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Statement by Ambassador Mari Skåre at the 4th National Symposium on Afghan Women: Messengers of Peace, 15 May 2017

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Your Excellency Mr. President, First Lady, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear brothers and sisters in the fight for equal rights and opportunities:

Congratulations with the 4th National Symposium on Afghan Women as Messengers of Peace!  

Norway and Afghanistan has a strong partnership. A key priority in this partnership is to strengthen the role and position of women. As a partner to Afghanistan, and in line with Afghan policies, Norway is eager to see the advancement of the women’s empowerment agenda.

We are pleased to be supporting the current and the previous national symposia on Women’s Empowerment - including hosting the second one in Oslo.  We are also very happy to have supported the recent regional symposium in Mazar-e Sharif. The symposia are key venues for mobilizing, raising awareness and building partnerships. 

A point of focus in the partnership between Norway and Afghanistan is women’s role in peace and security:  women’s role in preventing, managing and resolving conflicts.

To ensure stability and security in any country, it is essential to have security institutions that adhere to the highest moral and human standards. Corruption, abuse and harassment are extremely harmful practices that undermine the provision of stability and peace.

Support for peace and reconciliation processes is a key priority in Norwegian foreign policy.  Through this engagement, over many years, we have made some observations.

Who normally gets to sit at the negotiation table? It appears that the criterion for being at the negotiation table is that you are armed and a contributor to the violence. This is highly problematic. It is not sufficient only to end conflicts. We need to build the peace, and to build the peace, those affected by the conflict must also have a say – not only the warring parties.

Including women is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do: Evidence shows that we are more likely to achieve lasting peace when women are included. Having women at the negotiation table and in supporting structures is essential for the legitimacy of the process and for the results. The negotiations should not be gender blind. For instance, any conflict-related gender based violence that has occurred should be addressed. So should the gender dimension in reintegration and in sharing of power and control. Peace agreements that address women’s rights and inclusion of gender perspectives stand a better chance of surviving.

So, we have the arguments, we have the rhetoric, and in many instances we have the policies in place. Why is it then so difficult to ensure women’s meaningful participation and inclusion of gender in practice? Why do we not simply do the rational and smart thing?

The barriers are both structural and cultural. It is about institutional and individual mindsets. It is about attitudes.

To advance the agenda, leadership is key.  Great strides and real changes will happen when those in power develop the appropriate policies and plans - and implement them. I, humbly, want to pay tribute to the leadership of the President and the First Lady in taking the women’s empowerment agenda forward. What you are doing is wonderful.

Non-governmental actors also have a key role in driving the agenda for women’s empowerment and keeping the Government accountable. The role of women all over Afghanistan as agents for peace must be recognised.

I commend the many training initiatives taken with the view to empower women and enable their participation, but - really - there is no lack of competent women in Afghanistan. Look around you! Lack of competence is not the problem! Women in Afghanistan are able. Women in Afghanistan are willing. You have important voices. You are role models and you shatter perceptions and stereotypes of women in Afghanistan!

Only an inclusive political process, that is Afghan lead and owned, can lead to sustainable peace in Afghanistan. Now there is an opportunity to apply lessons learned in current peace and reconciliation efforts and show the world how it is done - through the High Peace Council and other entities and structures. Include women in a meaningful way and give peace a chance! 

Thank you.