H.E. Chairman, Dr. Abdullah Abdulla, H.E Minister Hasina Safi, H.E. Minister Mohammad Qasim Hamim, H.E. Ambassador Arief Rachman, distinguished Ulama, ladies and gentlemen, dear organizers!
Good morning and thank you for offering me this opportunity to join you today, and for creating this space for dialogue between Ulama, both women and men, to promote coexistence, tolerance and mediation as a second track for a sustainable peace in Afghanistan.
Dialogue and solidarity: a dialogue of solidarity – these are key requirements for building peace.
International Women’s Day is a day of solidarity between women all over the world. It is celebrated everywhere in the world, but in very different ways.
The celebration is based on the condition and position of women in their society and culture; it reflects their reality as they perceive it.
What do the women of Afghanistan observe when they look around? What do the women of an Afghanistan hunted by more than 40 years of war, brutality and conflict see, what is their experience?
Vulnerability I believe is a key word – want of all aspects of security for themselves and their children, their families, communities. Lack of dignity in the face of brutality, dehumanization – and certainly a persistent need for dialogue and solidarity – between themselves, with husbands, with political and religious leaders.
Let me briefly share with you how we celebrated 8 of March at my Embassy this year. We had invited Afghanistan PEN, part of PEN-International, and NAI Media in Afghanistan. Both organizations provide advocacy and support to their members. We had a very enlightening discussion with women and men writers, poets, journalists and media workers.
In stead of speaking about their work, about their artistic and professional work as contemporary penholders and thinkers, they chose to speak about the conditions under which they work, the personal risk they run every day, the threats to themselves and their closest friends and family.
“The pen is mightier than the sword”, the saying goes, but you truly need to be courageous to live and work by the pen in Afghanistan today. PEN Centre left me a collection of the poetry of Samay Hamed.
One of his works is titled “I am scared too”. Samay Hamed confesses that he “..is scared too, just like you. Winter has sharpened its teeth.” He is scared, but he argues with his fear: “I run away from fear, but I come back to attack again. To make fear scared.”
I believe that Samay Hamed speaks for many of you, that he lends his voice to the doubts, fear, convictions and sheer stubbornness that you feel every day when you decide to continue your important work – one day more, and then one day – in your persistent quest for an open and peaceful society.
The work on exploring the role of Ulama in peace and reconciliation, and the role of women Ulama for peace and stability are without question very important and forceful ways for women to take charge, empower themselves, making your own space for advocating peace. By entering into a space predominantly dominated by men, you choose to work with men.
As you seek the middle ground – you will find it – coming to it from both sides.
It cannot be the responsibility of women alone to advocate the right of women, it has to be everyone’s responsibility. We must not mistake representativity for inclusivity. Yet representativity and inclusivity may mutually reinforce each other if things are done right, if the approach is value-based.
This principle is enshrined in the Chapter 2 of your Constitution from 2004. The rights for women and other groups of Chapter 2 are immutable, they cannot be changed. This is important, but not enough.
My country’s experience in peace mediation provides overwhelming evidence that lasting peace, is significantly enhanced when all groups, regardless of ethnicity or gender, are adequately included.
An inclusive Afghan peace process means that women, youth, victims, and other groups are included in the discussion of all topics and everything that is discussed.
Some factors to take into account -
- The protection of women’s rights by state institutions from a legal and civil rights perspective has gradually improved during the last 20 years
- Taliban often argues that women have not been part of the conflict and therefore should not be part of its resolution
- Taliban’s position on women’s rights and their communication on the subject continue to be ambiguous
- Islam is important to all Afghan actors, not just the Taliban. Islamic law and the interpretation of women’s role vis-à-vis Islamic jurisprudence will be critical
This year and the next, in 2021-22, Norway is a member of the UN Security Council. We have 4 priorities: Peace diplomacy; protection of civilians; women, peace and security; and to avoid that climate change leads to crises in security.
We use the experience we have gained from a number of peace and reconciliation efforts as a platform for extending support to the Doha process. We work within a Support Group with Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Germany and Qatar.
Importantly, Norway and Estonia have been charged by the other members of the Security Council with the task of being penholders for Afghanistan.
As penholders we were able yesterday evening, after one month of work in the Security Council, to finalize a strong Security Council Statement condemning the targeted attacks on civilians in Afghanistan.
Members of the Security Council condemn “in the strongest terms, the alarming number of attacks deliberately targeting civilians in Afghanistan” – and particularly mention women in prominent positions, those who protect and promote human rights, and ethnic and religious minorities.
The Security Council expresses its deep concern regarding the increase of targeted attacks in the months following the start of the Afghanistan peace negotiations on 12 September 2020.
- Perpetrators should immediately be brought to justice.
- All parties must respect their obligations under International Humanitarian Law.
- Deliberate attacks targeting civilians may constitute war crimes.
- There is need for women’s full participation in the Afghan peace process.
In the March 2021 Quarterly Report on the Situation in Afghanistan, the same concerns are expressed very clearly by the United Nations Secretary General and his Special Representative and UNAMA-head.
The people of Afghanistan now have a historic opportunity for peace. You show the way, you seize this opportunity. Yet the news headlines that meet us every morning, remind us that peace is still far away. Those who choose to act, people like you, courageous people who fight for peace with peaceful means, are themselves under attack.
- The spike in violence we have experienced since the opening of the Afghan peace negotiations in September is not blind.
- This violence has very scary qualitative aspects that we must address and speak openly about. I am very content that the Security Council did exactly this. It is important that the UN Secretary General expresses the same strong sentiment about the need to end the violence.
- This violence is premediated, calculated and strategic. It targets civil society and human rights activist and religious leaders, journalists and the free media, and government officials, medical and health workers, judges and law and order officials.
- This violence is aimed at silencing those who work for an inclusive and social peace.
- Its strategic target is the vision of a peaceful Afghanistan.
The risk of coming under attack is notably higher for women – because they are women, and in particular when they hold influential and exposed positions in society and government structures.
Norway is not value neutral, we are on the side of the women of Afghanistan. At the same time we are impartial, the negotiations must be led and owned by the Afghan people, the Afghans must shape their own future.
We hope the peace talks result in a comprehensive ceasefire and an end of violence. Norway stands ready to support Afghans in this difficult time. We are ready to extend our commitment to a sustained peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan, where women and men enjoy equal rights and opportunities for participation in political, social, economic spheres.
In this challenging hour, Afghanistan Ulamas can play a particularly important role.
You have a strong base to advocate and argue human rights and particularly women’s rights and participation from an Islamic perspective, something which is valued and respected in your country.
Allow me to conclude with a couple of lines from another of Samay Hamed’s poems – titled “In my city”:
“Do you know that in my city a girl’s stolen gaze can be more dangerous than a bullet?
The girls are afraid of roadside bombs placed by terrorists. And terrorists are afraid of girls walking the streets like colorful flags of freedom. ….
In my city young girls make a revolution by going to the university without fearing explosions and street harassment. By voting under the heavy rain, by practicing martial arts under the snow-capped mountains of faith.
And young girls make a revolution. Even with the heart balloons they release in the dusty sky!”
Dear organizers, distinguished participants, dear friends – to all you brave people who every day scare fear away – I release my heart balloon with you!