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The UN Population Fund's Olivier Brasseur
"The situation is dreadful"
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Wednesday, 11 July, 2001, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
UN urges Taleban to help women
Women in northern Afghanistan
Women in Afghanistan are subject to severe restrictions
By Eurasia analyst Adrian Foreman

The United Nations is making a renewed appeal to the Taleban authorities in Afghanistan to help improve medical conditions for women.

Even if there is success at the talks, it takes time to train health workers and set up clinics. More women and babies who could be helped will die

Afghanistan has one of the world's worst records for women and babies dying in childbirth, partly due to the Taleban's strict interpretation of Islamic law, which they say forbids women being treated by men.

The new appeal marks UN World Population Day on Wednesday.

One of the themes of World Population Day is improving the status of women, and the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, has a particular problem in Afghanistan.

Scarce resources

Twenty years of war have seen the best-qualified people leave and the Taleban insist that women must be treated by other women, even in the areas where the only qualified people are men.

In a country bigger than France, there is just a handful of women's clinics. More than one woman in every 100 dies in childbirth and 10% of babies born do not survive - the same as the worst figures from Africa.

Osama Bin Laden
The UN has fallen out with the Taleban over Saudi dissident Bin Laden
Having failed so far to persuade the Taleban to allow women better access to health care, the Population Fund says it is trying to reopen talks in preparation for a visit next February by its executive director, Thoraya Obaid - a woman doctor from Saudi Arabia.

Local officials hope she will be more persuasive than they have been.

Frosty relations

It is taking time to reignite discussion, partly because the UN and the Taleban are barely on speaking terms after international sanctions were imposed on the Taleban for refusing to hand over the fugitive Islamic militant, Osama bin Laden.

The Population Fund's local representative, Olivier Brasseur, says dogged persistence is the only way forward.

"We have women who suffer. We have children who suffer. And I think we have to keep talking again and again, and find again and again solutions that may not work after a while, so then we have to find other ways," Mr Brasseur said.

Even if there is success at the talks, it takes time to train health workers and set up clinics. More women and babies who could be helped will die.

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See also:

27 Jun 01 | South Asia
Inside Afghanistan: Behind the veil
20 Jul 00 | South Asia
Ban on Afghan women to stay
10 Jul 00 | South Asia
Taleban move against women workers
20 Dec 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
08 Jan 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Afghanistan: Through veiled eyes
17 Mar 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Tearful farewell to Afghanistan
23 Mar 01 | South Asia
Afghan feminists go online
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