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Wednesday, October 6, 1999 Published at 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK

World: South Asia

Albright warns Taleban on women

Afghan women cover up

The US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, is warning Afghanistan's Taleban rulers that their treatment of women is blocking international acceptance for the movement.

Mrs Albright said the only female rights the Taleban appared to recognise were the rights to remain silent and uneducated, unheard and unemployed.

[ image: Madeleine Albright increases pressure on the Taleban]
Madeleine Albright increases pressure on the Taleban
And she pledged the US could not and would not abandon Afghan women and girls.

Speaking to the California Governor's Conference for Women, Mrs Albright said promoting the rights of women was a critical part of US foreign policy.

She said: "We (the US) are speaking up on behalf of the women and girls of Afghanistan, who have been victimised by all factions in their country's bitter civil war. The most powerful of those factions, the Taleban, seems determined to drag Afghan women back from the dawn of the 21st century to somewhere close to the 13th."

Culture: 'no excuse'

Mrs Albright said many countries tolerated appalling abuses against women including ritual mutilation, dowry murders and domestic violence.

[ image: X-Files star Gillian Anderson backs Afghan women's rights]
X-Files star Gillian Anderson backs Afghan women's rights
"There are those who suggest that all this is cultural and there is nothing we can do about it," she said. "I say it is criminal and we each have a responsibility to stop it.''

Since seizing power in Kabul in 1996, the Muslim fundamentalist Taleban have introduced laws barring women from working and girls going to school. They have also restricted women's access to health care and forced them to wear clothes that cover them from head to toe in public.

The cause of Afghan women's rights has hit the headlines in Hollywood, California, where hundreds of prominent American women and stars gathered earlier this year to protest against what they called 'gender apartheid' by the Taleban.

The chat-show host, Jay Leno, X-Files star Gillian Anderson and singer Lionel Richie are among those backing the campaign.

Mrs Albright said the US was increasing its support for education and training for Afghan refugee women and stepping up efforts to reduce trafficking in women and girls.

The Taleban are also under international pressure to cut opium and heroin production in Afghanistan and were recently reported to have ordered a one-third cut in the cultivation of opium-producing poppies.

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