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Women in Afghanistan


At the UN Conference

Afghan Woman Vice President?

Some reports say the top job in the new administration may go the Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai, who is currently fighting the Taleban near their last stronghold of Kandahar.

The Northern Alliance's foreign affairs spokesman, Abdullah Abdullah - an ethnic Tajik - is also believed to be in line for a senior position.

Dr Abdullah said one of the five vice presidents to be appointed in the provisional government will be a woman.

Saturday, 24 November, 2001, 16:38 GMT Kabul women keep the veil

Many women in Kabul will continue to wear the Burqa

By Kate Clark BBC Afghanistan correspondent

I met Nargis as she was hurrying home with her mother-in-law from a wedding. "Come in for a cup of tea," she said. "See how we live."

Her home is a broken down, bombed out house in the west of Kabul. Sunlight comes through the roof - where it exists. The walls are pockmarked with bullet and shrapnel holes.

The neighbouring houses were all destroyed from the mid-1990s rocketing of Kabul. Nargis - her name means narcissus in Persian - lives in an area of utter desolation.

Once we were inside, Nargis' father-in-law took over the conversation, but eventually, I got his permission to interview Nargis herself, although he did not allow me to take her photograph.

She sat with her back to my translator, a large shawl over her head, breast-feeding her youngest child.

Conscripts

"Of course I'm pleased that the Taleban have fled," she said, "It will mean my brothers can come home.

They're in Pakistan. I haven't seen them for years. The Taleban were trying to conscript them."

What Nargis is most interested in is the possibility that I might be able to get her a UN or Red Cross ration card.

She counts out what she thinks she might be given on my fingers, "Flour, oil, rice, beans." Her eyes are bright at the prospect that she might be able to feed her children properly.

She laughs when I ask her whether she'll try to get a job or go outside without wearing a burqa.

"I'm illiterate," she says, "Where could I get a job? If I could work, maybe I wouldn't wear the burqa, but I go out so rarely, it wouldn't be worth not wearing it."

Food not rights

Nargis missed schooling because of the war. She was married at 14 and at 18 has three children.

What the fall of the Taleban means to her, is hope for the reunion of her family and hope for an upturn in the economy.

She makes no mention of dress codes, girls' schools or work for women.

When Western politicians decry the Taleban¿s treatment of Afghan women, it is difficult to recognise the picture they paint.

Many stories repeated as fact never happened - at least not as far as I can judge from living in Kabul for two years.

Exaggerated stories

Afghan women never had their nails removed for wearing nail varnish or their feet beaten for wearing white socks.

Indeed, in Kabul, they walked proudly - wearing high heels, platform shoes, fish-net stockings and tailored trousers, letting their burqas flow behind them to reveal what clothes they wore underneath.

They ran underground schools for their daughters. There was always resistance, despite the rule of conservative village mullahs and their fearsome religious police.

Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative country where most women live in seclusion. In areas where Taleban-type restrictions are normal life will go on as it has always done.

In more liberal areas and among more liberal families, parents will now legally be able to educate their daughters - if the schools exist - and women will be legally be able to work - if they can find jobs.

Professional women

There will be state-sanctioned room for manoeuvre. Nargis' daughters will go to school and their lives will be different.

For the many professional women in Kabul, the rule of the Taleban was a nightmare, a denial of who they were.

It was a matter of great joy in Kabul when they heard female voices on the state radio the day after the Taleban fled. It was a symbol that women could once again be public citizens in Afghanistan.

However, even in a city like Kabul - with a sophisticated population by Afghan standards - only a tiny number of women are taking off the burqa.

For the moment, it is useful. The city has been taken over by an armed faction whose soldiers come from areas where most women live in purdah.

The last time this faction was in Kabul - along with other former communist and mujahideen factions in the mid 1990s - women's lives were ruled by fear of rocketing, looting and rape.

The burqa gives women protection, allowing them to move round their city without harassment.

The burqa was never oppressive in itself. Being forced to wear it was the oppression. For now, almost all women in Kabul are still choosing to veil.

"When we feel comfortable. When there's peace, when there's security," one woman told me, "we will be glad to take it off."

Women of Kabul Gather for Faltering First March

Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2001 Women of Kabul Gather for Faltering First March KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters)-Shedding their head-to-toe burqas, hundreds of women gathered in the Afghan capital on Tuesday to demand their rights after five years of stifling Taliban rule. On a bright, crisp day in a Kabul suburb, women in leather jackets, skirts and flowered headscarves met to call for the right to work, education for their daughters, and a political voice. Led by former politician Saraya Parlika, the plan was to march to the United Nations office in the center of city. But military police of the Northern Alliance, who seized control of Kabul from the Taliban a week ago, said they had been given no warning and postponed the march for a week. It was a faltering start, but still an important moment for the women who just seven days ago could not leave the house unaccompanied, let alone show their faces. "They say it was a security problem but we'll do it again next week," said Parlika, as men hung out of their apartment windows, amazed at the spectacle beneath. Former teachers, doctors and civil servants chatted and laughed in the winter sunshine. They had all been sacked from their jobs by the Taliban, who banned women from working in their strict interpretation of Islamic rule. "I came here to demand an education for my daughter," said 43-year-old Roya Sherzad. "I was a teacher, I am a literate, educated woman, but my daughter has barely been to school." The Taliban banned mixed classes and said they did not have the resources to open separate boys' and girls' schools. Most of the women had similar thoughts on their mind. "I don't think we are asking for much. We want a government that gives our children an education and allows us to work and live our lives in peace," said Shukria, a former administrator. "I need to support my family. This isn't about politics, it's just about a normal life." FINDING A VOICE But Parlika, chairwoman of the 100-member General Coalition of Women, a human rights organization that has operated in secret since 1996, had more ambitious plans. "We met yesterday to draw up our short-term agenda," she said. "We decided we should shed our burqas and march to the U.N. to demand our political voice." Parlika is pushing for women to be represented at a meeting of Afghan groups to discuss the shape of a future government that the U.N. is working to convene. But despite the concern to ensure all Afghanistan's ethnic groups are fairly represented in the new government, the rights of women seem to have been left behind. U.N. special envoy Francesc Vendrell has held meetings in recent days with the exclusively male Northern Alliance and other political leaders, but not with Afghan women. Even before the Taliban took power, Afghanistan was a male-dominated society. "Now we have to start the women's struggle all over again," said Parlika, a senior member of Afghanistan's communist party in the 1980s, who says she is finished with hard-line politics. "We need a voice, that is all. We want to be at that meeting."

