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Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 12:33 GMT
Afghanistan's new women politicians
Afghan women in a refugee camp near Herat, Afghanistan
Afghan women were repressed under the Taleban
The new transitional government of Afghanistan is especially groundbreaking for the country's women, two of whom have been elected to the de facto cabinet.

Sima Samar, a doctor who runs health centres for Afghan refugees in Pakistan was elected minister for women's affairs - she will also be a vice-chair in the new government lead by Hamid Karzai.

Forty-seven year old Ms Samar, an ethnic Hazara from Ghazni province, will be the first woman to hold such a senior post in Afghanistan.

She has won a number of awards for her work in the filed of social welfare.

In addition to Ms Samar, independent candidate Suhaila Seddiqi, a surgeon and former army general who still lives in Kabul, is to become minister for public health.

It is not a bad beginning, there were none in previous governments

UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi
Ms Seddiqi, also known as General Suhaila, she has served in Kabul's military hospital and saved the lives of many wounded in rocket attacks during factional fighting in the 1990s.

Years of repression

Under the Taleban women in Afghanistan suffered severe repression.

They were denied education, could not work unless the position was health related, and were not permitted to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative.

The Taleban forced women to wear a traditional veil, or burqa, that covered their entire bodies. Those who were caught only partially uncovered were subject to harsh beatings.

Women used to play a significant role in certain sectors of Afghan society such as education, the civil service, and the medical profession.

But they began to lose their rights first under the mujahideen who took over Kabul in 1992, and then under the Taleban who took control in 1996.

UN pledge

UN special representative for Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi said the two appointments would not represent the full range of women the UN eventually hoped to have in the government.

"We are right to expect more," he said.

"But it is not a bad beginning, there were none in previous governments."

The UN had stressed that any new political authority for Afghanistan must guarantee freedom of expression and women's rights.

The BBC's James Robbins
"This is a really remarkable peace agreement"
See also:

06 Dec 01 | South Asia
Profile: Sima Samar
06 Dec 01 | South Asia
Profile: Suhaila Seddiqi
04 Dec 01 | South Asia
Afghan women want their voices heard
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Kabul women's march thwarted
24 Nov 01 | South Asia
Kabul women keep the veil
23 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan women enjoy their freedom
23 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan women to attend talks
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