In Afghanistan it is critical to sustain and deepen women’s rights, says UN Women official
Date: 28 October 2013
During his first visit to Afghanistan from 4-7 October, UN Women Deputy Executive Director John Hendra met with several national and international officials as well as civil society representatives to discuss advancing women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality in Afghanistan. As preparations for international troops’ withdrawal next year and national elections gear up, he emphasized the need for greater political and economic empowerment of Afghan women and to safeguard gains in women’s rights.
Mr. Hendra commended achievements over the past decade such as the Afghan Constitution, which enshrines equality between men and women; the fact that women make up 28 per cent of the National Assembly; the country’s signing of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) without reservations; the enactment of its own law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) and the fact that 2.7 million girls are now attending school, which was not allowed under Taliban rule.
Yet, many serious gaps remain and there are concerns about regression of women’s rights and opportunities in Afghanistan. In meetings with the Parliament, Ministry of Women Affairs, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and other stakeholders, he urged the full implementation of the EVAW law, increases in women’s participation in peace processes, maximizing women’s participation as voters and candidates in the upcoming elections and ensuring women’s economic empowerment in rural and urban areas.
“While I have only been in this country for a short time, there are certainly serious concerns,” said Mr. Hendra. “One is clearly the very high levels of violence against women and girls. Secondly, the series of targeted killings against senior female journalists and senior female government officials, and that is of great concern. And thirdly, to ensure that there will be much more focus on women’s political and economic empowerment.”
Afghanistan is currently gearing up for Presidential and Provincial Council elections scheduled for April 2014. A total of 27 candidates, including one woman, have registered to run for the Presidency. Each of these candidates has running mates for two vice-presidential posts, and eight are women.
During his four-day visit, Mr. Hendra also traveled to the central province of Parwan, where UN Women supports an Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Centre run by the provincial Directorate of Women Affairs. Opened in 2011, the key objective of the Women’s ICT Centre is to enable women’s economic participation by providing young girls with training in the English language and computer skills.
Mr. Hendra also met with Abdul Basir Salangi, the Provincial Governor of Parwan, who has been supportive of women’s participation in social and political life. “In one of the districts of Parwan there were only two girls enrolled in schools 12 years ago, but now there are as many as 10,000,” said the Governor, who is also the Chair of the Parwan Commission on Elimination of Violence against Women. He expressed the importance of tackling widespread violence against women and implementing the EVAW Law, for which Mr. Hendra offered UN Women’s full support.
Mr. Hendra also met with Afghan women activists and representatives of civil society organizations who briefed him about their achievements and especially the challenges they face ahead of elections and the reconciliation process.“UN Women should focus on the legal area in its support programmes to the Government, preventions against threats to women in public life and encourage the Government to create special measures for a safer environment,” said Najla Ayubi, a prominent Afghan women activist.
Underlining his deep admiration and respect for their courage and resilience, Mr. Hendra offered continued support of UN Women for their work which he said is “instrumental in bringing about the changes that Afghan women have experienced over the past decade.”
During the visit, Mr. Hendra participated in an international conference on Women, Peace and Security organized by the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul. In his speech, he reiterated that the peace process will not be successful without the full participation of women and youth. “To fail to achieve the empowerment and inclusion of women is, therefore, to fail Afghanistan,” he said.
Listen to Mr. Hendra's interview with UN Radio: