By Zhou Xin
KABUL, Oct 3 (Reuters) - The vast majority of Afghan women are worried about a return to power of a Taliban-style government and over a third say the departure of foreign troops will make the country worse off, according to a survey released on Monday.
The survey of 1,000 Afghan women by charity ActionAid revealed a majority believed they were safer, and their lives had improved, since the Taliban were toppled from power.
If the hardline group took control of the country again it would put at risk a decade of gains made by women, it said, and some professionals including teachers, politicians and activists said they might be forced to leave the country.
The Taliban, which ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, was infamous for its strict laws marginalising women, that deprived them of the rights to work, study or move freely.
Afghanistan's constitution now stipulates that men and women have equal rights, but many independent agencies say women in the conservative country are still subject to widespread discrimination and oppression.
The survey, conducted by STATT Consulting and Awaz Women and Children's Welfare Organisation between June 26 and Aug. 15, sought women's opinions about living through a decade of war and the government's efforts to engage with the Taliban to find a peace settlement.
The London-based rights organisation said women were being excluded from the reconciliation process and warned their lack of involvement could undo gains made in the past 10 years and lead to more instability.
"Women are being frozen out of the process and are worried that their rights are being traded away for peace," Belinda Calaguas, ActionAid Director of Policy, said in a statement.
Of the 1,000 women surveyed in five provinces, 491 were from rural areas and 509 from urban centres. It found that 66 percent felt safer now than 10 years ago and 72 percent believed their lives had improved.
Despite such improvements, Afghanistan still has a high maternal mortality rate, with 1,400 deaths during childbirth for every 100,000 women, and a level of gender inequality that was one of the highest in the world, according to the latest data from the United Nations Development Program.
London-based charity Oxfam released a separate report on Monday calling for Afghanistan to promote better access to education, health and justice for women and boost the number of women working in state institutions and the justice system.
It echoed ActionAid's call for women to play a part in peace moves.
"The more that women feel involved in and committed to a political settlement which safeguards their rights, the more likely they are ... to promote changes in attitude and genuine reconciliation -- essential for a lasting peace," Oxfam said
Oxfam last week urged the international community to encourage Afghan police to recruit more women, because victims of physical, sexual or psychological abuse tended only to report the crimes to other women.
According to the interior ministry, there are 142,000 police officers in Afghanistan, of which 1,300 are women. President Hamid Karzai wants to have 5,000 policewomen on duty by the time NATO-led coalition troops leave. (Editing by Martin Petty)