Statement Of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan On the Occasion of International Women’s Day,Kabul Polytechnic

It is a great pleasure and an honor to be here with you to congratulate the women of Afghanistan on behalf of the United Nations and the international community at large on the occasion of International Women’s Day. It is fitting that we should do so in this hall that a few weeks ago at the Constitutional Loyal Jirga (CLJ) was witness to a significant achievement in the promotion of women’s rights in Afghanistan. Indeed this year’s celebration of International Women’s Day does call for celebration of a number of important achievements. In larger and larger numbers, Afghan women are returning to public life as professionals, students and members of civil society. Women journalists have been able to return to their jobs as radio and television broadcasters and hundreds of women are working as civil servants and professionals in the hospitals, courts, and in the private and public sector.

As previously noted by other speakers, remarkable progress has been achieved in recent weeks in terms of political participation. As a result, Afghanistan has repeatedly surpassed many countries in providing women with representational rights in the government. In the Emergency Loyal Jirga in 2002, women represented 12 percent of the delegates. In the Constitutional Loyal Jirga, women’s representation increased to 20 percent. These women delegates successfully lobbied for improving the draft constitution to further protect and strengthen their rights. Through their efforts, new language was introduced, providing women equal rights and duties before the law and further increasing women’s representation in the future National Assembly to 25 percent.

Awe enter the election process, we are encouraged that the rate at which women are registering is increasing. I would like to point out that in this hall there are registration facilities and I invite those who have not registered to do so after this ceremony. According to the latest voter registration figures, women currently account for an average of27 percent of those registered nationally, and last week 1 out of 3 registered voters were women. We hope that the rate will continue topic up in the coming weeks and we count on the Government and the media together with the United Nations to provide public information and civic education for that purpose.

Among recent achievements in political participation, let me welcome the outcome of the 3-day discussions that have been taking place in Kabul on the implementation of the constitution and the electoral process among CLJ delegates and representatives of women’s affair departments of the provinces. I understand that the Minister and Deputy Ministers of MOWA are traveling to the provinces next week to disseminate this outcome. Their efforts will certainly help generate awareness about the election and registration process and enhance women’s involvement in them.

Awe reflect on these achievements, we must also acknowledge that overall progress for women has been uneven. While much has been achieved in terms of political representation and while a good constitutional platform now exists to expand women’s rights, we must remain aware of the heavy constraints that must be overcome if current initiatives to enhance women’s participation in public and private space are to materialize.

Firsthand foremost, physical and psychological threats and violence against women in the public and private domain continue to cast a long shadow. We have noted that girl’s schools have been attacked in various parts of the country by extremists who want to strike fear in the hearts of communities. While the vast majority of Afghans are united in their desire to provide education for their sons and daughters, the ability of women and girls to take advantage of new educational opportunities remains under the threat of such deplorable and cowardly acts.

Two weeks ago, a delegation, including the leadership of the Ministry and State Ministry of Women’s Affairs, traveled to Herat to raise awareness about the tragic situation of female victims of self-immolation. Many of these women inflicted painful and life-threatening injuries to themselves in order to escape forced marriages and violence in the home. We applaud the condemnation of these attacks earlier today byte President and the Minster of Woman’s Affairs. The United Nations remains committed to help the Government address the situation of violence against women and the customary practices that negatively impact them.

Woof course recognize that sustainable change cannot be achieved unless it is grounded in the cultural realities of the country and driven by Afghans themselves. As we strive to defend the human rights of women, we will continue to assist Afghan institutions and organizations, and be led by those we are committed to protect.

Fortunately there is a cadre of women’s leadership that can guide the Government and the international community in navigating these sensitive issues. In the last two years their number has grown and their presence has expanded throughout the country. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs now has departments throughout the provinces, and Emergency Loyal Jirga and Constitutional Loyal Jirga women delegates serve as community leaders in local and national initiatives. I understand that just in Kabul there are over 50 women’s organizations and score of women’s publications.

As women have led the way in fighting for their constitutional rights, we now trust that they will take advantage of the momentum that has been gained to provide the same stewardship in the eradication of violence against them. Criminal justice authorities and the police should be required to assist the victims of violence. Adequate resources must be allocated in the budget for programs related to the elimination of violence against women and priority attention should go to the towns and villages where the majority of women live.

The institutions established in the last two years can serve as effective tools in this undertaking. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the State Minister of Women’s Affairs can join forces with the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Interior and other state and nongovernmental institutions. The Independent Afghan Human Rights Commission, which already plays a critical role in the investigation and monitoring of violence against women through its women’s unit, can serve as a key partner in this work. Similarly, NGOs are becoming a factor in this process. Today women’s law groups, human rights advocacy organizations and other national and international organizations are providing legal services; conducting educational workshops on health and human rights and mobilizing local resources to respond to the special needs of women and girls.

But tribal elders and religious authorities can also be relied upon for support. Just recently the tribal leaders in Host and the Ullman Shu rain Kandahar passed a resolution and Fatwa in support of the participation of women in the registration and election process, in accordance with traditional norms. Traditional and community leadership can clearly be part of the solution to problems affecting women.

In conclusion, faced with the challenges of writing the country’s new constitution, Afghan women have risen to new levels of mobilization. The results are tangible and visible to all. The implementation of the constitution and the holding of the elections later this year offer new opportunities for further action and further gains. It also offers opportunities for broader partnerships with the Ministries, with the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice, with non-governmental organizations, with political movements and with religious and traditional leaders. The international community and the United Nations will not stay away from this challenge and this partnership. We look forward to make with you 1383 an even greater milestone in the effective exercise of women’s rights.

Thank you.