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Rights of Afghan Women, Children Improved; Shamim Jawad, member of U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, points to strides amid problems
By Dona Gibbs
Oh My News

Afghanistan, the crossroads of the East and West. Invaded by Persians, Greeks, Greeks, Arabs, Turks, Mongols, the British and the Soviets; governed through the centuries by a monarchy, a republic, a theocracy, a communist government and now a fledgling democracy; plagued by droughts; shaken by earthquakes; and in most recent times planted with a million landmines.

One might ask where is the hope?

Mrs. Shamim Jawad, the wife of Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad, addressed the World Affairs Council of the Palm Beaches, on the "Rights of Women and Children in Afghanistan" on Dec. 5 in Palm Beach, Florida.

While her talk was filled with grim statistics of the country, war torn for decades, she countered them with evidence for optimism, especially in gains for the rights of women and children.

She emphasized humanitarian concerns, because she was the "ambassador's wife, not the ambassador," she said. She declined to address the political issues facing the country.

She pointed out that women could now again be educated, travel, own businesses and be heard. Women now comprise 43 percent of the voters and hold 28 percent of the seats in Parliament. That's three percent above of what the Afghanistan Constitution guarantees women.

This is, in contrast, she pointed out, to the generation-long oppression under the Taliban, which forbade schooling for girls, deprived women of basic human rights, forbade travel unless accompanied by a male relatives--the list of must-nots was lengthy. Wearing bright colors, singing and dancing were forbidden. Attire other than the burqa, the head to toe voluminous overdress, was suspect. Even laughing, she commented, "could be cause for punishment."

Women now have full protection under law. Five million, six thousand children are back in school. Thirty-six percent of those are girls, up from 3 percent a few years ago.

Although 80 percent of the schools are still in ruins, she said, they are being re-built, textbooks are being written and distributed, and teachers are being trained.

Health issues are paramount, she reported. Infant mortality is still one of the highest in the world. 60 in one thousand births. The life expectancy stands at only 46 years old.

She pointed out that 18,000 women a year die from complications of pregnancy, most of which could be prevented.

To address these and other health issues, five hundred health clinics that serve 7.5 million people have been built and midwives are being trained, she reported.

One third of the population, she explained, is children. Two million of these are orphans. She estimated that one million of Afghanistan's children suffer post-traumatic disorders. Other childhood illnesses include malaria and tuberculosis. While there are shelters for some of these children during the day, at nightfall they must find other quarters.

Land mines are a constant threat to the population, most especially the children.

"When the Soviets left, they planted millions of land mines. One hundred thousand of the land mines have been destroyed but it costs a thousand dollars for each mine," she explained.

After the mines have been excavated, vineyards, almond and pomegranate trees can flourish. Some strides have been made toward these agricultural goals, she commented, and Afghanistan was exporting these products to its neighbors.

Also once the land mines are cleared, schools can be built and, much to the delight of the children who've asked for them, soccer fields, she reported.

And for enduring hope? She ended her address with an anecdote.

When a girls' school in one of the southern provinces had been burned to the ground under suspicious circumstances, the next day the girls insisted on continuing their lessons sitting and learning beside the ashes.

Mrs. Shamin Jawad is a member of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council that was established in 2002 by U.S. President George W. Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karai. She was born in Kabul. In 1980 after the Soviet invasion, she left with her family who settled in San Francisco. She received her degree in human relations from Golden Gate University.

Mr. Said Jawad was appointed ambassador by Afghan President Karzai after serving as press secretary, chief of staff and the director of Office of International Relations.

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