06/16/2011, 00.00
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Afghanistan, worst place for women

by Ashraf Zamani
An expert study concludes the country is the most dangerous place for women after the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan and India. AsiaNews experts disagree, saying changes are taking place.
Kabul (AsiaNews) – Widespread violence, lack of health care and poverty make Afghanistan the worse country in the world for women, this according to a study by the Thomson-Reuters Foundation. However, AsiaNews sources do not share such a negative view.

The study, based on interviews with 213 experts from around the world, indicates that Afghanistan tops a list of five worst nations, ahead of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia. The inclusion of India has raised eyebrows given its great economic development; however, widespread female foeticide and the nation’s sex trade explain its low ranking.

The survey was compiled to mark the launch of a website, TrustLawWoman, aimed at providing free legal advice to women's groups.

High maternal mortality rates, limited access to doctors and a "near total lack of economic rights" render Afghanistan such a threat to its female inhabitants. "Continuing conflict, NATO air strikes and cultural practices combine to make Afghanistan a very dangerous place for women," Antonella Notari, head of Women Change Makers, said.

Sources tell AsiaNews that in the case of Afghanistan many factors have to be taken into account. Even so, the status of women has improved in recent years.

“In Kabul, women wear the veil, but fewer women wear the burqa,” an expert said. “Women drive vehicles, which is banned in many Muslim countries.”

“It is true that getting proper medical care is hard, but the problem is widespread,” and “it is worst in the small towns and villages,” the source said.

“Since the war continues, I think that the situation is bad for everyone, and that it is not worse for women than for others.”

“Girls go to school and learn, and their families agree to send them,” another source said. “Some mullahs are opposed, but families don’t listen to them. We have women doctors and lawyers. Many other teachers and 27 per cent of Members of Parliament are women. Three are cabinet ministers. In short, there has been a lot of progress compared to the Taliban regime.

“Of course, the situation is worse in villages and in areas under Taliban influence. Abuses against women are normal in the villages and families force girls to marry whom they choose. The number of young women who commit suicide after suffering abuse is high. But we must remember that under Taliban rule, women had no rights. Now we must work to give them the dignity they deserve.”

Still, the path is still long. “Pakistan has some of the highest rates of dowry murder, so-called honour killings and early marriage,” said Divya Bajpai, health adviser at the International HIV/Aids Alliance. In fact, as many as 1,000 women and girls die in honour killings annually in that country.

The aforementioned study also noted that in India “there were three million prostitutes, of whom about 40 per cent were children".

Forced marriage is also frequent and up to 50 million girls are thought to be 'missing' over the past century due to female infanticide and foeticide because in many parts of India parents prefer to have boys rather than girls.

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