and effective manner."

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