Afghan Women Continue to Suffer - Where is the Liberating Bush Administration?
"In Afghanistan, young girls go to school and women serve in government because America helped liberate the Afghan people."
-Laura Bush, speaking on International Women's Day, March 7, 2006
Afghanistan's notorious Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which was set up by the Taliban to enforce bans on women doing anything from working to wearing nail varnish or laughing out loud, is to be re-created by the government in Kabul.
The decision has provoked an outcry among women and human rights activists who fear a return to the days when religious police patrolled the streets, beating or arresting any woman who was not properly covered by a burqa or accompanied by a male relative.
"This is a very bad idea at a bad time," said Sam Zia-Zarifi, the Asia research director of Human Rights Watch. "We’re close to the edge in Afghanistan. It really could all go wrong and it is alarming that the United Nations and western governments are not speaking out on this issue."
"They haven't even bothered to change the name," said Malalai Joya, a courageous female MP whose outspokenness means she has to travel with bodyguards and move every day because of threats to her life. Joya, 28, was physically attacked in parliament in May after she criticised warlords.
"The situation for women in Afghanistan has not improved," she said. "People in the outside world say Afghan women don't have to wear burqas any more and yes, it's true that in some provinces like Kabul, Jalalabad and Herat, women can go outside without a burqa.
"They can go and work in offices, and we have 68 women MPs. But more and more women are wearing burqas because of the lack of security. Look at the high rate of suicide among our women -- Afghan women prefer to die than live because there is no security.
"In my opinion what we have in power under the mask of democracy are the brothers of Taliban -- fundamentalists, warlords and drug lords," she added. "Our country is under the shadow of their black hands. They are against women and re-creating the [department] is proof of this."