Stirrings of a Woman's Movement

BURKA BRIGADE Soraya Parlika, second from ieft, is Afghanistan's most prominent feminist. Her apartment bst week became the rallying point for women all over Kabul

The veils came off last Tuesday. Two hundred women had assembled outside the Kabul apartment of Soraya Parlika, Afghanistan's most prominent woman activist, and- in one motion-they all lifted their burkas. "It was a very emotional moment," says Parlika. "After years the women of Afghanistan came out in the open. Under the Taliban we all wore burkas and did not know each other. Now we all know each other's faces. "

Parlika, 57, headed the Afghan Red Crescent before the majahedin took over Kabul in 1992. She has emerged as the leader of a small but growing underground women's movement. She had initially planned on Tuesday to lead a march of unveiled women to the U.N. compound in Kabul to demand that women be inciuded in any future government, but the police told her they could not guarantee security-even in post-Taliban Kabul.

Parlika is undeterred. ~We intend to contact the government," she says. "The demonstration was the first move to get them to notice. We want women to take part in every conference and every session of the new government."

Since Tuesday, Parlika's apartment, on the third floor of a bullet-scarred Soviet-style complex, has become a gathering point for women from all over the city. They chat excitedly about expanding opportunities for women in the new era and are planning an even larger demonstration in the coming week. But despite the symbolic baring of their faces at the demonstration, most still arrive and leave wearing burkas. "The burka is not the main problem of women," says Parlika. "First women should find work and improve their economic situation."

Parlika is used to challenging the status quo. She was imprisoned and tortured in 1979 for organizing a women's movement opposed to President Hafizullah Amin. During the Taliban years she organized a network of secret schools for girls in private apartments across the city.

"We were running hundreds of courses-English, Dari, math, tailoring computers, weaving, music. You wouid be surprised at how many 11-year-old girls there are who can speak perfect English," she says with a grin. Parents paid about $1 a month for each course, and the students carried the books for their classes hidden under their burkas.

To be sure, the women gathering around Parlika represent Kabul's well-educated elite; many are teachers or doctors. But already her activities have attracted the attention of the U.N., which is urging the various Afghan factions to include women in their delegations to the upcoming peace talks.

After five years of forced invisibility, Parliha knows she is making some of the more conservative male leaders in Afghanistan uneasy. But so much the better, she thinks. "I just want to tell the world that women should be able to speak out about their own problems." And she is determined to make Afghans-and the world-listen.

~By Terry McCarthy Kabul

Friday, 23 November, 2001, 13:48 GMT Afghan women enjoy their freedom

Women have been wearing the burqa for centuries

By BBC News Online's Marcus George in Afghanistan

Women are enjoying a new lease of life following the withdrawal of the Taleban forces in northern Afghanistan.

Less than 10 days ago the Taleban were flushed out of Taloqan, yet the prevalence of the traditional shawls - burqas - would suggest that little has changed for women.

But underneath the veil the liberation is apparent.

Figures clad in burqas now dominate the streets of Taloqan.

Women can now walk alone, without being accompanied by what the Taleban used to call a legal guardian - a relative or husband.

They have the freedom to go to hospital without a letter of permission from a Mullah.

And they can be operated on by male surgeons without having to waste time getting the right approval.

Incredulous

But western journalists and aid workers who thought that piles of burqas would be burned in the street as the Taleban made a quick getaway are in shock.

They are incredulous that what has been perceived as the arch symbol of Taleban rule is worn even when the regime is long gone.

This is, of course, a rural town and is by nature much more conservative than its urban counterparts.

But reports coming out of the capital, Kabul, suggest there is little difference there.

I met Qudsiah, a nurse at Taloqan hospital, who told me that the burqa is a traditional feature of Islam.

"Because Afghanistan is an Islamic country and we are Muslims, wearing the burqa is an ancient religious custom here.

"People have been using the burqa for centuries, not years and we can't suddenly change this custom."

Uncertain times

Professional women who work in hospitals and schools do not feel in any danger without their burqas.

But in these uncertain times many husbands want and expect their wives to wear the burqa.

Reports of rape cases and crimes against women were rife in the days of the mujahideen government.

Even women with progressive attitudes are unwilling to unveil themselves while the political picture is uncertain.

"When peace comes in Afghanistan," Qudsiah said, "many other women will be ready to take off the burqa.

"But many housewives are made to wear burqas. We cannot say anything about this, and we cannot prevent them.

"Many housewives are forced by their husbands to wear burqas. But if their families let them, they won't wear it, if not they will continue with family law."

"With peace in Afghanistan, they will also give up wearing burqas."

Schooling for women and girls was banned under the Taliban

Prisoners

Life for women during the Taleban occupation was extremely difficult, Qudsiah said.

"When the Taleban came to Taloqan we had to treat ourselves like prisoners. We had to work as they wanted us to. We were obliged to carry on our life because we are poor and couldn't afford to leave the country.

"Work ground to a halt for the men of the town and the Taleban gave work to people who they wanted.

"Since the Taleban went, we have reclaimed our freedom," said Qudsiah.

"Now we have taken back authority for ourselves and we can now live freely."

"They can take care of themselves and work in offices and we now have our freedom to a certain a extent. And I hope it will continue in the future.

"We can now go about our business in freedom without any close relative with us."

I ran into severe difficulties writing this article. When I asked Afghan colleagues about meeting women they thought I had other motives. It was as I suspected.

And my Afghan fixer warned me of the difficulties.

As a male journalist, this is not a country to walk into the bazaar and ask to meet some ladies.

Women not seen

Even close friends in Afghanistan have never seen each others' wives and nor are they likely to either.

When I worked in Kabul two years ago, I was told by my Afghan colleague I would never meet his wife. This was separate from Taleban regulations.

At a lunch party held for me in the city of Herat one year earlier, the household's women were confined to a backroom where they cooked and delivered the food. They were never seen.

But behind closed doors things have changed for the better in Taloqan.

There is no longer the fear of zealous Taleban who have been ingrained with the idea that women should not work and should remain at home.

Women in this town are enjoying renewed confidence.

But the rest is a closed world which, even now the Taleban occupation is over, I do not have access to.

Saturday, 17 November, 2001, 23:30 GMT Laura Bush decries Taleban 'brutality'

Mrs Bush made the broadcast from the Bush's Texas ranch Laura Bush, the wife of the United States president George Bush, has used her husband's weekly radio address to rally support against the Taleban.

Mrs Bush said she wanted to launch a worldwide effort to highlight what she called the Taleban's "brutal oppression" of women.

She is the first wife of a president to deliver the whole of the weekly radio address, and correspondents say that up until now she has played a low-key role, in contrast to her predecessor Hillary Clinton.

The campaign is designed to ensure that women's rights are a top priority for any new government that emerges in Afghanistan.

The wife of the British prime minister, Cherie Blair, is due to continue the theme within the next few days.

