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Afghan government adviser turned refugee pushes women's rights

For years, Rahela Sidiqi risked her life to educate Afghan women and men living under the austere rule of the Taliban.

When the hardline Taliban seized power in 1996 they set about imposing conservative, tribal village codes of conduct across Afghanistan.

Women were forced to wear head-to-toe burqas, confined to their homes and beaten if discovered outside without a male relative. Girls were banned from school.

Many Afghans fled the country, seeking refuge in neighbouring states or the West. But Sidiqi stayed to continue helping women in her role at UN-Habitat in Afghanistan.

In 2006, Sidiqi worked as
 a senior adviser to the government, setting up gender units in each ministry.

Now a refugee living in Britain, she continues to support and encourage other Afghan
women.   "I have so much pain here," Sidiqi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview. "I am a refugee, I don't have...the access that I had in my country."

Yet the need to advocate for rights of women in her country drives her on, she said.

Reporting by Zabihullah Noori @ZNoori, Editing by Katie Nguyen. (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)