Sunday, November 23, 2014

Afghanistan, U.S.A and UNIFEM co-host panel discussion about Afghan women

The Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the UN, in collaboration with UNIFEM and the Mission of the United States, today hosted a panel discussion on the status of women in Afghanistan under the title “Eight Years On: What Hope for Afghan Women?”.

Ambassador Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan, and Ambassador Susan Rice, Permanent Representative of the United States, both spoke and reaffirmed the cooperation between the two countries and their mutual dedication to guaranteeing Afghan women their full equal rights. In addition, three exceptional women from Afghanistan attended the panel to present their views and to represent the voices and experiences of women in Afghanistan. Najia Zewari works with UNIFEM in Afghanistan as Senior National Program Officer. Wazhma Frogh is a 2009 recipient of the State Department’s Women of Courage award for her dedication to advancing women’s rights.  Suraya Pakzad  is the founder of Voice of Women Organization, recipient of the 2008 State Department’s Women of Courage award, and recipient of the National Medal of Afghanistan. These three women shared their ideas about the challenges facing Afghan women and the ways to move forward.

Statements by the panelists were followed by a brief interactive question and answer session with the audience. The event was very well-attended by representatives from many nations, including representatives from all over the world who were at the United Nations to attend the 2009 Commission on the Status of Women. Among those attending was Canada’s Minister responsible for the Status of Women.

What Hope for Afghan Women?

Statement of H.E. Ambassador Zahir Tanin Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
At a panel discussion: “Eight Years On: What Hope for Aghan Women?”
A Side Event at the Commission for the Status of Women 2009

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honor for Afghanistan to host this discussion in collaboration with UNIFEM and with the United States, and we welcome you all. I would like thank Joanne Sandler, Deputy Executive Director of UNIFEM, for being here today and for her efforts on behalf of women everywhere. I also want to convey my respect and gratitude for the presence and inspirational statement of H.E. Ambassador of the US to the UN, Dr. Susan Rice. The US has been a great friend to Afghanistan, and to Afghan women, and we are grateful to Ambassador Rice for being able to be here today. We are also humbled to be in the presence of guests who have traveled here from Afghanistan to share their personal experiences. Ms. Suraya Pakzad, Ms. Wazhma Frogh and Ms. Najia Zewari, we look forward to learning from you today.

When I was in my twenties, I studied at Kabul University. At that point, Kabul was known as “the Paris of the East,” a place where the best traditions of East and West merged. At that point, Afghanistan was a peaceful, tolerant country, where ambitious young people were encouraged to pursue a full education. At that point, women studied alongside men. There were dozens of women in all of my classes. My wife was one of these women, and she used her education to become a lecturer at Kabul Medical University and then the medical director of the main maternity hospital in Kabul.

But just a few decades later, this reality of my twenties has been threatened.

War and violence has unsettled the dust of intolerance and ignorance. The Afghanistan that finally emerged in 2001 still struggles to regain what was lost. The legislative framework is there, and the political will is there, but the recent increase in violence and insecurity has meant women are, as always, the first victims. More and more women who study, work, or attempt to be a part of social activities are receiving death threats. We were all witness to the stunning ferocity of the acid attacks on young girls last fall. Without a doubt, there are forces in Afghanistan that aim to again usurp the legitimate rights of Afghan women by creating a climate of terror and fear.

As we fight those forces, the Government of Afghanistan is committed to its responsibilities towards its citizens. We have a broad mandate: women must not only be safe from violence, they must also be free from any atmosphere of intimidation and fear. Women must not only secure participation in the political process, they must also be able to forward social and economic development.

But today we will not be daunted by the scale of the efforts ahead of us. Because we are deeply motivated by the following truths:

First, our history has shown that before the war and before the Taliban, women’s rights were recognized by Afghan society. The modernization of our country did not begin in 2001. It began in the 1900s. In the early 1920s, Queen Soraya became the first Muslim royal to appear publicly without the veil. The first girl’s schools also appeared and women began to seek higher education in Afghanistan and abroad. In the next decades thousands of women worked as professors, lawyers, medical doctors. By the 1960s, women had acquired the constitutionally protected right to vote. Many became appointed as cabinet members and elected to Parliament. Success has been in our past; it can again be in our future.