Oppression and fear

"Only the terrorists and the Taleban forbid education to women. Only the terrorists and the Taleban threaten to pull out women's fingernails for wearing nail polish," Mrs Bush said.

"The plight of women and children in Afghanistan is a matter of deliberate human cruelty carried out by those who seek to intimidate and control," she added.

The Taleban regime "is now in retreat across much of the country, and the people of Afghanistan, especially women, are rejoicing," Mrs Bush said.

"Afghan women know, through hard experience, what the rest of the world is discovering: The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists."

According to a report from the US State Department since taking Afghanistan's capital Kabul in 1996, the Taleban has prohibited schooling for girls over age 8, shut down the women's university, and forced women to quit their jobs.

The Taleban also restricted access to medical care for women and limited the ability of women to move about freely, the report said.

"With one of the world's worst human rights records, the Taleban has perpetrated egregious acts of violence against women, including rape, abduction and forced marriage," the report said.

Shared guilt

But Amnesty International has said that the US-aided Northern Alliance and other Afghan opposition groups also have committed "heinous abuses" against women.

Mrs Bush was keen to emphasise that her address was not aimed at Muslim nations as a whole.

"Islam is a religion that respects women and humanity," the report stated.

Earlier this month, Mrs Bush, who is said to wield enormous influence over her husband, held a lengthy televised news conference which led many commentators to praise her accomplished performance.

Correspondents say that Mrs Bush's more prominent official role reflects the White House view that while the military campaign seems to be going largely according to plan, the battle for public opinion in the US still has yet to be won.

Monday, 19 November, 2001, 17:09 GMT Cherie 'lifts veil' for Afghan women

Much of Mrs Blair's career has focussed on human rights By the BBC's political correspondent Reeta Chakrabarti

Monday's briefing at 10 Downing Street was unusual - not for the subject (women's rights in Afghanistan), but for the host.

Cherie Blair, wife of the Prime Minister Tony Blair, led calls for the international community to help Afghan women win back some of the human rights they lost under the Taleban.

This was one of her very rare interventions in government matters, and part of a concerted transatlantic exercise - Laura Bush, America's First Lady, performed a similar duty at the weekend, by making the weekly White House radio address.

This was a forum that until then had been the exclusive preserve of the President.

Why is it being done?

The bald answer out of Downing Street is that Britain and America have led a coordinated military, diplomatic, and humanitarian campaign, and they now want to "lift the veil" on both sides of the Atlantic.

It is also part of an exercise to keep reminding the public about the reasons for the bombing of Afghanistan, and why the present situation, with the Taleban apparently crumbling, should be supported.

'Strong views'

Mrs Blair, a QC and part-time judge, has spent much of her career focusing on human rights issues, and so it is no surprise she holds strong views on the issue.

She herself told her audience that as "somebody who has been on the margins of the political world", she had seen how communities worked more productively when women were involved.

But there will inevitably have been eyebrows raised at this use of the prime minister's wife to reinforce government policy.

She and Laura Bush are only in the public eye by virtue of marriage.

'Oppression of women'

The oppression of women under the Taleban has already been well publicised and documented, and some will see the regime's overthrow as being a by-product of the war rather than a prime objective.

Other objections will include the fact that women were being oppressed by the Taleban for several years before the West decided to get involved.

But however stage-managed this event may feel for some, Downing Street's aim is to get the issue aired - and using Mrs Blair, rather than simply the two female Cabinet ministers who appeared with her, undeniably gave the event added interest.

It guaranteed headlines in Tuesday's papers - and that, after all, is exactly what Downing Street wanted.

Saturday, 15 December, 2001, 12:41 GMT Inside a Peshawar brothel

Afghan women struggle to survive By BBC's Branwen Jeffreys in Peshawar

It's not easy finding a prostitute during Ramadan. During the holy month they lie low, as their customers stay away.

Even during the rest of the year in Peshawar the oldest profession operates with discretion bordering on invisibility.

But I had been told in the refugee camps around the city that some destitute women coming over the border from Afghanistan had turned to selling sex to support their children. It's not hard to see why.

The war has left many women widowed and without other immediate family. Village women, who only know how to farm, find themselves alone in one of the huge refugee camps or in a city.

In Peshawar at sunset each day crowds of women gather on the pavements outside bakeries, begging for bread at the breaking of the Ramadan fast.

Hidden problem

Arian McGee works for a charity that carries out education work on Aids and other sexually-transmitted diseases in this intensely conservative society. That means not just going into schools, but trying to reach those most at risk - the sex workers of Peshawar and the other frontier towns.

Adrian and his team had become familiar with the public pick-up points - bus stops, parks and even hospital waiting rooms. In the last two years, he told me, they had seen a steady and visible increase in the number of Afghan women working as prostitutes.

"It's a hidden problem and I can't put numbers on it, but it's happening," he said.

"Some of these women have no other option, they've tried to get other work, but it's so difficult for women, some turn to prostitution."

Adrian sent us with one of his colleagues, an outreach worker recruited from a male dance troupe - they often worked alongside female prostitutes, and he could take us to a brothel.

Slight, lithe and incredibly camp, he draped one leg over the other in the front seat of the car.

Shops were closing in the dusk. Formidable looking men in turbans hurried home by cycle, rickshaw or horse drawn cart.

Inside the cart the former dancer broke in a high voice into a famous Pashtun love song, Bibi Shirini, giving it the full song and dance routine - swaying and making eyes at our young Pakistani driver, who was by turns embarrassed and pleased.

We drove along progressively narrower and shabbier streets until he told us to stop. We were hurried into a large house, and sat on a bed to wait.

A young prostitute combed out her hair, watching us in the mirror. Five or six girls - none older than their mid twenties - were ushered in to meet us - lining up to look at the two European women sitting in the bedroom of a Peshawar brothel.

Friendly, shy and curious they were all Pakistani - but knew of Afghan women. A few minutes of shrugging and smiling followed the inevitable question - how could we meet them? They said they would ask.

Desperation

So late one evening I found myself sitting on the floor besides two Afghan women - both refugees.

The younger - just 22 - had arrived a couple of months earlier from Afghanistan - from a village north of Kabul. She pulled nervously at her clothes, her head modestly covered with a white voile shawl as she told me her husband and parents had been killed in the war.

She had not long been married, a village girl with no education - now, so ashamed she wouldn't tell me her name.

Left alone to look after three young children, two brothers and a sister, she had walked with them into Pakistan to Peshawar.

"If I had education there's no way I'd do this work," she said softly. "I wish something would come out of the blue to take us away from this life. We are forced to do this; so are other women. For the children I've destroyed my life."

The price for her shame is thousands of rupees. A pretty young woman like this can earn more than a $150 a month, a fortune compared to any other work. But some older women are reduced to selling sex for less than two dollars.

