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Afghan Women Living Grim
and Impoverished Lives

KABUL Banned from work and education, and hidden under all-concealing cloaks for one year of Taliban rule, Afghan women have been denied any productive life in a once liberal capital, according to aid workers. With most of Kabul's remaining educated class comprising of women, western aid officials say the prospects for Afghanistan's reconstruction is grim, given that the Taliban have placed all females under wraps. ``One year ago many women expected things would change with UN and aid agency pressure, but what we've seen over the past year is them losing hope," said Niamh Murnaghan of the British relief group Oxfam. With fading world interest in Afghanistan's 17 year-old civil war, local women are feeling more and more isolated. ``There is no expectation for change.

Women are horribly depressed because they have had all social life and public interaction stripped away,'' Murnaghan said. Prior to the Taleban's capture of Kabul on September 27 last year, up to 40 percent of the capital's jobs including teaching, medical work or civil service posts were filled by women.

``The future is grim, as the resource base left in Afghanistan is nowhere near enough for its needs, and half of this base has been excluded from any role," explained Oxfam development worker Chris Johnson. According to other aid officials, the Taleban's policy has also had a massive impact on the local economy. ``Human rights is one issue, but women need to eat, and they cannot feed themselves if they are out of the work equation," said a United Nations official.

On entering Kabul, the Taleban promised to continue paying female employees, but the delivery of salaries ended six months ago. According to the high-ranking humanitarian official, up to 40 percent of aid cash spent in Kabul is now going towards women's needs that did not exist before the Taleban entered the city.

``We now have to boost our handouts to reach educated women who should otherwise be working as teachers or civil servants. Otherwise they starve,'' the UN source said. Aid workers say the real irony of the Taleban's male supremacy is the poor future faced by boys. ``The bulk of teachers in Kabul were women, and this affects boys' schooling. There are now just not enough people to run the schools, even with 50 percent of children excluded,'' asserted an Oxfam official.

Although senior Taleban officials maintain their stance that educational and work rights for women will be restored when the time is right, there are few positive signals seen in areas that came under their control before Kabul. In the southern city and Taleban base of Kandahar seized by the militia two years before Kabul women remain under the harsh rules. The same applies to the western city of Herat, taken one year before the capital. Despite ongoing pressure on the puritanical policies imposed in the Taleban-held two thirds of Afghanistan, the militia appear increasingly resistant to criticism.

``Whatever we are doing in our country is not so that the world should be happy with us,'' Stanekzai said. However other Taleban officials take a more assertive line, arguing that they are the true champions of women's liberation.

``In Kandahar a man cheated on his wife, so we gave a Kalashnikov to the woman and she shot him," enthused the head of Kabul's anti-vice department, Mullah Qalamuddin. ``This is women's rights.'' (AFP)




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