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Sunday, September 12, 1999 Published at 18:07 GMT 19:07 UK

World: South Asia

Taleban attacked over women's rights

Inequality is considered normal, the report says

By Islamabad correspondent Owen Bennett-Jones

Women's rights in Afghanistan are systematically abused as a direct consequence of official Taleban policy, according to a senior United Nations official.

The UN special rapporteur for violence against women, Radhika Coomaraswamy, says there is a general climate in Afghanistan in which women's inequality is considered normal and standard.

She said women suffered abuses in a whole range of areas such as physical security, health, employment, education and freedom of movement and association.

But Mrs Coomarsawamy said limited changes were being made. Widows, for example, had been allowed to work in the health sector and some primary schools had been established for young girls in mosques.

In addition, she said the Taleban's decrees did not seem to be enforced in some rural areas, where women could be seen working in the fields without abiding by the official dress code.

'Most misogynist department'

But, in general, she said the situation of Afghanistan's women was acute, and she described the government department which hands down most of the edicts concerning women - the Department for the Propagation of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice - as perhaps the most misogynist government department in the whole world.

As for those parts of Afghanistan where the opposition northern alliance is in control, Mrs Coomarswamy said the opposition seemed to be providing more education and health facilities to girls and women.

But she reminded the opposition leaders that when they held power, cases of violence against women had been even more prevalent than they are today.

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