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Cablegate: Afghans, International Community Mark Women's Day

VZCZCXRO1441
OO RUEHIK RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #0620/01 0711328
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 111328Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3207
INFO RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 000620

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/FO, SCA/A, SCA/PPD, S/CRS, S/CT, EUR/RPM, INL/CIVPOL,
INR/R/MR, STATE FOR NSC WOOD, OSD FOR SHIVERS, CENTCOM FOR CSTC-A,
CG CJTF-82, POLAD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO PGOV PREL PHUM AF
SUBJECT: AFGHANS, INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY MARK WOMEN'S DAY

1) SUMMARY: Afghans and the international community marked
International Women's Day with speeches, demonstrations, and marches
across Afghanistan. At a rally in a Kabul high school auditorium
organized by the Ministry of Women's Affairs, President Hamid Karzai
called on men and religious leaders to promote education for women
and to end the practices of child marriage and using women as
currency. The U.S. Embassy issued several grants and held a lunch
attended by more than 60 Afghan female activists and leaders,
including the Minister of Women's Affairs. Still, many
editorialists argued that women continue to face violence and
discrimination and predicted that to change this would take
considerable time. END SUMMARY

2) President Karzai took the lead in marking International Women's
Day at a rally of several hundred women held in a Kabul high school
gymnasium on March 8. Karzai, who was joined by Minister of Women's
Affairs Husn Banu Ghazanfar and other female officials, called on
men and religious leaders to promote female education. According to
press reports, Karzai said that Afghanistan needed more female
nurses and doctors. He also urged Afghan families to stop child
marriages and using females as currency. "I call on the people," he
said, according to press reports, "they shouldn't give [girls] to
old men and they shouldn't give them in forced marriages."

3) Elsewhere in Kabul, Fatana Ishaq Gailani, the chairwoman of the
Afghanistan Women's Association, hosted a seminar at the Ministry of
Information and Culture, and the Massoud Foundation held an event
marking the day. The United Nations Assistance Mission to
Afghanistan (UNAMA) hosted a festival at the Kabul Women's Garden
that included a film on the lives of Afghan women, a mini-circus,
and a play advocating increased investment in Afghan women.

4) In Kandahar, several hundred women marched to the Kandahar
Women's Association, according to media reports. The director of
the association, Rona Tarin, told the Associated Press, "We want to
give our message to all the Western women. Afghan women are facing a
lot of problems. Women should have a right to education. We want
to work shoulder to shoulder with men." In the north, according to
UNAMA, women toured provincial capitals holding public meetings on
"Giving Women Voices," with the participation of provincial
governors, women's councils, local police, judges and religious
leaders.

5) In Western Farah Province, the Provincial Reconstruction Team
(PRT) held a special women's shura, which attracted approximately 30
participants, including a female police major and many nursing
students. Looking ahead to the next five years, the women said they
dreamed of having a university in Farah, more females in government,
better educational opportunities for females, factories where women
could work, and a park for women. Commenting on the recent spate of
self-immolation occurring among young women in Farah (64 over the
past 2 months), they said women in Farah needed better information
on their rights and a women's shelter where they could also receive
vocational training.

6) In Eastern Khost Province, approximately 500 women and girls
attended a ribbon cutting ceremony at a new PRT-funded women's park
in central Khost. The event included speeches by local provincial
leaders and the head of the women's shura. A prominent Khost mullah
noted that women's rights are human rights in Islam, and stressed
the importance of education. Some women at the event informally
urged the government to do more to protect girls at schools, and
noted that while women in central Khost had opportunities, those in
remote areas still suffered from lack of resources and traditional
cultural biases.

7) Also in the east, the Kunar Province Department of Women's
Affairs hosted an event at Fatima Girls' High School in the
provincial capital Asadabad on March 8. Approximately 150 women and
50 men attended. The Governor, the PRT and UNAMA helped support the
event, while ISAF donated scarves, bowls, cooking pots, school
backpacks, and volleyballs to be given to 50 widows identified by
the Provincial Council, and as awards to high-achieving teachers.
Men filled the first three rows of the audience and women attendees
were unable to remove their burkas due to the presence of media and
cameras. Messages from the various speakers were relatively vague,
including a smattering of slogans like "stop violence against
women," and "recognize the woman's role in your household." Because
of the structure of the event and the presence of men and women
together, senior female leaders--provincial council members,
headmistresses of schools, etc.--seemed reticent speak or

KABUL 00000620 002 OF 002


participate, according to the PRT officer.

8) The U.S. Embassy hosted a lunch for more than 60 prominent female
educators, civil society activists, and officials from the Ministry
of Women's Affairs, including the present and former ministers.
Noted Afghan female singer Baseera Hilay performed for the occasion.
The Embassy also gave out several grants totaling nearly $30,000
USD for the training of female journalists in radio production and
media management and for remote English language instruction between
Afghan and American NGOs. The Embassy also hosted a three-way
digital video conference between female civil society activists from
the U.S., Tajikistan, and Afghanistan to discuss women's issues and
the role of women in their respective societies.

9) Many Kabul editorialists marked March 8 with newspaper columns.
Most, however, focused on the daily violence and oppression still
faced by women and the long road ahead in their struggle for
equality. Pro-government Erada daily, in a March 8 editorial,
opined, "Despite a lot of changes which have occurred in the lives
of women as a result of efforts made by Afghan women and the
international community, there are a lot of challenges and obstacles
which Afghan women are facing now, and government officials have not
been able to bring a tangible change in these matters. The majority
of government officials who possess key positions within the
government do not believe in women's rights."

10) Hasht-e-Subh, an independent secular daily, wrote, "The woman's
identity has remained limited to the roles of sisters or, at best,
mothers, with no right to step out of the house and show their
capabilities to the patriarchal societies. The women's identity
remains limited to being machines for giving birth and raising
children... Those women who dared to break the chains and reveal
their talent and capabilities to the rest of society were forced by
the men to remain interdicted and silent. Finally, we can say that
the proclamation of International Women's Day is marked by women,
who remain subservient to men, every year as a symbolic event, and
then the women remain forgotten for the remaining 364 days of the
year."

WOOD

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