Today's date:
Winter 2002


Time for Women's Rights to Return to Afghanistan

Mohamad Zahir Shah is the exiled king of Afghanistan. He was interviewed for NPQ by Rina Amiri, senior associate for research at Harvard's John F. Kennedy's School of Government.

Rome-Traditionally, women have played a significant role in our society, both in the rural as well as in the urban sectors. The women in Afghanistan are our mothers, sisters and daughters. Their active contribution is vital to the reconstruction of our country and no effort should be spared to be sure their rights are guaranteed today.

Women suffered a great deal under the Taliban, and their situation was very tragic. I am certain that in the future women will be able to regain the roles they once had. Our society remembers that women have had a strong position in our country. After all, the constitution of 1964 granted women the right to vote, to get an education and to work in a variety of professional positions in government, media, industry and particularly in public health.

In those days, we facilitated women's participation in the national development, but did not impose a policy on any group or individual. There were many choices for women, but they were not forced into any role. This is important, particularly in Afghanistan where we have a wide range of customs and traditions.

Afghanistan has been devastated by almost three decades of war and civil strife. We find ourselves in a situation where practically all our traditional institutions have been destroyed. However, we must strike a balance between our need for social change and progress, and the concerns of the traditional elements of our society. For change to take root, it must follow a steady course, and in each step it must be negotiated and accepted by our society as a whole in order to be truly anchored in our culture.

For now, the first concern is establishing security and the rule of law.

Without security, regardless of their legitimate rights, women will be fearful and will choose to remain in seclusion. We also need to create jobs enabling both men and women to have access to resources. An entire generation has been deprived of its basic rights to education and health care. Without education, progress cannot occur on the gender issue or any other matter.