Afghan Red Crescent Society Graduates Female Health Care Volunteers

Fifty-nine women graduated Monday from a health care course offered by the Afghan Red Crescent Society a significant step for a nation where women had been banned from education under the radical Taliban regime and where medical care is sorely deficient.

Monday's graduates from the Afghan Red Crescent Society's course in basic health care are all teachers who are expected to go back to their villages or neighborhoods and teach other women health care practices such as the necessity of childhood vaccines or how to treat children suffering from diarrhea, a leading killer of children in Afghanistan.

Except for one class of 25 women taught in secret under the Taliban, the Afghan Red Crescent Society had not been allowed to train women in Afghanistan since the Taliban took power in 1996. The teacher of that class was arrested by the Taliban and threatened with prison for educating women, said Grethe Ostern of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which helped lead the seminars.

The women — 32 in the capital of Kabul and 27 in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif — will join 10,000 male volunteers already working in the country to help in first-aid.

"We women should be able to serve our country and we should be able to help out in this time of distress," said Yasemin Yusifzai, the newly appointed second vice president of the Afghan Red Crescent Society. She is the only woman in a leadership role in the organization. "It is time for women to step forward."

Under the Taliban, women were barred from working except in health care. None of the teachers who attended the course was able to work until the collapse of the Taliban rule in the capital in November.

Each graduate on Monday received a certificate and a first aid kit with bandages and other supplies.

In other developments:

• Afghanistan's interim president, Hamid Karzai, reopened his country's embassy in the United Arab Emirates Monday, the official Emirates News Agency reported. Karzai raised Afghanistan's flag in a hotel in the capital Abu Dhabi in the presence of Emirates Foreign Ministry officials. The Emirates was one of only three countries to have diplomatic relations with the hard-line Taliban and cut them off soon after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. The other two countries were Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

• German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping headed for Kabul on Monday to visit German troops taking part in the Afghan protection force and inspect an air base along the way that the Germans are setting up in neighboring Uzbekistan.

• The World Health Organization is using donkeys and helicopters to distribute emergency medical supplies to remote parts of Afghanistan where basic health care is woefully inadequate.