And as prostitutes lose their novelty value many are compelled to move from town to town in search of new clients, trying to keep their price high.

So many of the refugees you meet in Pakistan talk with real longing of going home to Afghanistan. But this time I didn't need to ask.

For this young women and others like her there is no way back. Once a respectable girl, now a prostitute, she won't be able to return to her village.


The Taleban have gone, but the beatings go on in Kabul

Saturday, 8 December, 2001, 17:01 GMT Afghan women still wait for liberty

By the BBC's Hilary Andersson

The Taleban regime virtually imprisoned Afghanistan's women for five years, forcing them to stay at home, banning them from and punishing them brutally for minor offences.

Now, the new interim government has come to power, and it has promised change.

The ban has been lifted on women attending schools and working. And women are no longer required to wear the burqa, a cloth that covers them from head to toe with only a small grid for the eyes.

In a dingy apartment block in downtown Kabul, a 21-year-old woman, Alean Haidery holds an English class.

She has been teaching girls secretly for the past three years. Her students used to smuggle books in under their burqas.

Had the Taleban caught Alean she would have been jailed and beaten. But now the classes are held openly, and they are twice the size they were.

Culture swings

Women can also be seen in crowds in Kabul, signing up for jobs. Many worked before the Taleban regime came in, and want their old jobs back. Not so long ago, 70% of Afghanistan's teachers were women.

Where women's rights are concerned Afghanistan has gone from one extreme to the other.

In 1979 Soviet tanks rolled into Kabul, and this spawned a communist revolution - equality between men and women became an ideological goal.

Women walked the streets in mini skirts and western dress, and no-one blinked an eye.

But years of upheaval and chaos after the Soviets withdrew gave way to the Taleban regime, and a time of sinister, brutal discipline and order.

Physical abuse

Until a month ago women were stoned to death in Kabul's football stadium for adultery. There were beatings with wire cable for crimes such as wearing lipstick, showing ankles, or even laughing too loudly in public.

All this has a psychological impact on the country that will be hard to erase. Men's attitudes have changed, and women's expectations have been lowered.

In central Kabul every afternoon a local rich man hands out free food. Soldiers stand with whips, and beat the women in the crowd to keep control.

"The men in the crowd listen to us, but the women don't. They need discipline," one soldier said.

Old attitudes here are hard to break.

On the streets no women's faces can be seen. Almost every one still wears the burqa, afraid that they will be scorned by men if they do not.

A pitiful sight is that of women beggars sitting in ditches on the sides of the roads, their heads bowed. Covered entirely in cloth, they look like ghosts, anonymous, silent and unheard.

Women here have been beaten down. And with few jobs to be had in the new Afghanistan, dignity is scarce.

Oyish Bibi's has lost any dreams she once had. She has been forced into a life of begging because she has no male relative to support her. Like a million other Afghan women she is a widow of the war.

She has seven children, and they all live and sleep with her in one tiny room. Oyish has no chance of getting a job. She was born in a village where there was no school for girls.

"I'll get up and beg tomorrow just like I did today," she said. I am ashamed of what I do, but I have to feed my children. My life is exactly the same now as it was under the Taleban. Nothing's changed for me."

Oyish Bibi is testimony to the fact that if there is real progress here for women it will be excruciatingly slow.

Banned Items

Banned or declared "unclean" by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice:

Pork, pig oil and lobster ~.~
Movies and photographs
SS VCRs,TVs and satellite dishes e
Computers and the Internet
Kite flying and chess playing
Pool tables and firecrackers
Pet pigeons and sewing catalogs
Clapping at sporting events
Singing and dancing
"Anything that propagates sex and is full of music"

Speaking or laughing loudly
Riding bicycles or motorcycles
Showing their ankles
Wearing shoes that click or makeup
Leaving home unaccompanied by a close male relative
Attending school
Speaking to men who are not close relatives
Working (except for a few doctors and nurses)

A Gorgeous Journey Through Hell

AN AFGHAN-REARED Canadian journalist named Nelofer Pazira attempted to slip across the Iranian border into her native land. She was trying to reach the city of Kandahar before an old school friend, depressed by the rigors of Taliban repression, made good on a suicide threat.

HER LIFE ON SCREEN Afghan~reared Canadian journalist Nelofer Pazira plays a character she inspired in this feature film about a journey through her homeland

This much of Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf's lovely and terrifying movie Kandahar is true. Indeed, Pazira, 28, plays Nafas, the character she inspired-though in the film it is a sister, not a friend, she seeks to save-and the year is 1999, just before the millennium new year. In real life, Pazira only briefly penetrated Afghanistan's border. In the film, her character, shrouded in a burka and taking notes on a hidden tape recorder, is a brave, lonely figure constantly menaced by a bleak land and the day-to-day anarchy of the life she finds there.

The Afghanistan shown here is a place where the Red Cross grotesquely air-drops replacement legs for the thousands whose limbs have been lost to land mines, and would-be recipients argue vehemently about their fit; a place where, when Nafas becomes ill, the local healer-who turns out, strangely, to be a black American-can examine her only by peering through an eyehole cut in a blanket; a place where one of her guides is an angry, untrustworthy child who has been expelled from an Islamic school whose only text is the Koran.

The sequence in that school is, in some ways, the film's most chilling: young boys sing-songing ancient religious verse, sternly criticized for incorrect tonalities while learning nothing of the actual world they will inherit. But the whole movie, made well before Afghanistan achieved its current place in the worid's consciousness and at obvious risk along a smuggling route, traffics in ironies of this frightening kind. The distressing portrait that emerges is of a handsome people whose kindly instincts have been subverted by fear, corruption and the desperate stnuggle to survive.

This is most poignantly symbolized by a passage in which Nafas and her last guide, an angry, erratic older man, join an all-female party heading across the sands to a wedding. Even the man disguises himself in a burka, and the pictures of this group shrouded in costumes of many colors (Ebrahim Ghafouri's photography is the year's best) are strikingly beautiful. Yet we are also made aware of how their movements are restricted by their clothes, how they must struggle just to see and breathe. There can be no more powerful image of the sexism of theocratic tyranny (beauty accidentally achieved by mindless oppression) than the one these shots force upon us.

