Afghan Women's Health And The Taleban

Source: Voice of America / 28-Aug-98 11:31 AM EDT (1531 UTC) NNNN

INTRO: THIS MONTH "THE JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION" PUBLISHED A SURVEY DOCUMENTING FOR THE FIRST TIME THE WIDESPEAD PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL SUFFERING INFLICTED ON WOMEN IN AFGHANISTAN BY THE TALEBAN REGIME. A MORE DETAILED REPORT WILL COME OUT AS A BOOK IN EARLY SEPTEMBER. VOA'S JUDITH LATHAM HAS TALKED WITH THE SENIOR MEDICAL RESEARCHER OF PHYSICIANS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS WHOSE INTERVIEWS WITH AFGHAN WOMEN IN KABUL AND PAKISTAN FORM THE BASIS FOR THIS HEALTH AND HUMAN RIGHTS SURVEY. HERE'S _____ WITH A REPORT.

TEXT: ZOHRA RASEKH'S [ZOR-AH RAH-SEK] REPORT PROVIDES THE FIRST-EVER OPPORTUNITY FOR A BROAD RANGE OF AFGHAN WOMEN TO EXPRESS THE CONCERNS THEY HAVE ABOUT BEING UNDER TALEBAN CONTROL. TALEBAN FORCES TOOK CONTROL OF KABUL IN SEPTEMBER 1996 AND IMPOSED NEW LAWS SEVERELY RESTRICTING FEMALE EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT, MOBILITY, AND HEALTH CARE. MS. RASEKH SAYS AFGHAN WOMEN NOW FACE A HOST OF HEALTH PROBLEMS THAT ARE DIRECTLY RELATED TO TALEBAN POLICIES.

TAPE: CUT ONE -- RASEKH (0:29)

"WE LOOKED AT PHYSICAL HEALTH, MENTAL HEALTH, REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH. AND WHAT WE FOUND, WHICH WAS VERY SHOCKING, WAS THE IMPACT THAT THE TALEBAN POLICIES IN THE PAST TWO YEARS THAT THEY HAVE BEEN IN KABUL, HAVE HAD ON MENTAL HEALTH. THE VAST MAJORITY OF OUR STUDY PARTICIPANTS SHOWED MAJOR DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, AND POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER."

TEXT: PHYSICIANS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS RESEARCHER ZOHRA RASEKH SAYS WOMEN IN AFGHAN SOCIETY USED TO PLAY A PROMINENT ROLE IN THE HEALTH PROFESSIONS, GOVERNMENT, AND TEACHING. BUT SHE SAYS THAT, SINCE THE TALEBAN TOOK CONTROL, WOMEN HAVE NOT BEEN ALLOWED TO WORK. MS. RASEKH SAYS SCHOOLS FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS HAVE BEEN CLOSED, EXCEPT FOR QUR'ANIC TRAINING FOR GIRLS UNDER EIGHT. SHE SAYS SHE TALKED WITH AFGHAN WOMEN WHO WERE BRUTALLY BEATEN FOR WALKING ON THE STREET WITHOUT A MALE CHAPERONE OR WITHOUT A "BURQA," A GARMENT THAT COVERS THEIR BODIES FROM HEAD TO TOE. MS. RAHSEKH SAYS WOMEN CANNOT OBTAIN HEALTH CARE FROM MANY FACILITIES, AND MALE DOCTORS ARE NOT ALLOWED TO CARE FOR WOMEN UNLESS THEY ARE ACCOMPANIED BY A MALE CHAPERONE.

TAPE: CUT TWO -- RAHSEKH (0:19)

"EVEN IF THEY WERE ACCOMPANIED BY A MALE CHAPERONE, THEIR TREATMENT WAS VERY LIMITED. THEY WERE NOT ALLOWED TO TREAT WOMEN AS A DOCTOR IS SUPPOSED TO TREAT A PATIENT. THEY HAD TO EXAMINE THEM THROUGH THEIR CLOTHING. IF THERE WAS SURGERY NEEDED, THAT WAS NOT AN OPTION -- FOR A FEMALE PATIENT TO BE OPERATED ON BY A MALE DOCTOR."

