Afghan women need the freedom to pursue more education and should not be forced into marriage, President Hamid Karzai told an audience of women during an International Women’s Day ceremony Saturday.
Karzai called on Afghan men and religious leaders to promote education for females, saying the country needed more female nurses and doctors. He also called for fewer childhood marriages, a common practice in Afghanistan’s countryside.
“I call on all religious leaders to advise all the people to stop violence against women, to stop child marriages and forced marriages as well,” Karzai told several hundred women gathered in a high school auditorium in Kabul.
Karzai also urged Afghan families to stop using young women as currency. Family disputes in Afghanistan – particularly in the more conservative countryside – are sometimes solved by one family giving a daughter to another family.
He also called for an end to child marriages, another common practice in some conservative provinces.
“How can a father accept with his heart to marry his 15-year-old child with a 60 year-old-man?” Karzai said. “Again, I call on the people, they shouldn’t give their daughters for money, they shouldn’t give them to old men, and they shouldn’t give them in forced marriages.”
In the southern city of Kandahar, several hundred women – most wearing the all-encompassing burqa that most women in Afghanistan wear – met at the Kandahar Women’s Association headquarters.
Rona Tarin, the organization’s director, noted the hardships that Afghan women face – little education, forced marriages and childhood weddings.
“We want to give our message to all the Western women,” she said. “Afghan women are facing a lot of problems. Women should have a right to education. We want to work shoulder to shoulder with men.”
Under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, Afghan women could not leave the house without a male relative and were banned from going to school. Although millions of Afghan girls are now in class and women can again walk the streets by themselves, most women still wear a burqa and most do not enjoy the same rights as males.
Rovina Jan, a 35-year-old woman who participated in another Women’s Day event in Kandahar, said she had to sneak out of the house to attend the program.
“A lot of women came down here without permission from their husbands, because we knew if we told the men why we wanted to leave the house, they wouldn’t let us,” she said.
Source: Associated Press – 8 March 2008