We do not see what becomes of Nafas or the woman she wanted to rescue. What we get instead is a movie that is at once primitive and sophisticated, a near documentary that tells us much about harsh current reality, yet also often achieves moments of something akin to aesthetic bliss. -By Rlchard Schkkel

 

LIFTING THE VEIL By RICHARD LACAYO TIME 1 Dec 2001

IN THE STREETS OF KABUL, YOU CAN see something these days that has not been glimpsed there for almost five years-women's faces. Now that the Taliban has fled the city, a few brave women have shed the burka-the head-to-toe garment, to Western eyes a Idnd of body bag fbr the living, made mandatory by the defeated religious leadership. Men sometimes look in astonishment at these faces, as if they were comets or solar eclipses. So do other women. From the moment in 1996 that the Taliban took power, it sought to make women not just obedient but nonexistent. Not just submissive but invisible. For five years, it almost succeeded. The Taliban's ongoing i2o]lapse guarantees at least some improvement in the lives of Afghan women. They are emerging from the houses that they once could not leave except in the company of a male relative. Some are retuming to the jobs they had to give up when the Taliban barred them from all employment except for a small number of health-care jobs dedicated to women. Even more remarkable, Kaburs sole television station now features a woman announcer. In a country where people were required to paint their windows black so that passersby could not see the face of any woman who might be at home, the announcer appears onscreen without a vefl. But just as the meltdown of Taliban military power has not brought real peace to Afghanistan, neither has the disappearance of its hated religious police brought women freedom ovemight. Afghan society is tribal and conservative. Except for a small minority of educated professionals in Kabul, women have long been relegated to a subservient role. In rural areas of northem Afghanistan that are under the control of the Northem Alliance, the burka is still universal, though no law requires it. Even in Kabul, where Western-style skirts were not uncommon before the Taliban, many women say the burka is the least of their concems. Dr. Rahima Zafar Staniczai, head of the Rabia Balkhi hospital for women, remembers how Tahban religious police would beat her in the street any time they caught her rushing to work uncovered: "They would hit us and spit on us, and n we would have to come in to the hospital to do our work." AU the same, she says, what women wear is a secondary issue. She lists the real priorities. "First we need peace. Then we need a central government. Then we need education. After all that, we will be in a position to make a decision on the burka." And even when something like peace and order returns to Afghanistan, just how sympathetic to the rights of women the next ruling order will be, no one can yet say. Women have not suffered the systematic oppression under the Northern Alliance that was the signature of Taliban rule. But the years the Alliance niled all Afghanistan, 1992 to'96, are remembered by many Afghans for the brutality of the warlords. Some Alliance leaders are as hostile to notions of women's equality as any Taliban mullahs. if the ftiture is uncertain, the recent past is an afl-too-well-substantiated fact. The Taliban made Afghanistan a laboratory for the systematic oppression of women. What it did will haunt that nation and the world for years to come.

THE WOMEN SPEAK TO WESTERNERS,

THE MOST VISIBLE SYMbol of the Taliban's oppressive regime was the order that placed all women under the burka. Its long-standing place in Afghan culture is complicated. Many rural women, especially, claim to wear it willingly, at least when they speak in the presence of their husbands. There is even high fashion in burka wear. In Kabul, women allow a bit of lace trimming to show at the edge. The best burkas, from the Afghan city of Herat, have exquisite pleating that imparts a shimmering, watery feel but takes hours to iron. But nearly any educated woman you speak to loathes the burka. So do many less educated ones-if you can question them where men cannot hear. The heavy cloth covering can induce panic, claustrophobia and headaches. Its a psychological hobbling of women that is akin to Chinese foot binding. It's also life threatening. Try negotiating a busy Kabul street-around donkey carts, careening buses and the Taliban roaring by in Datsun pickups-when your hearing is muffled and your vision is reduced to a nar iz row mesh grid. What are Afghan women really like i beneath the burka? Talk to three from 0 Dasht-i-Qaleh, a tiny, impoverished village long held by the Northem Alliance.

Though the Taliban's restrictions against women have no force here, nearly all the women wear the burka. Long-standing cultural tradition exercises its own police power. And though these women have agreed to speak to TIME correspondent Hannah Beech, they will do so only through a female interpreter. They worry that their husbands might object if they leamed that a man was present at the interview. During the conversation, a man does briefly enter the room. The women all hasten to cover their faces and tum toward the wall until he leaves. On the streets, you would never know that these silent, shapeless forms, encased in these shrouds, have any views at all. But outside the earshot of men, the women are fierce, alive and opinionated. And when they shed their burkas, they tum out to be wearing brightly colored dresses. AR three say they would prefer not to wear a burka or even a head scarf but fear they would be harassed. Zora, 28, says she has heard that when women go to Mecca on the hajj, the pilgrimage that all Muslims are enjoined to attempt at least once, they do so with faces uncovered. "If women can show their faces in Islam's most holy place, then why must we cover ourselves in Afghanistan?" she asks. Like the others, Saida, 27, received no formal education, although her three daughters are enrolled in elementary school. Saida says her eldest daughter Nahid, 12, is getting ready for her betrothal to a 26-year-old farmer and does not have much time to spare for moming instruction. Besides, says Saida, Nahid tells her she leams at school that the Koran teaches her how to be a good wife and mother, instruction that exasperates Saida. "How can the Koran teach you how to live your life, how to take care of your children and your husband?" she asks. So Saida teaches her girls the really important things-how to cook, sew and soothe a husband's ego. "Teaching my daughters how to make their husbands comfortable is the most important thing," she says, "because if a husband is not comfortable, then the woman's life is hell." "My husband says the Koran tells him he can control his wife however he wants," says Banaz, 32, a mother of seven. ("Five boys," she says, jubilantly. "Only two daughters.") "But I have read the Koran, and nowhere does it say this. He is lying to me." Still, Banaz can do nothing. If she disobeys her husband, he wffl beat her, as he has done many times before. Once, she claims, he hit her chest so hard that she could not breast-feed her daughter for a week. The conversation tums to the routine brutalization of women in Afghanistan. Banaz says that four years ago her sister was raped by a soldier of the Northern Alliance, but only the women in the family know about it. Women in Dasht-i-Qaleh call rape "lying down" because it is so common that lying down quietly is the best way for a woman to cope. In a society that permits men several wives, the second or third wives, who tend to be younger and prettier, are vulnerable to rape by other males in the family. Banaz says this happened to her sister, who was 14 when she was married off as the third wife of a local landowner. "It was a good marriage for the family," says Banaz. 'But it was not a good marriage for her." She was raped by her husban's brother, a local mullah, whose prominence means that Banaz's sister has no hopes of retribution; it is her word against a holy man's. "In Afghanistan, the men go off to war," says Banaz, "but it is the women who fight their whole lives."

