Chairman Karzai, Dr. Samar, distinguished Ministers, Ambassadors and guests, Aim truly honored to be making a few brief remarks today, on this historic occasion for Afghanistan, commemorating International Women’s Day.
As we see here from the tremendous turn out of visitors from around the world, who have made the long journey to Kabul, the United Nations and the international community are here today to express their willingness to support the women and girls of Afghanistan to realize their hopes and aspirations.
Basic fundamental human rights and freedoms have been denied to the women and girls of Afghanistan, in different parts of the country, forth past several years. A golden opportunity now exists for those rights to be restored and realized.
Under the leadership of Dr. Samar and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, a national dialogue has now started on formulating a plan of action, to make the most of the opportunities that have now presented themselves. The United Nations is committed to supporting the implementation of that plan of action, materially, financially, technically and morally.
I must stress to the international community that our role is to support the Afghan plan of action, and not to impose an external agenda. There are hundreds of thousands of Afghan women, representing all ethnic, regional and political groups, both within the country, and in the diaspora, who are deeply committed to the cause of women’s rights in Afghanistan. Many of them have a clear vision for what is needed and what is possible to be achieved in their country. They also have a clear sense, far better than we foreigners do, about the right pace to adopt, so that the existing opportunities are maximized, rather than extinguished, and so that their dreams can be realized.
I think that the one dream all the men and women of Afghanistan share, is to have their country at peace with itself and its neighbors. The most basic human rights – to life, food, shelter and health –have been denied to millions of Afghans, from both genders, over the past 23 years of wretched war. Too many women have been widowed. Too many children have been orphaned. Far too many people have had to go without food. Far too many have not even had sufficient clothing oar roof over their head, to shield them from the severe mountainous winters. And, too many have died of rudimentary illnesses, which normally could be cured with minimal effort, simply because of the absence of a basic primary health care system.
The first precondition for the restoration of women’s and girls’ ‘rights in Afghanistan, is peace. With the signing of the Bonn Agreement on 5 December 2001, a chance for sustainable peace now exists. Any support given to the Afghans, and everything that the Afghans do themselves to implement the Bonn Agreement, will go a long way in helping to promote the rights of women and girls in this country.
Of course, every human being is entitled to far more than just the basic necessities to stay alive, from one day to the next. In this regard, the initial fruits of the peace process will perhaps be most visible when the new Afghan school year begins on 23rd March. For the first time, in a very long time, millions of children will be in school where they belong, rather than seeking shelter from gunfire and bloodshed.
Moreover, hundreds of thousands of girls will be going to school, many for the first time, after having been denied that opportunity for the past several years. This is a marvelous occurrence. It is good for Afghanistan. And, it is as Islamic as anything one could imagine.
As Afghans and Muslims around the world know well, the first word in the Quran is “Ire” — “Read”? This is among the first commandments in the Quran directed towards its believers, men and women alike.
It is so vital that Afghanistan follow in the footsteps of those civilizations that have flourished over the centuries, by investing in its children and educating them well. If one looks at the world over the last century, it is the countries that genuinely invested in education that managed to move from the Third World to the Second, and in some cases, to the First.
Many governments and non-governmental organizations have already approached me, asking about how they can help the women and girls of Afghanistan. Chairman Karzai and Dr. Samar are in a far better position to answer this question than I am. I hope they will not mind, however, if I add my personal appeal to all concerned, to really look seriously at opportunities in the field of education. Where there is no school, let us build one. Where there is a school you can be sure that it needs repair. It needs chairs and desks and blackboards. Let us provide them. And let us make sure that these repaired, and equipped schools are filled with trained and properly paid teachers, and its students, girls and boys alike, are provided with text books from which to learn.
Lastly, on the subject of how the international community can help, I would urge all of you not to fall prey to what happens in too many post-conflict situations. There is sometimes a tendency to adopt a “flavored the month attitude”. For a brief period, the world’s attention and resources are focused on one part of the world, only to move on to another, as the fashion passes. I can assure you that your support will be needed for some time to come.
In conclusion, I once again appeal to the international community to line up behind our Afghan hosts and friends, not in front of them. Let us give full support to Dr. Seem Samar’s and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs ‘Afghan agenda. Let us all make that Agenda our own. Wended no other.