Afghanistan Prepares to Debate Constitution; Women’s Rights Lacking

This week, delegates from all of Afghanistan’s 32 provinces are voting to select the 500 members of the loya jirga (general assembly) that will debate the country’s draft constitution. Despite the fact that there will be separate elections are being held for women, nomads, refugees, and minority groups, who have a limited number of seats reserved for them, few women have come forward in the rural provinces as candidates, according to the Washington Post. In some cases, women candidates are being sent threatening letters, and other women say that officials are discouraging them from participating, according to the Post.

The loya jirga is scheduled to begin on December 10, and debate over the draft constitution is expected to be intense. Women’s and human rights advocates are concerned that the constitution lacks essential rights protections for women’s rights. For example, it lacks language that women’s rights and human rights advocates had urged explicitly defining “citizens” as both women and men and leaves women’s rights in many areas vulnerable to interpretation of Islam. In addition, the current version of the constitution does not contain language to protect women from forced marriage, early marriage, or protect women’s property rights. Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), urges the loya jirga to adopt provisions to the constitution that would guarantee “women’s right to work under fair and just conditions,” “equal access to education and health care,” “access to gender-specific health services,” and that the term “female-headed households” should be used in the text in place of “women without caretakers,” according to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, the lack of security in Afghanistan was highlighted last night when a rocket exploded near the US Embassy in Afghanistan hours after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld left the country after a short visit, according to the Chicago Tribune. Rumsfeld was in Afghanistan to strategize about improving security in advance of the upcoming election in June. One suggestion he offered was to have NATO take over some of the US-led coalition duties, which is seen as possibly an attempt to allow US troops to leave the country, according to the Tribune.

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Washington Post 12/4/03; New York Times 12/3/03, 12/5/03; Chicago Tribune 12/5/03; Feminist Daily News Wire

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