THE YEARS OF THE WHIPS

IN THE 196os AND'70S, AFGHANISTAN WAS a typical developing country, poor and struggling, with a slowly expanding role for women. By 1964 they had been granted the vote. The cities had begun to produce a small 61ite of educated women, who entered the professions, wore Western skirts and mixed comfortably with men. The Soviet invasion in 1979 was a disaster for Afghanistan generally. But under the Russians, women's rights were protected-even advanced to a degree that alienated some in Afghanistan's tradition-bound society. More women were introduced into government, given an authority that many men found unnerving. Shaima Yunsi was a senior aide to the Interior Minister, Afghanistaes internal spymaster. "I was responsible for collecting information on the jihad warriors" who fought the Russians, she says. She lies to show a photo of herself from those days; in it she wears a green army uniform with a pistol tucked under her belt. As bad as the Russians' occupation was, the chaos that followed their withdrawal in 1989 was worse, especially for women. Afghan warlords brought terror to the urban neighborhoods and villages they laid claim to. Young, undisciplined fighters treated women as plunder; rape became commonplace. Civil war broke out among factions of the victorious antiSoviet resistance. With the triumph of the Taliban in 1996, conditions were in place for a final degradation of Afghan women. the Taliban restored order to Afghan cities, but it was order of a sinister kind. Most of the leadership and the fighters were Pashtun tribesmen from rural areas of the south around Kandahar. In some respects, the harshness of their treatment of women was their attempt to extend across all Afghanistan the primitive social order of their villages at home. And it allowed the leadership to claim that Taliban rule had conferred on its male warriors a new degree of authority. The nation was a shambles, but at least the women were firmly under control. The rules were enforced capriciously, sometimes ferociously, by religious police from the Orwenian-named Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Ministry thugs wielding lengths of steel cable would beat women in the street for infractions like wearing white socks. "If women are going outside with fashionable, omamental, tight and charming clothes," an early decree from the ministry warned, they "should never expect to go to heaven." It is hard to find a woman in Kabul now who does not remember a beating at the hands of the Taliban. As it consolidated power, its orders became increasingly bizarre and sadistic, based on its extreme interpretations of Koranic instructions. One of these demanded punishment for women who allowed their shoes to make noise when they walked down the street. But this surreal pettiness masked real misery. The ban on work for most women had a disastrous effect on schooling for both sexes, since as many as 70% of all Afghan teachers were women. Excluding them from the classroom meant that boys had few teachers to instruct them. T'he work ban extended to widows, who were left no recourse but to beg. In a nation with as many as a million widowsout of a population of just 20 millionthat decree alone produced a silent disaster. Sabza Gul, 32, now begs at the Kabul bus station and makes about 50c on a good day. Some years ago, when she was still living in a village north of the city, her husband went blind. The family became dependent on whatever money their son Humayoun, 17, could earn as a field worker. The fields were close to the occasional fighting between Taliban and Northem Alliance forces. Eight months ago he was killed by a stray rocket. "There is no work for women," Sabza says. "We had nobody to look after the family, so I came to Kabul." Now that the Taliban is gone, she will try to find work cleaning offices or homes. All schooling was forbidden to girls over the age of eight. A recent U.N. report estimated that at most 7% of Afghan girls were enrolled in school, compared with roughly half the boys. In Peshawar, the Pakistani city near the border to which many Afghan refugees have escaped, Masooda is a shy second-grade girl-but she is 16. She left school five years ago, on the day the Taliban entered her central Afghan town of Kota Sangi and beat her with a cane for not wearing a burka. When her family fled to Pakistan two weeks ago to escape U.S. bombing, she finally resumed lessons, "I once knew how to read, but I've forgotten everything," she says. 'I'm ashamed to be so much older than everyone else." For those who stayed home, determined mothers have found ways to get schooling for their daughters. Rawshan and Nasima, both 30, are married to the same man, Abdul Qadir, 55, a porter in a Kabul market who makes about $1 a day. Rawshan has one son and three daughters by Abdul. Nasima has one son and two daughters. Desperately poor, they live in a house peppered with bullet hole;. For the past two years, Rawshan's eldest daughter Wahida, 10, has been going to a secret school in an abandoned building.

She has only one hour of lessons a day, given by local women who volunteer their services, but she is slowly picking up the rudiments of math and learning how to read. "I would like my daughter to work outside the home," says Rawshan. "I stayed in the home, and I have had a terrible life." Next to education, women's health suffered the worst consequences of religious rule. The life expectancy of Afghan women now is just 44 years. There are 17 maternal deaths per 1,000 live births, the second worst rate in the world, just behind war-ravaged Sierra Leone. The statistics only hint at what medical care for women is like in a nation where a male doctor is not allowed to give a thorough physical examination to a female patient. Women had to be examined wearing the fun burka. Male doctors sometimes had to stand in a hallway shouting instructions to a female assistant. A doctor could be imprisoned for talkng to a female patient who was not fully covered. Dr. Sima Samar left Afghanistan in 1984 but runs two hospitals in Afghanistan as well as 10 clinics from her base in Quetta, Paldstan. "There was a lot of harassment from the Taliban," she says. "They would enter the hospital at I in the moming saying they had received a report that our female staff was not dressed properly or was tailing with the male staff."

WHAT NEXT? EVEN WITH THE FINAL DEFEAT OF THE Taliban, when and if that occurs, Afghan women will remain in a vexed position. The forces vying to take the Taliban's place are not always friendly to women. Within the Northem Alliance, there is a fundamental split between Western-minded technocrats and conservative religious figures. Abduflah AbduUah, the Alliance's media-sawy Foreign Minister, is a technocrat. In his speeches he makes sure to point out that in Alliance-held areas women go to school. He goes so far as to support women's joining the government. Not so Alliance President Burhanuddin Rabbani, once a foremost proponent of expanding the burka's reach across Afghanistan. More recently, Rabbani allowed to an interviewer that "wearing a head scarf is enough in the cities." But in the Northem Alliance stronghold of Faizabad, his acolytes make sure that all women are completely covered. "Rabbani is better than the Taliban," says Farahnaz Nazir, a women's rights activist in the Northern Alliance town of Khoja Bahauddin. "But he is stiII very conservative. He does not believe that women are equal.'