TEXT: MS. RAHSEKH SAYS THIS PROBLEM IS COMPOUNDED BECAUSE MANY FEMALE DOCTORS AND NURSES HAVE ALREADY LEFT AFGHANISTAN BECAUSE OF THE RESTRICTIONS THE TALEBAN IMPOSED ON THEM. AND, THERE ARE FEW SPECIALISTS SUCH AS SURGEONS OR OBSTETRICIANS AND GYNOCOLOGISTS. ZOHRA RAHSEKH SAYS, IF AN AFGHAN WOMAN NEEDS MAJOR SURGERY, SHE HAS TO GO TO PAKISTAN, AND MANY CANNOT AFFORD THE TRIP. ACCORDING TO HER RESEARCH WITH PHYSICIANS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, GETTING ADEQUATE MATERNITY CARE IS A MAJOR PROBLEM, AND PRENATAL AND POST-NATAL CARE ARE ALSO VERY POOR. MS. ROSEKH SAYS ONE HOSPITAL IN KABUL HAS BEEN DESIGNATED AS A MATERNITY HOSPITAL, ALTHOUGH WOMEN ARE SOMETIMES ALLOWED TO USE OTHER HOSPITALS WHEN THEY ARE HAVING BABIES.

TAPE: CUT THREE -- RAHSEKH (0:48)

"IN ONE OF THE HOSPITALS THAT DOES ACCEPT WOMEN AND DOES DELIVERIES THERE, WOMEN DELIVERED ON THE FLOOR. THAT'S HOW POOR THE CONDITION IS FOR WOMEN. I WAS IN THE ONLY MATERNITY HOSPITAL, AND WHAT I SAW IN ONE OF THE ROOMS I WENT IN [WAS] TWO PATIENTS WERE LYING DOWN IN ONE BED AND THESE WERE TWO WOMEN WHO HAD COMPLICATIONS, AND ONE WOMAN WAS BLEEDING AND WAITING FOR HER UNBORN CHILD TO DIE BECAUSE SHE COULD NOT AFFORD AN ANTIGEN FOR AN R-H INCOMPATABILITY. IT WAS SO SAD SEEING HER LYING THERE IN THE HOSPITAL, AND THERE WAS NOTHING THAT COULD BE DONE FOR HER."

TEXT: ZOHRA RAHSEKH SAYS THAT AFGHAN WOMEN WHO ONCE WORKED AND CONTRIBUTED TO THE SUPPORT OF THEIR FAMILIES HAVE BECOME DESTITUTE. IN KABUL, SHE ADDS, ABOUT 40,000 WIDOWS HAVE PUT ON THEIR 'BURKAS' TO GO BEG ON THE STREETS, JUST TO FEED THEMSELVES AND THEIR CHILDREN.

TAPE: CUT FOUR -- RAHSEKH (0:18)

"THEY WERE MISERABLE. MOST OF THEM HAD SOLD THEIR HOUSEHOLD ITEMS. BEGGING WAS A MAJOR VOCATION FOR WOMEN. IT WAS PART OF THE SOCIETY. I SAW HALF OF THE KABUL POPULATION OUT ON THE STREET BEGGING, FROM MEN TO WOMEN TO CHILDREN OF ALL AGES."

TEXT: MORE THAN 70 PERCENT OF THE PARTICIPANTS IN THE PHYSICIANS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS SURVEY REPORTED A DECLINE IN THEIR PHYSICAL HEALTH OVER THE PAST TWO YEARS, MS. RAHSEKH SAYS. AND, A MAJORITY OF THE AFGHAN WOMEN DESCRIBED OCCASIONS WHERE THEY WERE SERIOUSLY ILL AND UNABLE TO SEEK MEDICAL CARE. ZOHRA RASEKH SAYS AN AFGHAN PHYSICIAN REPORTED DECLINING NUTRITION IN CHILDREN, AN INCREASING RATE OF TUBERCULOSIS, AND A HIGH PREVALENCE OF OTHER INFECTIOUS DISEASES AMONG WOMEN AND CHILDREN. SHE SAYS MALE DOCTORS' ACCESS TO SICK CHILDREN WITHIN WOMEN'S HOSPITALS IS SEVERELY CURTAILED, LEADING TO UNNECESSARY DEATH.

RESEARCHER ZOHRA RASEKH SAYS THE TALEBAN'S RESTRICTIONS DEPRIVING HALF THE POPULATION OF JOBS, SCHOOLING, MOBILITY, AND HEALTH CARE ARE LITERALLY "LIFE-THREATENING" TO AFGHAN WOMEN AND THEIR CHILDREN. THE REPORT OF PHYSICIANS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS URGES THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TO CONSIDER WAYS THAT THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE "VAST DEGRADATION OF WOMEN AND GIRLS IN AFGHANISTAN" BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE BEFORE THE WORLD FOR HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS. AMONG ITS MANY RECOMMENDATIONS IS THAT AFGHAN WOMEN WHO FLEE PERSECUTION BY THE TALEBAN BE DESIGNATED AS "REFUGEES."

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