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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – Lack of Hope Blamed as Some Afghan Women Choose Death by Fire - 2004-03-28

Broadcast: March 29, 2004

This is Robert Cohen with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Reports from western Afghanistan say at least fifty young women have killed themselves in recent months. In each case, they set themselves on fire.

Poverty, forced marriage, limited rights to education, violence against women, a sense of hopelessness. These are all given as reasons for an increase in cases of self-immolation. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has sent a delegation to Herat province to investigate.

Medica Mondiale is a German-based organization that supports women and girls in crisis situations. The group has started to organize projects in Kabul and Herat in an effort to improve the lives of women. It says many do not believe their lives have improved since the ouster of the Taleban more than two years ago.

The Islamic Taleban group ruled Afghanistan for five years. Women could not work or study. They could not leave their homes unless they had a male with them. And they were forced to wear a cloth burqa that covered all of their body.

American-led forces began a campaign in October of two-thousand-one to oust the Taleban and to attack al-Qaida bases in Afghanistan. This followed the September eleventh terrorist attacks by the al-Qaida group on the United States.

With the Taleban out of power, women regained their right to work and study. But Medica Mondiale says many still face oppression in parts of the country. Tribal leaders control these areas.

In January of this year, delegates at a traditional meeting called a Loya Jirga approved a new constitution for Afghanistan. The document guarantees equal rights for women. It also guarantees a strong representation of women in the future parliament. Women’s Affairs Minister Habiba Sarabi says she plans to set up family courts. She also plans to open centers to assist women around the country.

The governor of Herat, Ismail Khan, recently launched a media campaign to urge women to seek help. Husbands are also urged to show more consideration toward their wives.

Human rights experts note that social changes can take many years, especially in conservative societies. They say a good place to start is to teach females to understand their rights. But they say even more important is that males must also understand those rights.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. This is Robert Cohen.