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An unseen burqa revolution

Gains among women in Muslim nations, while still uneven, are important to recognize.

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Every year brings progress for women's rights in Muslim nations, though the advances are often obscured by smoke from explosive news reports suggesting the opposite.

This spring, black billows literally rose from Pakistani girls' schools – burned by the Taliban. A new Afghan law that amounts to sanctioned marital rape of Shiite women brought loud protests from NATO countries.

In Arab countries, women have the world's lowest political participation rate and high rates of illiteracy.

But this is not the whole story. That is why it's so important to recognize victories large and small – from the women who gained 25 percent of the seats in Iraq's provincial elections Jan. 31, to the two Palestinian women in the West Bank who appear to be the first female judges in the Middle East.

In Pakistan, the public has turned against the Taliban's harsh and extreme interpretation of Islam. Apparently one factor was a widely circulated video showing the public flogging of a young girl. As the Pakistani Army fights the Taliban, remember that this Muslim country twice elected a woman as prime minister – the late Benazir Bhutto. In the past 20 years, female premiers have led Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim country), Bangladesh, and Turkey.

More recently, Freedom House, which tracks liberties around the world, found that six Persian Gulf countries all advanced women's economic, political, and legal rights from 2004 through last year.

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