Coverage: UN Women Executive Director in Afghanistan
Date: Tuesday, July 26, 2016
From 18-21 July, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka met with high-level government officials, civil society organizations, partners, donors and women survivors of violence during her first official visit to Afghanistan. Women’s participation in peace and security processes, and ending violence against women were topics high on the agenda for discussions.
On the first day of her visit, the Executive Director participated in high-level meetings, starting with the President, Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, and the First Lady, Rula Ghani. All emphasized that achieving gender equality is a priority at the highest levels of the Government and that UN Women stands alongside the Government to support efforts to empower Afghanistan’s women and girls.
The meeting with Minister of Women’s Affairs, Delbar Nazari, and her team was an opportunity for the Executive Director to reiterate UN Women’s support for the Ministry’s activities and to look more closely at specific areas of collaboration.
Later that day, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka also met women’s human rights defenders, including Sima Samar, Head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and Habiba Sarabi, Deputy of the High Peace Council to discuss the challenges undermining women’s rights in Afghanistan, and the risks they face as activists.
On day two, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcukajoined an event where she had a robust discussion with representatives from a civil society organizations working on ending violence against women, where they stressed on the importance of working with, and raising awareness among, faith-based leaders. The event was followed by a meeting with eight women survivors of violence currently living in the UN Women-supported Women’s Protection Centres. Their testimonies were a strong reminder of the importance of using a holistic approach to ending violence against women, in line with UN Women’s new Survivors Empowerment Journey Programme.
Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka also took part in a special meeting of the Women Peace and Security Working Group, where speakers gave updates on the implementation of the National Action Plan on UN Security resolution 1325 and the outcomes of the recent Warsaw Summit (full statement here: http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_133171.htm ).
The day ended with an event where the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) joined UN Women’s HeForShe campaign. The school’s head, Ahmad Sarmast is using music and education to change attitudes and behaviours towards women. Sambar Nawshad, an ANIM student, shared her experience: “When I was growing up they said girls didn’t have the right to education and I believed that. When I started going to the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, there was an orchestra that included both boys and girls. I wondered how their families had allowed them to perform together...But I learned that music is more beautiful together and we came to respect each other. We got the opportunity to perform in the United States of America and slowly my mindset changed. When I came back, I spoke to my family and reasoned with them—women should not be kept at home like a prisoner. Fortunately, my family agreed. I am very happy that I could change myself first, and change my family's attitude. Through the Institute we can change our society.”
On her final day in Afghanistan, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka met with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Salahuddin Rabbani and discussed the National Action Plan for Security Council resolution 1325 and explored new value chains and economic empowerment opportunities for women in Afghanistan.
Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka’s final activity in Afghanistan was taking part in an event with almost 50 young women university graduates who were part of UN Women’s internship programme. While attitudes towards girls’ education and women working outside the home are changing, young women still face a range of obstacles when trying to enter the workforce, including lack of practical skills and networks. Many of the women who took part in the programme have now found employment or had job offers.