State Minister for Human Rights and International Affairs, H.E. Sima Samar, Executive Director Mariam Safi, Ambassadors, Members of Parliament, distinguished guest, ladies and gentlemen
A very good morning.
Congratulations to DROPS (Organization for Policy Research and Development Studies), the editors and authors for this important publication – the 6th Volume of the Women and Public Policy Journal.
Thank you Ms. Safi for giving me the opportunity to join the launch.
In the Journal you raise some very important questions – and the way you treat them demonstrates determination, wisdom, a delicacy of hand and clarity of argument - and courage.
Two key questions follow the reader throughout:
Where are Afghan women today?
- almost 20 years after the International Community came here – in full force so to say.
What Does the Future Hold for Women in Afghanistan?
The questions are timely – and offer an opportunity for critical reflection.
First and foremost for the women of Afghanistan themselves – but evidently also to us, the representatives of donor and troop contributing countries over many years already.
What have we together achieved? To what degree have we succeeded?
Together, we stand only 4-5 months from the announced pull-out of the international security presence, the Resolute Support Mission, according to the US-Taliban agreement of 29 February.
Yet, as says Dr. Sima Samar in the Journal’s Preface: Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous countries for women in the world.
In the Journal, the authors reflect on women’s progress and challenges in civil service, sports, music, film, security, media, the public sector and peace building.
Analyzing this from women’s own perspectives, gives weight to the policy recommendations. In this Journal women speak for themselves – they have their own voice.
Now we should listen – listen carefully and seek to understand the challenges and policy recommendations offered.
I think it is important to stress that there is no such thing as women’s rights – there are only Human Rights, equal to women and men alike, to all human beings – universal and indivisible.
In her Editor’s note, Mariam Safi addresses the re-emergence of an insurgent Taliban policy, rising insecurity and civilian casualties and, what I find interesting, but equally disconcerting for the women and youth of Afghanistan, a growing rural-urban divide.
Safi’s point is that this gives rise to “a cyclical process of traumatization” – and that the dynamics at play between the forces for building peace and for spoiling the chances of peace are effectively narrowing the space for women.
Women in rural areas, in particular, are at risk of losing out.
Instead of the opening of a new and wider space, in accordance with the rights for women and other groups enshrined in your Constitution, the reality is one of stagnation or even reversal.
Key barriers identified are insecurity and targeted attacks, societal traditionalism and patriarchal structures, harassment at the workplace, and violence against women.
This brings us back to the first part of the title of the Journal: Separating Discourse from Practice.
There is a gap between what is being said and what is being done.
There is a gap between the rights accorded to women to participate, and to use their talents in taking charge of their own fortune, and to contribute to the building of a new Afghanistan – and what is actually happening on the ground.
And the gap is widening.
The formal place for women is there – but not the space.
What the authors document are the following:
- that Afghan sportswomen lack infrastructure suited for them; equipment, adequate sporting gear and female trainers. Instead of competing on the sports ground, they fight cultural norms, face harassment and corruption and even the conservatism of women’s mindset. Some partners like “She Can Tri” and “ASCEND”, who is training mountaineering, aim at empowering women with skills and knowledge to drive change in their lives, but also in their families and communities.
- that the state of women’s participation in the formal economic sector reminds more of exclusion than inclusion. Only some 20% of women are part of the labor force. Yet the women of Afghanistan work, they work a lot, but are to be found in the informal sector, in the households and other unpaid areas of economic activity. This represents a momentous loss of economic opportunity for women and the households – but also for wealth creation at the macro-economic level. Rule of law and the free exercise of rights are an issue, as women in reality do not enjoy equal inheritance and property rights, cannot borrow on collateral, do not have access to credit and financing. Instead of being providers, women are locked into structural dependency.
- that there are some positive developments: there is still an upward trend in women’s participation in the security sector; - female forces, trainers and advisors in security institutions.
- that the rise of the independent media also engenders an increase in the presence of women in the media, that the mass media is a space where women can get their voice out and be heard, and that the media sector gradually may provide changes towards gender equality. But still, the media is a dangerous place for women in particular.
- that women have been able to organize themselves in effective women’s networks, like the AMIP, AWN, WILPF, AWPFO – and to establish provincial peace councils and other structures of indirect and direct representation, consultative mechanisms and practical ways of channeling mass action into public decision-making.
Finally, I would again like to recognize DROPS for its work.
DROPS is doing a remarkable job by rallying women’s resources, and sharing women’s analysis as well as offering policy recommendation to decision makers. DROPS’ role in the establishment of Afghanistan Mechanism for Inclusive Peace (AMIP) is equally remarkable.
Let me mention that the UNSCR 1325 on women peace and security is a priority for Norway and that Afghanistan is a priority country in our National Action Plan for Women Peace and Security.
We are determined to work with the women of Afghanistan, with the UNAMA and UN Women to support women of Afghanistan through government and civil society efforts.
The situation in Afghanistan is alarming. The high level of violence could erode trust in the peace process.
According to the latest UNAMA report, in 2021 18.4 million people are expected to need humanitarian assistance, due to violence, natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic.
And women and children are as always the most vulnerable.
There can be no peace without women – there can be no development without peace. As the Journal clearly documents, women are key to achieving both. The policy recommendations make a convincing argument:
- Women’s meaningful participation is necessary to achieve comprehensive and lasting peace.
- Broader and freer inclusion of women in all political, societal and economic life is necessary for the future prosperity and general well-being of the country.
The women of Afghanistan have every right to take active part in constructing their society and future – and a decisive role in the construction of a new Afghanistan at peace with itself.