[News] Afghan women call for equal rights

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Fri Dec 19 08:56:28 EST 2003

Afghan women call for equal rights

Friday 19 December 2003 8:31 AM GMT

Women attending the meeting to discuss Afghanistan's draft constitution 
want the statute to specifically enshrine equality for women.

Article 22 of the draft says the "citizens of Afghanistan have equal rights 
and duties before the law", but does not explicitly state that women have 
the same rights.

That article should be changed to "Afghan men and women have equal rights 
and duties before the law", Nadira, a female delegate from the northern 
Balkh province, said on Thursday.

"We want the explicit mention of 'women and men' in every article where the 
words 'Afghan citizens' are used," said fellow delegate Noorya Wisal from 
southeastern Ghazni.

Under the Taliban regime, women and girls were denied education and barred 
from public life.

Some 100 women are among the 502 delegates taking part in the historic loya 
jirga (grand assembly) in Kabul to debate and ratify the draft constitution 
which will pave the way for the country's transition to democracy at 
elections scheduled for June 2004.

Mujahidin outraged

The convention plunged into crisis on Wednesday when Malalai Joya, a woman 
delegate from the western Farah province, criticised the powerful mujahidin 
(former anti-Soviet fighters)  calling for them to be tried for plunging 
the country into years of civil war.

Several angry mujahidin delegates rushed towards the stage demanding Joya 
be expelled and soldiers had to intervene to maintain order.

Other women delegates at the meeting later mounted a protest and prevented 
Joya from being expelled.

"She should have observed the sensitivity of the session and not used 
strong offensive language but still we supported her and didn't permit her 
expulsion," said Wisal.

The outburst shows the level of distrust and sharp differences that have 
emerged since the meeting was opened on Sunday by former king Muhammad 
Zahir Shah.

Deep divisions

Delegates are divided between those who support the strong presidential 
system laid down in the draft and those, including some mujahidin factions, 
who would prefer some form of prime minister or at least a parliament with 
real power.

"They will have to work very hard to reach consensus," said UN spokesman 
Manoel de Almeida e Silva.

"You are coming from so many years of violence, so many years of 
destruction where your institutions were eroded, it is quite a challenge to 
try to overcome all this so quickly by defining your constitution," de 
Almeida e Silva said.

He was nevertheless optimistic that the loya jirga would agree a 
constitution "that responds to the aspirations of the majority of the people".


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