That attitude extends into the rank and file. Zulmai is a Northem Alliance soldier lounging on a tank in the town of Farkhar. Ask him how many brothers he has, and he proudly tells you four, all soldiers. Ask how many sisters, and he says none. Press him repeatedly, and he finally admits to three. Why did he deny them? "Because girls are not important." He shrugs. 'They do not count." This helps explain why the signals being sent to women by Alliance forces in Kabul are so mixed. Though they reopened a movie theater there last week for the first time since the Taliban took power, women were not admitted. A brief street demonstration last week by women who wanted to march to the U.N. headquarters in Kabul to demand equal rights was blocked by the police, who claimed they could not guarantee the security of the protesters. In recent weeks the Bush Administration, in cooperation with the British government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, has opened a public relations assault to point up the oppression of women under Taliban rule. Two weeks ago, Laura Bush delivered what is ordinarily the President's Saturday radio address to speak about the problem. "ftat this initiative has done is send a signal," says Jim Wilkinson, director of the Coalition Information Center, the White House office that coordinates the Administration's worldwide anti-Taliban message. "By talking about the problem, we're hopeftilly able to affect the solution as they set up the new Afghan govemment," he notes. In Washington two weeks ago, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and the Presidenes Special Counselor, Karen Hughes, met with Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, and Mavis Leno, who has long worked to bring attention to the problems of Afghan women. "We asked the Administration to make retuming women to equal status under the law a nonnegotiable issue in forming any new government," says Leno, wife of Tonight Show host jay Leno. "That's pretty much the language Colin Powell used when he spoke at the State Department [last week], so it appears the government is going to do exactly that." Or try to do. Afghanistan is famously resistant to outside interference. Ask the Russians. "When the Soviets came, they wanted to change the country ovemight, abandoning tribal codes that existed for centuries," says Nelofer Pazira, an exiled Afghan joumalist and dedicated foe of the Taliban who stars in the film Kandahar (see box). "People were appalled. They went completely in the opposite direction. Even more liberal families became very conservative." No matter what other nations may think, in the end it wig be up to the Afghans to find a new balance of genders in their society. Progress is likely to be slow, particularly outside the educated elites of Kabul. Even there it will be subject to the complex forces of coercion, family pressure and tradition. Mohammad Halim, who runs one of Kabul's bestknown burka shops, says he has no plans to offer a wider variety of clothing. "It win only be in Kabul where women wiu take off their burkas. Elsewhere women will continue wearing them. This is a very old custom in Afghanistan." That very day, says Halim, more than a week after the Taliban fled the city, he sold 20.

Woman burned in Pakistan by her father in law over cleaning.

Women in Islam By LISA BEYER

FOR HIS DAY, THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD WAS A FEMINIST. THE doctrine he laid out as the revealed word of God considerably improved the status of women in 7th century Arabia. In local pagan society, it was the custom to bury alive unwanted female newborns; Islam prohibited the practice. Women had been treated as possessions of their husbands; Islamic law made the education of girls a sacred duty and gave women the right to own and inherit property. Muhammad even decreed that sexual satisfaction was a womans entitlement. He was a liberal at home as well as in the pulpit.

The Prophet darned his own garments and among his wives and concubines had a trader, a warrior, a leatherworker and an imam. Of course, ancient advances do not mean that much to women 14 centuries later if reform is, rather than a process, a historical blip subject to reversal. While it is impossible, given their diversity, to paint one picture of women living under Islam today, it is clear that the religion has been used in most Muslim countries not to liberate but to entrench inequality. The Taliban, with its fanatical subjugation of the female sex, occupies an extreme, but it nevertheless belongs on a continuum that includes, not so far down the line, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Paldstan and the relatively moderate states of Egypt and Jordan. Where Muslims have afforded women the greatest degree of equality-in Turkey they have done so by overthrowing Islamic precepts in favor of secular rule. As Riffat Hassan, professor of religious studies at the University of Louisville, puts it, "The way Islam has been practiced in most Muslim societies for centuries has left millions of Muslim women with battered bodies, minds and souls." Part of the problem dates to Muhammad. Even as he proclaimed new rights for women, he enshrined their inequality in immutable law, passed down as God's commandments and eventually recorded in scripture. The Koran allots daughters half the inheritance of sons. It decrees that a woman's testimony in court, at least in financial matters, is worth half that of a man's. Under Sharia, or Muslim law, compensation for the murder of a woman is half the going rate for men. In many Muslim countries, these directives are incorporated into contemporary law. For a woman to prove rape in Pakistan, for example, four adult males of "impeccable" character must witness the penetration, in accordance with Sharia. Family law in Islamic countries generally follows the prescriptions of scripture. This is so even in a country like Egypt, where much of the legal code has been secularized.


Marriage ceremony celebrated in secret in Herat ubnder the Taliban

In Islam, women can have only one spouse, while men are permitted four. The legal age for girls to marry tends to be very young. Muhamma(fs favorite wife, A!isha, according to her biographer, was six when they wed, nine when the marriage was consummated. In Iran the legal age for marriage is nine for girls, 14 for boys. The law has occasionally been exploited by pedophiles, who marry poor young girls from the provinces, use and then abandon them. In 2000 the Iranian Parliament voted to raise the minimum age for girls to 14, but this year, a legislative oversight body dominated by traditional clerics vetoed the move. An attempt by conservatives to abolish Yemen's legal minimum age of 15 for girls failed, but local experts say it is rarely enforced anyway. (The onset of puberty is considered an appropriate time for a marriage to be consummated.) Wives in Islamic societies face great difficulty in suing for divorce, but husbands can be released from their vows virtually on demand, in some places merely by saying "I divorce you" three times. Though in most Muslim states, divorc6s are entitled to alimony, in Pakistan it lasts only three months, long enough to ensure the woman isn't pregnant. The same three-month rule applies even to the Muslim minority in India. There, a national law provides for long-term alimony, but to appease Islamic conservatives, authorities exempted Muslims. Fear of poverty keeps many Muslim women locked in bad marriages, as does the prospect of losing their children. Typically, fathers win custody of boys over the age of six and girls after the onset of puberty. Maryam, an Iranian woman, says she has stayed married for 20 years to a philandering opium addict she does not love because she fears losing guardianship of her teenage daughter. "Islam supposedly gives me the right to divorce," she says. "But what about my rights afterward?" Women's rights are compromised further by a section in the Koran, sura 4: 34, that has been interpreted to say that men have "pre-eminence" over women or that they are "overseers" of women. T'he verse goes on to say that the husband of an insubordinate wife should first admonish her, then leave her to sleep alone and finally beat her.

