Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, first appointed by the White House to oversee Afghanistan and later elected as president in December 2004, will not seek a second term.
Less than one year after the United States declared the end to Taliban rule in Afghanistan, President Karzai said that his vision was for a "modern state that builds on our Islamic values, promoting justice, rule of law, human rights and freedom of commerce, and forming a bridge between cultures and civilizations."
President Karzai said that Afghanistan would become a model of tolerance and prosperity based upon the rich heritage of the Islamic civilization, on 12 September 2002, but in the years following his original goal, the president has softened his view on the state of affairs.
In July 2006, President Karzai said, "There is corruption in the whole system" of Afghanistan. He admits to underestimating opium production - a product that accounts for one third of the economy. The 49-year-old President Karzai blamed the international community for not supporting his goals.
Also in July, President Karzai re-introduced what is called the "vice and virtue department," a law up for Parliament review in the next two weeks. The vice and virtue department under Taliban rule became a notorious symbol of arbitrary abuse against Afghanistan's women and girls. Women and men were beaten or killed in public settings. Women were beaten for wearing socks that were not sufficiently opaque; showing their wrists, hands, or ankles; and not being accompanied by a close male relative.
While details of President Karzai's vice and virtue proposal have not been released, women's rights advocates claim that at the very least -- naming the department as such was a poor choice. Cabinet members have led the press to believe that Afghanistan's new vice and virtue department would only be used to uphold moral values of society and require those who offend society to visit their local Mosque for counseling.
The White House has not yet commented on the vice and virtue proposal or the recent humanitarian reports showing that women in Afghanistan remain and underclass. In the past four years, both President George W Bush and First Lady Laura Bush have specifically praised efforts made to free women in Afghanistan society. President Bush in particular made women's rights in Afghanistan his "cornerstone of all United States' humanitarian efforts in the region."
President Bush declared on 9 May 2003 that "the days when women were beaten in streets and executed in soccer fields are over." Two years prior to the president's comments, the First Lady declared on 17 November 2001 that due to "recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment."
On 7 August 2006 the first parliamentarians' resource center was opened in Kabul, Afghanistan, to support those women members of Parliament. The center was established by the Parliament and UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) and will give women leaders the tools and the base they need to influence the political agenda in a world dominated by men.
The center has a library; computer room, with internet access; a media room; an area for members to exchange ideas while drinking tea; and a conference rooms for meetings with their constituents and key players from political and the wider civil society.
Some 20 women members of Parliament attended the opening ceremony.
Meryem Aslan, director of UNIFEM, said, "The center will allow women to network amongst themselves and with members of provincial councils and civil society and debate the issues of the day in an environment focused on mutual support."
Under Afghanistan's new constitution, 25 percent of the seats in the legislature are reserved for women.
However there is a great divide of women's rights outside of the city of Kabul itself. What has remained consistent since the elections of 2004 is that no additional progress has been made for women in Afghanistan outside of Kabul.
The United States' State Department released its first report on 28 February 2005 citing that women in Afghanistan continued to be raped, beaten, and kidnapped on a large scale. Precise numbers were impossible to tabulate as victims of rape in Afghanistan are stigmatized the report noted. Women are frequently prosecuted for the rapes and sexual assaults committed against them, because in Afghanistan, being raped constitutes the crime of "zina," or unlawful sexual intercourse.
A second report, released on 14 August 2006, by UNIFEM noted that domestic violence against women in Afghanistan appears endemic, and that attacks against women take place with impunity.
In a study of more than 1,300 cases reported to authorities between January 2003 and June 2005, violence against women --whether sexual, physical or psychological-- affects all branches of Afghanistan society, regardless of the woman's marital status or her level of education or employment. Aslan said that local women seeking help from violence need improved access to public services, given that the traditional support structure for women --the family-- is often the source of the violence.
"I would guess if Afghanistan progresses better economically, and women and men in this country get a better economic situation, women will at least be able to seek help more easily," she said. Family members (husband, father-in-law, son, cousin) perpetrate the crime against a woman in more than 80 percent of all cases. Women themselves committed 10 percent of the violent crime.
In a classic example of how society has not changed enough, Aslan described how village elders ruled that a 6-year-old girl --who had been promised in marriage to an older man shortly before he died-- should be given for marriage to one of the man's relatives instead.
Aslan said there are limited attempts to tackle violence against women and scant statistics due to the social stigma associated with reporting. Afghanistan lacks safe houses for victims of domestic violence in the cities of Kabul, Herat, and Mazar-e-Sharif and desperately needs legal aid programs, she said.
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