Women's inclusion in peace process critical for successful transition in Afghanistan: John Hendra

UN Women Deputy Executive Director John Hendra speaks at an International Conference on Women, Peace and Security at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kabul, on 5 October 2013


Excellency Deputy Minister for Women’s Affairs, Excellency Deputy Director High Peace Council, Excellencies, Ambassadors, Distinguished Guests, 

I’m very pleased to be here this morning, to participate in this important and timely conference, and I would like to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially Dr Tamanna and the Centre for Strategic Studies, for inviting me to participate. 

Afghanistan is at the latest of many critical junctures. A successful transition, and the creation of a sustainable peace, and real democracy for all Afghans - women and men, girls and boys, requires the full, ongoing and inclusive engagement of all actors, and in particular the women of Afghanistan. 

As you know, the seminal UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR), passed in 2000, clearly asserts that women’s leadership and the promotion of women’s rights are priorities for international peace and security. There are very good reasons for this.

First, research shows that societies that respect women’s rights are those that are less unequal, that have in place strong governance institutions which can ensure non-violent decision-making and fair distribution of public resources. Women’s rights and well-being, women’s equal participation in public decision-making, women’s access to jobs and to property rights, and women’s participation in peace building and reconciliation are, simply put, the best ways to invest in long-term peace. 

Secondly, research also shows that when women make up 30 per cent or more of the labour force, countries are highly unlikely to experience internal conflict or conflict across borders [1]. And similarly, when women are active in public life and when the numbers of women in political decision-making rise, there tends to be less corruption, and again, less violence [2].   

Yet unfortunately, around the world there continues to be still too little understanding or appreciation of the key role that women play in building sustainable peace. And women cannot do so when they are subject to violence, experience restricted mobility, are denied an education or are unable to access decent jobs. 

Despite the many challenges facing Afghanistan, the country has made very important and significant strides towards realizing women’s rights, under the leadership of the Afghan Government and with the persistent advocacy of civil society and women’s rights advocates. 

Equality between women and men is mandated in the Constitution. Special measures have resulted in a Parliament with 28 per cent representation of women.  And over the past decade approximately 2.5 million girls have returned to school. But in order to sustain these gains and bring about real and lasting peace, women must play a more active role in the peace and reconciliation process. Women must be leaders and drivers of peace building at the global, national and community level.  

UN Women works very closely with civil society and women’s organizations, and we have seen just how effective women can be in contributing to positive solutions. Examples include women’s participation as civil society actors in the January 2010 London conference on security in Afghanistan, and the 2012 Tokyo Conference for Afghanistan. We’ve also seen positive results garnered through women’s participation in key national decision-making and peace-building processes such as the National Consultative Peace Jirga where women were able to participate and speak about women’s rights in peace-building processes.

However, despite these gains, only nine of the 70 members of the High Peace Council are women. Physical safety and security, social and cultural values, illiteracy and financial resources all constrain women’s ability to participate in political and peace processes and limit their opportunity to influence these processes. 

Yet the struggle of Afghan women cannot be separated from the overall struggle of the Afghan nation to achieve lasting peace and stability. To fail to achieve the empowerment and inclusion of women is, therefore, to fail Afghanistan.

This is why the National Action Plan for Implementation of UNSCR 1325 that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is putting in place is so important, for which we as UN Women feel privileged to support together with the Government of Finland.

In short, UN Women’s mandate is to work with our partners to bring about enabling conditions under which women can realize their rights and contribute to national and global peace building. Within the UN system, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s Seven-point Action Plan on gender-responsive peace building is one of the main tools we use in this effort. 

The seven point action plan convenes actors in the UN system responsible for peace-building and sets targets for action in support of women’s peace building role. It calls for women’s participation in conflict resolution including through consultations with women’s groups to see what women want to get out of peace talks, and increased use of gender expertise by mediators. It calls for an increase across the board in the UN’s own spending on peace-building efforts that include women – requiring all of us to spend at least 15 per cent of our budgets on gender equality and promoting women’s empowerment in peace building contexts.  

It calls for legal aid to enable women to prosecute conflict-related abuses of their rights. And it calls for special measures to support women in political processes – including temporary special measures such as quotas and campaign support – to help more women get into decision-making.

Let me be clear about the importance of temporary special measures. There is a very striking difference between countries that have adopted gender quotas post-conflict, and those that have not. Without quotas, women have trouble securing more than 10 per cent of seats in national assemblies in post-conflict elections. But where quotas are in place, no matter at what level, we see women meeting the quotas, filling their seats, surpassing the level set by the quota, and delivering in their new roles. For example, in Rwanda, where there was a post-conflict quota, women actually exceeded the quota, and in last month’s elections, gained almost 64 per cent of the seats.  

UN Women is proud to have worked for many years with the Government of Afghanistan, with a particular focus on support to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, to have supported implementation of the National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA) and to now be working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to support elaboration of Afghanistan’s National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325.

As Afghanistan prepares for elections next April, UN Women, in partnership with the broader UN system, is committed to continue to support the Afghan people and Government to realize their aspirations for sustainable peace and development and to ensure that women’s rights and gender equality are at the heart of reconciliation and development in Afghanistan.

Looking forward, it’s vital that policy makers here and elsewhere and the international community include and listen to Afghan women. To do otherwise, is to neglect Afghanistan’s greatest resource for peace and development, and will inevitably jeopardize or even reverse recent gains. UN Women is committed to work with all of you to ensure that opportunities are seized, and that the gains made to date are not only preserved but deepened and accelerated.

Thank you for enabling me to be here this morning. I wish you very productive discussions on ensuring a strong role for women in peace and security in Afghanistan.  

[1] See UN Women’s 2012 study: ‘Women working for recovery: The impact of female employment on family and community welfare after conflict’.

[2] This evidence is amassed in Chapter 4 of Valerie Hudson et al: ‘Sex and World Peace’, Columbia University Press 2012.