reference: BBC News: Afghan Women find New Freedom

dated: Tuesday, 13 November, 2001.

Afghan women find new freedom
By the BBC's Louise Hidalgo

The Northern Alliance has announced that women in Afghanistan can now go back to work, and girls can go to school - activities that were banned by the Taleban.

A statement issued in Kabul said all Afghan women had the right to pursue education and work in accordance with Islamic teaching and Afghanistan's honourable traditions.

And women in Kabul have already begun tearing off the veils they were forced to wear by the ruling militia.

The treatment of women was one of the issues for which the Taleban became most notorious.

The Northern Alliance, on the other hand, has made much of its record on women's rights. But has this just been anti-Taleban propaganda?

Living in fear

The Taleban always treated Kabul - a relatively sophisticated city - with great harshness. The religious police were particularly strict in the way they enforced their punishments.

For a woman failing to wear the all-encompassing cloak, the burqa, correctly, the penalty was a public flogging.

Yet even in the few areas of Afghanistan which, until a few days ago, the Northern Alliance controlled, most women still choose to wear the burqa. This is a deeply conservative - and patriarchal - culture.

But, unlike in Taleban areas, women say it is tradition - not government pressure - that has made them cover themselves from head to foot.

Limited opportunities

At least, though, under Northern Alliance control, women have been able to work, even if the jobs they have been able to choose from are limited - teaching, for example, or working as a midwife.

Under the Taleban, by contrast, women have been largely confined to their homes, squeezed out of every aspect of public life.

Already, people in the northern city of Mazaar-e-Sharif have been celebrating what they hope, with the arrival of the Northern Alliance, will be the re-opening of girls' schools, for the first time in three years.

It may be that most girls leave school in their early teens to get married. But at least, they say, more liberal families will have the choice to keep their older girls on in education. A fortunate few may even go onto university.