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Kerry talks to Afghan women about gains

March 26, 2013 at 8:21 AM

KABUL, Afghanistan, March 26 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pledged support for Afghanistan's political and economic stability and gains for women once U.S. combat forces are withdrawn.

Taliban militants have burned girls' schools and threatened women in several regions of Afghanistan, despite the embrace of women's education and the commitment by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to enhance women's health and opportunities further, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Hassina Syed, who started a trucking and catering company, told Kerry Afghan women have opportunities now but expressed concern about security and the future.

It's a little bit [insecure]," she said. "I'm being polite to say a little bit."

Businesswomen who met with Kerry had specific requests, including better access to credit and government contracting set-asides for women-owned businesses.

While the United States said whatever role the Taliban play in Afghanistan's government after the 2014 pullout is a matter for Afghanistan to determine, the kind of foreign help the country will need likely will partially depend on safeguarding the gains women have made, the Post said.

In two days of talks, Kerry urged Karzai to help ensure fair elections to replace him next year, which Karzai has said is key to Afghanistan's future. On Tuesday, Kerry met with Afghan lawmakers, rights activists and the country's chief elections officer.

"You are engaged in a remarkable effort and the whole world is watching," Kerry told the lawmakers and others in brief remarks before reporters were sent out of the room.

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