Second, we recognize the global nature of the struggle for women. As is true in much of the developing world, including Asia, Africa and the Muslim world, there are two Afghanistan’s: one is modern and urban, the other rural and traditional. The challenge of modernizing the countryside is one that not only Afghanistan faces. That is why the work we do in Afghanistan is so important: if we succeed, we can offer hope for other countries working on the same challenge.

Third, we recognize that bridging these two worlds will take time. While occurring first in the cities, modernization requires patience and dedication to expand into the countryside. It may take up to a few generations to accomplish lasting change in social and cultural life.

These three truths: our history, the global nature of this struggle for women, and the time required to effect lasting change-form our motivation to reject inaction-inaction couched in excuses of cultural relativism, or “pragmatism.” These excuses strengthen an immoral, Taliban and fundamentalist attempt to convince the world that Afghanistan will never accept “freedom” because of cultural reasons.

These excuses are false because the Taliban or fundamentalism does not represent any real culture of Afghanistan. The Taliban came to power only as a product of war and destruction. To the Taliban and their ideological brethren, trained and indoctrinated in madrasas outside of Afghanistan, women must be controlled and suppressed. This abuse does not represent our country, our religion, our culture. Talibanization is exactly the opposite-it is an anti-culture, an anti-religion. Talibanization is Taliban-vandalism, Taliban-barbarism.

The Government of Afghanistan recognizes that the ultimate responsibility for the rights of our citizens lies in our own hands. We will do our own work. But we ask for international support in our efforts because there is no such thing as a “local” threat against women. Talibanization, whether in Swat or Waziristan, is a serious threat to the universal attempt to improve the situation of women. It is not a local threat limited to physical boundaries.

We also ask for your support to improve the situation of women because we have seen how much we can do together. The UN, the US, the EU and other countries have been invaluable in the strengthening and stabilization of Afghanistan. With your support, we formed a new government in Bonn. With your support, we held elections in which millions of women were able to express their political will. With your support, 81% of the country now has access to basic health care. With your support, millions of girls have returned to school.

There are several opportunities ahead for us to continue to work together. First, in helping the Government of Afghanistan with security, we are taking an important first step to ensure rights for women. Insecurity is the first threat to Afghan women. Second, we have an important opportunity with the upcoming elections. The constitution of Afghanistan contains guarantees for women representation; thus these elections strengthen women’s participation in the state-building of Afghanistan. Third, the fulfillment of the Paris Conference pledges and a sustained commitment with the Government of Afghanistan to support the Afghan National Development Strategy will work for the economic empowerment of women.

As we gather here, today I remember another Afghanistan, the Afghanistan where I studied and worked. We can find this Afghanistan again with our dedication. Suraya Pakzad, Wazhma Frogh, Najia Zewari have come to tell us their stories and to bring the struggles of millions of Afghan women to the light of reality. They will be the powerful reminder to the importance of our task.

The Government of Afghanistan is fully committed to do what it can do to strengthen the position of women in the country. We hope that the international community will continue to work with us.

United Nation’s Security Council Reforms

Chair of the Intergovernmental Negotiations on the question of equitable representation and increase in the membership of the Security Council and other matters related to the Council.
Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

1. “The Untied Nations” – that is how the name of the newborn organization was spelled in one of the San Francisco documents. Accidentally misspelled, for the objective of the UN was exactly the opposite of untying nations. The world body was brought into the world in 1945 to strengthen the mutual ties between countries and to tie their behavior to international law. In order to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, the UN Charter endowed in particular the Security Council with sweeping powers. Yet it is said that its real impact derives not just from such legal provisions but to a large extent also from its perceived legitimacy. Let me quote for example Harvard professor Joseph Nye, who said: “What the UN can convey that is particularly important is legitimacy, an important part of soft power.” End of quote. For the UN Security Council, remaining relevant therefore requires retaining legitimacy. Yet it is here that we have a lot of work on our hands. Just look at the UN logo. It was approved back in 1946 and depicts the world surrounded by olive branches – by now, that world has changed so profoundly, that the profoundly unchanged organization’s ability to bear the olive branch of peace is severely at risk. Peace and security cannot be maintained by a Security Council that is out of date and out of touch. A young and charismatic American president led the way when he said, and I quote: “The United Nations cannot survive as a static organization. Its obligations are increasing as well as its size. Its Charter must be changed as well as its customs. The authors of that Charter did not intend that it be frozen in perpetuity.” End of quote. That was John F. Kennedy at the opening of the 18th GA session in 1963, the last and only time the Council’s composition was updated. Now we are in GA session number 63 and once more face the responsibility to reform.

