Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Afghanistan: Women's Rights Make Big Gains

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Afghanistan: Women's Rights Make Big Gains

Article excerpt

Women's rights, regarded as one of the most tangible gains of international intervention in Afghanistan, have made epochal gains in recent years: 4 million girls - a record for the country - are in school. Women are police officers and pilots, judges and governors. The Constitution guarantees equality before the law.

Maternal mortality rates have dropped decidedly - from a staggering 49.4 percent in 2000 - as women's access to health care has progressed dramatically. Women's life expectancy has increased, and women now outlive men by about three years.

"Education is the path to everything, to success for the future of the country," says Manizha Naderi, executive director of Women for Afghan Women, a nongovernmental organization based in Kabul, Afghanistan; and New York. "And girls are being supported by their families. That's a huge success."

"Seeing where we came from, it's a totally different country, a different society," she says. "People's mind-sets have changed."

With the Afghan National Solidarity Program, the country's flagship development program, came mandated women's inclusion, and participation in local governance issues "in ways never done before," says Dyan Mazurana, associate research professor at The Fletcher School at Tufts University and research director at the Feinstein International Center.

Under the Taliban government, women weren't allowed to work, let alone leave the home without a male relative.

But complacency could undermine efforts to ensure that all Afghan women can enjoy their new rights, according to an Oxfam report released in December.

And oversight of aid distribution remains a serious concern. There is as yet no coordinating body for tracking and accounting for tens of millions in spending targeted at Afghan women by the Pentagon, State Department, and the US Agency for International Development, according to a Dec. 18 report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

After 13 years of progress, gains are especially vulnerable now amid systematic exclusion from negotiations and pending Western withdrawal, female leaders and policy experts say. …

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