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Last Updated: Monday, 1 September, 2003, 04:40 GMT 05:40 UK
Afghan ministry to aid women
By the BBC's Jannat Jalil

A new department has been established within the Afghan ministry of commerce to help women set up businesses.

Afghan women in Kabul
Many women still face oppression though the Taleban are gone
Nearly two years after the fall of the Taleban, most Afghan women, who faced draconian restrictions on their every move, have seen little or no improvement in their lives.

While some girls are attending schools and some women have been able to go back to work, most still face discrimination in their everyday lives.

This new government department aims to encourage women to enter the world of commerce - something that would have been unthinkable under the Taleban.

It will offer women small loans, teach them basic business skills and help them to exhibit the handicrafts they make.

But while many countries have expressed support, so far the department has very little funding.

Traditionally Afghan women have woven carpets or sewed clothing in the confines of their homes, but they have not been able to use these skills to set up private businesses.

Ongoing discrimination

That is partly because most of them face as much oppression now as they did under the widely condemned Taleban regime.

Editorial meeting at Morsul
A new women's magazine was launched earlier this year
As well as limited access to education and jobs, women and girls are still subjected to systematic abuses - such as forced virginity tests, being sold by their male relatives, torture and rape.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch said many Afghan women and girls are too frightened to leave their homes, because they are being targeted for kidnap and rape by Afghan soldiers.

The report said the violence is so bad that returning refugee families who had sent their girls to school in Pakistan and Iran were too frightened to do the same in Afghanistan.

Human Rights Watch says the United States bears some responsibility for this situation.

The organisation says Washington is supporting warlords and officials whose troops are terrorising Afghan civilians - instead of backing President Hamid Karzai and those committed to reform.

When the Taleban regime was overthrown, the West hailed this as the start of liberation and equal rights for Afghan women.

But nearly two years on, most continue to live under oppressive male-dominated tribal traditions that go back centuries.

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09 Aug 03  |  South Asia
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Country profile: Afghanistan
28 Feb 03  |  Country profiles

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