2. This chance for change has been three decades in the making. It was India together with Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Guyana, Maldives, Nepal, Nigeria and Sri Lanka that in 1979 planted the seed by asking the General Assembly to include a new item on its agenda: “Question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and related matters”. It was September 11 and its aftermath that laid bare the urgent need to adapt the Security Council to the come-back of international insecurity, propelling the item towards the top of the UN’s agenda. At the 2005 World Summit, our leaders rallied behind the objective of, and I quote, “an early reform, of the Security Council – an essential element of our overall effort to reform the United Nations – in order to make it more broadly representative, efficient and transparent and thus to further enhance its effectiveness and the legitimacy and implementation of its decisions,” end of quote. Our leaders thus already spelled out what the objective of Security Council reform is. What they did not tell us, of course, was their definition of “early reform”. However, as the President of the General Assembly has asserted, it would seem safe to say, that they did not mean to see another World Summit pass us by with the status quo intact. There is no reason why we should fail them, for today we at long last leave the antechamber of reform and walk into the negotiation room. Landmark Decision 62/557 opened that door on 15 September 2008. On this historic day, we should be thankful to all who worked hard to create this opportunity and, at the same time, we should be mindful of the responsibility not to squander it. Outside the negotiation room, the world finds itself in a state of flux. With the economic dominoes falling, some even augur a new Great Depression. And as we all know, that crisis set the stage for a war that brought untold sorrow to mankind – a history the UN is supposed to stop us from repeating. In these dangerous days, we cannot stop at repairing our economic institutions, our system of collective security must be reformed along with it. We don’t have the luxury of leaving one the two for another day. Coming from where I come from, I know first-hand how intimately peace and prosperity are related and that both deserve first-tier priority. Coming from where I come from, I know how crucial the Council’s work is to peace on Earth, to peace on the ground. Security Council reform forms a centerpiece of today’s Herculean effort to reshape global governance.

3. Fortunately, as the last couple of months have also shown, the fire in which Decision 62/557 was forged still burns. We must keep that fire of collective commitment going, because if we let narrow self-interest prevail, we might miss the narrow opportunity for decisive progress. While the onus is mostly on Member States, the President of the General Assembly and I, as Chair of the Intergovernmental Negotiations on his behalf, will do everything in our power to prevent that from happening. At the successful first meeting of this informal plenary, the President vowed to very soon undertake his responsibility to take the process forward. That time has now come. Yesterday morning, delegations already received the work plan announced on January 29. The plan is the result of a painstaking and diligent exercise of deduction. From that exercise, while guided by the authoritative sources the President identified in his 29 January address, we concluded that this is the work plan that emanates from Decision 62/557. What is more, the plan, setting out how to negotiate and when to negotiate, also does justice to the overwhelming and across-the-board appetite among Member States to get started – not with negotiations on the negotiations, but with negotiations on the substance. For too long, we have been dipping our toes in the water. Now, at long last, we finally dive into these negotiations. If we rush the process and swim back to the surface too quickly, we might not survive because of decompression sickness. But on the other hand, if we stay under too long, we will run out of air and surely succumb. I don’t believe that either fate will befall us, because I believe that you will rise to the challenge. Let us now take a deep breath before we dive into the deep end on March 4, commencing the implementation of our work plan. Every day, every way possible, I will help you with that, as described in the letter of the President. We are of course impartial to any of the positions, but partial to progress.

Thank you.