Afghan Women's Gains

Article excerpt

Important gains in women's rights in Afghanistan could be at risk after American troops leave.

Afghanistan can be a hard and cruel land, especially for women and girls. Many fear they will be even more vulnerable to harsh tribal customs and the men who impose them after American troops withdraw by the end of 2014. Women's rights have made modest but encouraging gains over the past decade. But these could disappear without a strong commitment to preserve and advance them from Afghan leaders, Washington and other international partners.

Severe restrictions imposed by the Taliban, on access to education, health care and work, before they were ousted from power after Sept. 11 have been lifted in government-controlled areas. Women have run for office, been named to government posts and become more involved in Afghan society; some operate their own businesses. The 2004 Constitution guaranteed equal rights. In 2009, a new law banned violence against women and set new penalties for underage and forced marriage, rape and other abuses. Many more girls are in school and maternity death rates are down.

Much remains to be done. More than half of Afghan girls are still not in school, and of those who are few will stay long enough to graduate. Intimidation is commonplace; girls have been attacked and even doused with acid to be kept from attending school. It is not uncommon, especially in rural areas, for families to trade daughters into marriage or prostitution to settle debts. …

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