Thank you Ambassador and thank you to the organizers of this timely discussion.
The participation of women and youth in the peace process is critical to achieve a sustainable peace – and to build a future for Afghanistan where the developments of the past 20 years are sustained. Maintaining and strengthening women’s rights, access to education and fundamental freedoms are key to achieve a strong and stable Afghanistan.
However, since the beginning of the intra-Afghan peace negotiations last September, we have seen a concerning development in the number of attacks targeting youth and women. Attacks deliberately targeting education facilities and individuals who participate in civil society – killing, injuring, and threatening the voices of those who want to influence the future of Afghanistan.
As co-penholders on Afghanistan in the Security Council together with Estonia, we highlighted this issue by facilitating a press statement from the Council last week condemning these attacks, and emphasizing the centrality of an inclusive peace process in reaching a political settlement.
Also last week, Norway’s State Secretary Halvorsen had the opportunity to discuss the progress of the Afghan peace talks with some of the women negotiators in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s team – strong Afghan leaders who play an important role in advancing equal opportunities for women. A key takeaway from this conversation was that much work remains to create the necessary space for women at all levels in Afghanistan’s peace process. And with more than 60 percent of the population being below the age of 25, sustainable peace in Afghanistan is particularly dependent on the voices of youth being heard.
I would like to highlight four points where I think we could - and should - see more action:
First: Identifying women and youth peacebuilders early. Parties investing in diverse participation at multiple levels now, is also an investment in reaching a durable settlement tomorrow.
Second: We must capitalise on existing experience. Through Norway’s involvement in peace and reconciliation efforts across the world, we have seen first-hand the important contributions of women and youth in peace negotiations and the resolution of conflict. The success of peace processes can hinge on inclusivity, we must not let this opportunity in Afghanistan slip.
Third, we must rethink our approaches to better connect formal processes with grassroots initiatives. Women and youth-led organizations have presence in affected areas – they are the front-line responders that build and uphold trust in local communities by answering the immediate needs of the population in times of crisis. We must ensure that these local efforts have our support. Trust between people and communities lays the foundation for peace in the long term.
Finally: We must ensure a safe and enabling environment for women and youth peacebuilders who are increasingly being harassed and threatened- and even injured and killed. This is unacceptable, and a problem which undermines broader Afghan peace and security efforts.
The women – and the new generation – of Afghanistan need to know that they have our support. And the negotiators and decision makers on both sides need to hear the voices of the women and youth of Afghanistan.