Observance of Afghan women's rights improves, but backlash always threatens – UN

14 February 2005 –

Since Afghanistan's Taliban Government fell in 2001, Afghan women have "made historic gains, with the support of the international community," but their participation in public life has been circumscribed by the continuing lack of security and reformers had to be careful not to stir up the traditional hostility to women's advancement, a new United Nations report says.

A report from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Economic and Social Council's (ECOSOC) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) says after the fall of the Taliban government "women came to the fore of the political life in the country and contributed to the new constitution, which clearly affirms equality between men and women."

On the other hand, progress has been uneven from region to region and the volatile security situation limits women's participation in public life and their access to education, health care and the working world, he says.

The ability of the Government to cope with these issues is still developing "and the focus on gender mainstreaming in all line ministries will require a more comprehensive strategy by the Government," as well as continuous funding and coordinated support from the international community, he says.

Mr. Annan cautions, however, that "the history of Afghanistan has repeatedly shown that efforts to strengthen women's status inherently carry the danger of a backlash." Staying the course would require serious engagement and political will on the part of national and international actors and on the ability of Afghan women themselves to hold the Government and the international community accountable for their commitments.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) should urgently fulfil its pledge to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) outside the capital Kabul and draw up special measures to protect women leaders and their families in particular and women in general.

Among the Government's tasks were to "prohibit the confinement of women in the custody of private individuals; release women prisoners held in State detention centres for actions that do not constitute crimes under Afghan law; and provide them with adequate support for reintegration into their communities."

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