By Manjeet Kripalani
WOMEN'S RIGHTS. Locals distrust the Taliban, but they also remember the early days of their rule, when merchants could sell freely, and the streets were safe to walk. This new government has shown them no improvement. Children can't go to school because there's no security. Women still can't walk without the burqa, and schooling for girls is disapproved. Some people actually wouldn't mind if the Taliban returns, longing simply for safety.
Safety is one of the big concerns of the women at the conference that I'm attending, too. They also want Afghanistan's new constitution to ensure mandatory schooling for girls and equal rights of divorce, inheritance, and voting. And they want to get rid of the strict Islamic sharia law that says the evidence of one man is equal to the evidence of two women.
Most important, they want blasphemy laws that threaten a death sentence for women who won't wear the burqa to be abolished. This law is often twisted by extremist religious leaders to eliminate opposition. They also call for better security in advance of Afghan elections set for June, 2004. "If there's no security in our country, how can people participate in elections?" frets Afifa Azim, the director of Afghan Women's Network, a nongovernment organization in Kabul with 25,000 members.
LOCAL POLITICS. At the end of the three-day conference, the women -some quite educated and some illiterate came out with their own Bill of Rights, which they will soon present to their President. Perhaps they will get those rights. The Afg