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Despite progress Afghan women still subject to intimidation, violence - UN

Despite progress Afghan women still subject to intimidation, violence - UN

Despite progress in some sectors since the overthrow of the Taliban, intimidation and violence against Afghan women continue unabated in rural regions, according to a new report by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

But despite the challenges, the status of women and girls has advanced steadily and continues to give every sign of being irreversible, the report, entitled "The Situation of Women and Children in Afghanistan," adds. It notes that since the country's emergence from 24 years of conflict, women have gone from total denial of rights to participation in key institutions of reconstruction. One major change has been their re-emergence in urban areas with relatively better access to employment, healthcare and education.

But women's progress is determined by the complexities of Afghan society, the report notes, including patriarchal values and deeply ingrained traditions, and a lack of security across the country that impedes their advancement.

"Despite positive developments regarding women's rights, intimidation and violence by regional and local commanders against women continue unabated," the report says. "In many rural areas, especially in the more conservative tribal belt, the situation of women has not changed to any great extent since the removal of the Taliban. The prevalence of conservative attitudes limits the full, equal and effective participation of women in civil, cultural, economic, political and social life throughout the country at all levels of society."

The report highlights the work of the Ministry of Women's Affairs in advancing women's rights, but called for more efforts to repeal legislative measures that discriminate against women and girls in education, access to healthcare, employment and political participation.

Noting women's lack of access to skilled healthcare services, as well as food, water and shelter, the report says the UN system, in close cooperation with the Ministry of Health, has taken steps to tackle the high rates of maternal mortality, including access to skilled prenatal care, skilled birth attendants, education programmes on basic health issues, community information activities and emergency obstetric care.

Overall high illiteracy levels of women and girls continue to be one of the key obstacles to their full participation in society, the report says, but it notes that 30 per cent of the three million children who have returned to school since March 2002 were girls.