Wife beating is so prevalent in the Muslim world that social workers who assist battered women in Egypt, for example, spend much of their time trying to convince victims that their husbands' violent acts are unacceptable. Beatings are not the worst of female suffering. Each year hundreds of Muslim women die in "honor laings" murders by husbands or male relatives of women suspected of disobedience, usually a sexual indiscretion or marriage against the famfly's wishes. Typically, the laers are punished lightly, if at aH. In Jordan a man who slays his wife or a close relative after catching her in the act of adultery is exempt from punishment. If the situation only suggests illicit sex, he gets a reduced sentence. The Jordanian royal family has made the rare move of condemning honor laings, but the government, fearftil of offending conservatives, has not put its weight behind a proposal to repeal laws that grant leniency for killers. Jordan's Islamic Action Front, a powerful political party, has issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, saying the proposal would "destroy our Islamic, social and family values by stripping men of their humanity when they surprise their wives or female relatives committing adultery." Honor killings are an example of a practice that is commonly associated with Islam but actually has broader roots. It is based in medieval tribal culture, in which a famfly's authority, and ultimately its survival, was tightly linked to its honor. Arab Christians have been known to carry out honor killings. However, Muslim perpetrators often claim their crimes are justified by harsh Islamic penalties, including death for adultery. And so religious and cultural customs become conftised. Female circumcision, also called female genital mutilation, is another case in point. It involves removing part or all of a girl's clitoris and labia in an effort to reduce female sexual desire and thereby preserve chastity. FGM is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa and in Egypt, with scattered cases in Asia and other parts of the Middle East. The World Health Organization estimates that up to 140 million girls and women have undergone the procedure. Some Muslims believe it is mandated by Islam, but the practice predates Muhammad and is also common among some Christian communities. Sexual anxiety lies at the heart of many Islamic strictures on women. They are required to cover their bodies-in varying degrees in different places-for fear they might arouse the lust of men other than their husbands. The Koran instructs women to "guard their modesty," not to "display their beauty and omaments" and to "draw their veils." Saudi women typically don a billowy black cloak called an abaya, along with a black scarf and veil over the face; morality police enforce the dress code by striking errant women with sticks. The women of Iran and Sudan can expose the face but must cover the hair and the neck. In most Islamic countries, coverings are technically optional. Some women, including some feminists, wear them because they like them. They find that the veil liberates them from unwanted gazes and hassles from men. But many Muslim women feel cultural and family pressure to cover themselves. Recently a Muslim fundamentalist group in the Indian province of Kashmir demanded that women start wearing veils. When the call was ignored, hooligans threw acid in the faces of uncovered women. Limits placed on the movement of Muslim women, the jobs they can hold and their interactions with men are also rooted in fears of unchaste behavior.

The Taliban took these controls to an extreme, but the Saudis are also harsh, imposing on women some of the tightest restrictions on personal and civil freedoms anywhere in the world. Saudi women are not allowed to drive. They are effectively forbidden education in fields such as engineering and law. They can teach and provide medical care to other women but are denied almost all other government jobs. Thousands have entered private business, but they must work segregated from men and in practice are barred from advancement. Though Iran is remembered in the West mostly for its repressive ayatollahs, women there enjoy a relatively high degree of liberty. Iranian women drive cars, buy and sell property, run their own businesses, vote and hold public office. in most Muslim countries tradition keeps ordinary women at home and off the street, but Iran's avenues are crowded with women day and night. They make up 25% of the work force, a third of all government employees and 54% of college students. Still, Iranian women arelike women in much of the Arab worldforbidden to travel overseas without the permission of their husband or father, though the rule is rarely enforced in Iran. Gender reforms are slow and hardfought. In 1999 the Emir of Kuwait, Sheik jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, issued a decree for the first time giving women the right to vote in and stand for election to the Kuwaiti parliament, the only lively Arab legislature in the Persian Gulf Conser vatives in parliament, however, blocked its implementation. In addition, the leg islature has voted to segregate the sexes at Kuwait University. Morocco's gov ernment has proposed giving women more marriage and property rights and a primary role in developmental efforts, but fundamentalists are resisting the measures. Muslim women are starting to score political victories, including election to office. In Syria 26 of the 250 members of parliament are female. In Iraq the num bers are 19 out of 250. Four Muslim countries have been or are currently led by women. In Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, they rose to prominence on the coattails of deceased fathers or hus bands. But Turkey's Tansu Ciller, Prime Minister from 1993 to 1995, won entirely on her own. Turkey is an exception to many rules. Women in Turkey are the most liberated in the Muslim world, though Malaysia and Indonesia come close, having hosted relatively progressive cul tures before Islam came to Southeast Asia in the 9th century. In Turkish pro fessional life women enjoy a level of im portance that is impressive not only by the standards of other Islamic countries but also by European lights. Turkey's liberalism is a legacy of the republic's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, an aggressive secularist who gave women rights unprecedented in the Muslim world (even if he found it hard to accept women as equals in his own life). Last week the Turkish parliament went a step further by reforming family law. Previously, a man was the head of the household, able to make unilateral decisions conceming children. No more. The law also establishes community property in marriages and raises the marriageable age of girls from 15 to 18. Around the Islamic world, women are scoring other victories, small and large. Iran's parliament recently compromised with conservative clerics to allow a single young woman to study abroad, albeit with her father's permission. Bangladesh passed legislation increasing the punishments for crimes against women, including rape, kidnapping and acid attacks. Egypt has banned female circumcision and made it easier for women to sue for divorce. In Qatar women have the right to participate in municipal elections and are promised the same rights in firstever parliamentary balloting scheduled to take place by 2003. Bahrain has assured women voters and candidates that they wfll be included in new elections for its suspended parliament. Saudi Arabia, the chief holdout, has at least pledged to start issuing ID cards to women. Today the only legal evidence of a Saudi woman's existence is the appearance of her name on her husband's card. If she gets divorced, her name goes on her father's card; if he's dead, her brother's; and if she has no brother, the card of her closest male relative, even if she scarcely knows him. Manar, 35, a Riyadh translator, thinks ID cards for women will make a real difference. "As long as you are a follower, you cannot have a separate opinion, you cannot be outspoken," she says. "Once you have a separate identity, then other things will come." For most Muslim women, there are many things left to come.

MALAYSIA Malaysian women, who make up half that country's university students, are entering the professions In rising numbers. Women hold the offices al attorney general, central bank governor and trade minister. In two states ruled by fundamentalists, though, head coverings are required by law.

IRAN Though women's legal rights have been curtailed since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iranian society remains more progressive than its law. Near a ski lift in the Alborz Mountains, a woman lets her hair slip from the confines of her scarf. The ski resort no longer segregates the sexes

EGYPT Women in Egypt range from traditional to Westernized, though with the resurgence of Islam in recent decades, veils have become more common. A new law has made it easier for a woman to get a divorce, but she still cannot leave the country without her husband's permission

PAKISTAN Laws passed during an Islamization drive favor rapists and equate the testimony of one man to that of two women. Although Islam encourages education, most females are illiterate. Even within the confines of a women's univemity in Rawalpindi, these women coittinue to veil themselves

SAUDI ARABIA In the official subjugation of women, lt took the Taliban to outdo the Saudis. Women here are not allowed to drive cars or fly anywhere without perinission. They can work only In m~on from men and must cover themselves when In public or In the presence of the opposite sex

KASHMIR When Muslim women in Kashmir ignored a fundamentalist group's demand that they veil themselves from head to too, radicals began throwing acid in the faces of uncovered women. Local women quickly began covering themselves when out in public, at least for a time

by Hannah Slochlislamabad, Amanda Bowerl New York Andrew [email protected], Moonakshi GangulyINew Deihi, Scoff MacLoodI Riyadh, Azadeh MoavenilTehran, Amany Radwanl Calro, Maft ResslAmnian and Sinwn Robinsml Sana'a