Afghan Minister Calls for More Protections for Women

Afghanistan (search)'s draft constitution does not do enough to guarantee women's rights in the conservative Muslim nation, a Cabinet minister said Sunday.

Mahbuba Hoquqmal (search), the State Minister of Women's Affairs, said the constitution should grant protection to women's property rights, ensure that women cannot be forced to marry without their consent and offer better guarantees of equal treatment by Afghanistan's courts.

"We're at a critical stage," Hoquqmal told reporters. "Women's rights are something to be taken. If the government doesn't give them, then women have to claim them themselves."

Hoquqmal led a 20-member group that has devised suggested changes to the draft constitution that the government presented last week.

A grand council, or loya jirga (search), of some 500 delegates is scheduled to meet next month to consider the proposed constitution.

The government of President Hamid Karzai (search), which was installed after a U.S.-led coalition ousted the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001, set aside 100 loya jirga seats for women. More women are likely to take part in the council after winning freely contested seats, officials said.

The draft version of the constitution would set aside a number of seats in the new legislature for women. It also calls on the government to promote the education of women -- a practice that was banned under the five-year Taliban regime.

But Suraya Subhrang, Hoquqmal's deputy, said the draft should have gone further, for example using the term "men and women" where it now says "citizens."

"Some men don't know that there is such a thing as women's rights, and they don't even see their wives as citizens of Afghanistan," Subhrang said.

Among the changes suggested by Hoquqmal's group is a sentence that would be added to the 12-point preamble specifying that Afghans have adopted the constitution with the aim of "securing equal rights for women and men and eliminating all forms of discrimination and violence against women."

The group also says that two women, rather than one, should represent each province in the lower house, and that the law should guarantee them representation in provincial assemblies and local councils.

Hoquqmal refused to speculate on whether next month's loya jirga would accept the changes.

"We don't think that it's too late. Whenever recommendations are positive, a few minutes is enough to bring changes," she said.