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Without the burqa, Afghan women can breathe fresh air



Published: Sat, November 17, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Of all those oppressed by Afghanistan's now rapidly retreating Taliban, none was kept under the Islamist militia's boot more brutally than Afghanistan's women and girls. As Afghan men have been shaving their beards and cutting their hair, as teen-agers have been listening, to rock and roll, as children have been flying kites -- all previously forbidden under Taliban rule -- no one can be happier than the women who can throw off their burqas and with them the evil laws that made them prisoners in their own homes, without education, without a means to earn a living and without a scintilla of joy.

With growing international support the day may come sooner rather than later that the status and civil rights of women in Afghanistan are restored.

Mrs. Bush to speak: Today, first lady Laura Bush is scheduled to deliver the president's weekly radio address to launch an international campaign for women's rights in Afghanistan.

Over the past five years, since the Taliban came into power in September 1996, Afghan women have been systematically excluded from public life. They were required to be covered from head to toe in a heavy garment with only a small mesh opening through which to see and breathe.

Even the widows of Afghanistan freedom fighters were unable to make a living to feed themselves and their children, and bakeries established by the United Nations in which the women could work were closed by the Taliban.

Women were forbidden to laugh, to speak in voices that men might hear, or to wear shoes that might make noise as they walked on the street -- walking,, that is, only with a male relative. The windows of their homes were painted over so they would not be visible from the street.

Women who disobeyed the rules were publicly flogged, stoned or beaten.

Professional women: Prior to 1996, 40 percent of the doctors, 60 percent of the university teachers and 50 percent of the civilian government work force were women. Afterward, women could not be educated, work outside their homes, speak in public or receive much in the way of health care. Male doctors were not allowed to examine any unaccompanied females, and female doctors and dentists were prohibited from working at all. Imagine a maternity hospital that has no oxygen, no clean water, no medicines and no X-ray machines -- just beds, six or seven to a room.

One of the biggest failings of international Islam -- particularly from Muslim nations like Pakistan and Indonesia which have each had women heads of state -- was the silence on the subject of women's rights.

Where were the Muslim scholars who could have condemned the Taliban's perverse reading of the Koran to justify their crimes against female humanity?

Where was the outcry from the Palestinians, the Egyptians, or other Muslim communities around the world where women do enjoy human and civil rights?

They have the chance now to address this issue. A continued silence will speak volumes.




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