“By providing more opportunities for women…we can ensure that women can play central roles in the rebuilding of our nations” — Executive DirectorStatement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director for World Humanitarian Day on 19 August.
On this World Humanitarian Day we honour the women, girls, men and boys who have demonstrated resilience in the face of unimaginable hardship and persistent violence, and we salute the first responders and aid workers who continue to work towards recovery, even after peace has been established.
According to the report of the United Nations Secretary‑General for the World Humanitarian Summit, conflicts drive 80 per cent of all humanitarian needs. I had the opportunity to witness the impact of conflict and recovery firsthand when I visited Afghanistan this year.
In Kabul, I presented certificates to 48 graduates of the UN Women-supported “Six-months Internship Programme for Afghan Recent Graduates”, which provides women and girls with opportunities for economic empowerment with the aim of bringing stability to families, thereby building sustainable peace. Despite growing up amidst years of violent conflict and repression that was especially targeted at women and girls, these inspiring young women spoke of their hopes for a future where peace was accompanied by an end to discriminatory social norms, and they could live truly empowered lives. As part of a new generation of young Afghan women who are changing the status quo, they embody the concept of resilience.
Women and girls in Afghanistan continue to be affected by protracted conflict and recurrent natural disasters, as well as by poverty, discrimination and exploitation. For instance, restrictions on movement and a lack of access to schools, whether through closures or occupation by fighters, present monumental obstacles to women and girls. While school enrollment is improving in Afghanistan, only 36% of primary and secondary school students are girls, and women comprise just 20% of university students. For many women, cultural restrictions on working outside the home, compounded by safety concerns, make earning a living and controlling their own money an extraordinary challenge.
A critical part of humanitarian action involves the restoring of day-to-day life post-conflict, including rebuilding infrastructure, ensuring access to clean water and sanitation, combatting the violence that often continues to erupt, and providing women with vital economic skills that will empower them in the long term. UN Women is using pilots such as our internship programme in Afghanistan to introduce models that include both economic advancement and agency to achieve women’s economic empowerment.
Humanitarian situations can also provide opportunities to advance the position of women. Despite the extreme difficulties Afghan women encounter in the economic and social spheres, the Afghan parliament currently comprises 28 per cent women—which is above the global average of 22 per cent—because of quotas introduced after the fall of the Taliban.
In recovering from humanitarian crises, we must ensure that women’s lived experiences on the ground match the gains made in women’s access to leadership in political spheres, and in international rhetoric. By providing more opportunities for women, such as our internship programme, we can ensure that women can play central roles alongside international humanitarian workers and assist in the rebuilding of our nations.