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Afghan Women Win Victories in New Constitution

However, Rights Still At Risk From Extremist Judicial Interpretations and
Lack of Security

Women Loya Jirga delegates and women's rights and human rights advocates won several important concessions in the new Afghan constitution adopted on January 4 following a three-week constitutional assembly in Kabul.

The new constitution contains explicit recognition of equal rights for women and men, which was lacking in the draft proposed before the Loya Jirga. The constitution guarantees that "any kind of discrimination and privilege between the citizens of Afghanistan are prohibited. The citizens of Afghanistan - whether man or woman - have equal rights and duties before the law."

Female delegates also doubled the number of seats for women in the Wolesi Jirga (House of People). The previous draft of the Constitution called for at least one female delegate from each province to be elected to the Wolesi Jirga, while the adopted version calls for at least two female delegates from each province. Women will comprise 25 percent of this body. The constitution also requires that 50 percent of presidential appointments to the Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders) will be women; the president appoints one-third of the members to this house of parliament.

In addition, despite the efforts by Islamic fundamentalists to dismiss international treaties and laws, the charter states that "The state shall abide by the UN charter, international treaties, international conventions that Afghanistan has signed and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Last March, Afghanistan signed the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The constitution also retains language from the draft pledging programs to balance and promote education for women.

Nader Naderi, a spokesman for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), said, "There are still some problems with the constitution, but the process was very positive, because people came together despite their differences and came to an agreement without violence ... this is a major change in the traditional way of doing politics in Afghanistan," reports the Washington Post. The new constitution also codifies the Human Rights Commission, which was originally created by the UN-sponsored Bonn Agreement in December 2001. The AIHRC played a strong leadership role in securing womenıs rights, human rights, and individual rights in the new constitution.

Concern among women's rights and human rights advocates remains over language in the Constitution that states that "in Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." This language and another article leaving matters where there is no provision in the constitution or law to adjudication by religious laws may leave individual rights, human rights, and women's rights vulnerable to extremist interpretations of Islam.

In an effort to support women's rights and human rights advocates in Afghanistan, U.S.-based women's rights, human rights, and Afghan organizations over the past few months have urged the Bush Administration to support strong provisions for women's rights and human rights in the new constitutions. These groups, in letters organized by the Feminist Majority, also called for an expansion of international peacekeeping forces in order to make enforcement of the constitution, womenıs rights, human rights, and democracy possible. Despite promises this fall from the Bush Administration, UN Security Council, and NATO, few new peace troops have been deployed beyond several additional Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). PRTs, however, consist of few personnel and are not allowed to intervene to prevent human rights violations or to stop factional fighting.

TAKE ACTION Urge the Bush Administration to Take Immediate Action to Expand Peace Troo

Media Resources: Washington Post 01/05/04; The Constitution of Afghanistan 01/04

© Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms. magazine

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