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Thursday, 17 May, 2001, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
'Liberty' for Afghan women
Women in northern Afghanistan
No woman will venture out without the all-enveloping burqa
By Kate Clark in north-eastern Afghanistan

In the rest of the country, the Taleban have introduced the strictest religious regime in the world, closing down girls' schools, banning women from work and ordering them to wear the burqa - a cloak which covers the head, face and body.

But in the north-east - an area under the control of the opposition Northern Alliance - there are no Taleban, just a deeply conservative culture.

Girls start wearing the all-enveloping burqa when they are 12 or 13 and no woman would dream of leaving home without covering up.

Even so, women here say they have much to celebrate.

Freedom

The regional women's association is marking its third anniversary. It has created some jobs for women hit by the war and has given professional women a public voice.


We have schools, higher education, we can work. Where I teach physics, there are male and female students, working together, no problem.

Nazira Badash, project worker

Crushing poverty is the main problem for most Afghan women.

The association set up a sweet-making project, giving 20 poor women the chance to earn a living.

The opposition makes much of its record on women's rights.

It looks good to a Western audience when compared to the Taleban - and it is not entirely propaganda.

Nazira Badash, Deputy Director of Badakhshan Voluntary Women's Association, insists women and girls have real freedom.

"We have schools, higher education, we can work", she says. "Where I teach physics, there are male and female students working together - no problem."

Education equals emancipation

In the long run, girls' education is probably the most important freedom of all.

Faizabad is a small provincial town, but there are more than 1,000 girls studying here.

The school was set up by teachers who had fled Kabul after the Taleban banned female education.

Aston Jamdukht is a teacher at the Chah-e Ab Girls School.

"Our country has been ruined, children have lost fathers and women have lost husbands."

"In these dark days, we came back to our home town and gathered our children together, and now we're teaching them", she says.

Under the opposition, daily decisions about women's lives are still made by fathers, husbands and male leaders.

But the women here cherish their relative freedom - as limited as it may seem to the outside world.

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See also:

15 May 01 | South Asia
Afghans dread approaching conflict
02 May 01 | South Asia
Refugee chief urges Afghan ceasefire
30 Apr 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan's civil war 'insane'
14 Feb 01 | South Asia
UN warns of Afghan catastrophe
30 Jan 01 | South Asia
Concern grows for Herat refugees
29 Nov 00 | South Asia
Urgent UN appeal for Afghanistan
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