Thank you, Madam Chair,
It is a pleasure to have the chance to speak on this important issue. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Secretary-General for all his reports highlighting key issues on the Advancement of Women, and the Director of UN Women for her comprehensive reports. We also thank the United Nations for its ongoing support to our efforts to support the advancement of women in my country.
Afghanistan has entered a new chapter in its history with the election of a new President and a national unity government. This represents a new beginning for the country, and an important moment for the women of Afghanistan.
We have made tremendous progress since the collapse of the Taliban. For the past 13 years, the Government of Afghanistan has been committed to the advancement of women. Afghan women have been liberated from the tyranny of the Taliban, a tyranny that oppressed women first and foremost. The Afghan Constitution guarantees the equal rights of all Afghans, and the political discourse in the country regularly recognizes Afghan women and the valuable role they play in society. Women’s empowerment has become a critical criteria for social advancement in the country, and government institutions and civil society have vocalized the importance of upholding women’s rights and ensuring their participation. The international community has been stood by us steadfastly in these efforts.
The involvement of women in the recent Presidential elections represented a deeply significant demonstration of progress. Thousands of women voted despite threats to their lives, a situation unprecedented in Afghanistan. Additionally, five of the vice presidential candidates for the 2014 elections were women and many were elected to seats in provincial councils.
Since the fall of the Taliban, several laws have been developed and adopted to safeguard the rights of women. These include the Elimination of Violence Against Women law. The National Action Plan for Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA) is the main vehicle for government implementation of gender commitments at all levels. In addition, Afghanistan is pursuing the vigorous implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 to ensure that women are meaningfully represented in peace, security, reconciliation and conflict resolution efforts and initiatives.
Furthermore, a number of policies in the areas of women’s political participation, education, health and economic empowerment to benefit women have been adopted. Today 22% of Government employees and 27% of the Members of Parliament are women. Women hold 120 judicial positions. In health sector, policies to enhance women’s access to health services have been promoted. Between 2001 and 2013 maternal mortality fell from 1,600 to 327 deaths per 100,000 births, and infant mortality decreased from 257 to 77 deaths per 1,000 live births. We have also seen significant growth in the economic sector for women; today 700 small companies in Afghanistan are managed and led by women. This is a stark comparison to the past when women had zero involvement in the economic life of the country.
Despite significant gains, the path toward progress on women’s advancement in Afghanistan remains challenging. Women have been profoundly impacted by three and half decades of conflict, insecurity and violence. Their vulnerabilities are further compounded by negative traditional and customary practices that discriminate against women, low levels of literacy, lack of job opportunities and widespread poverty, particularly in the most remote parts of the country.
Women in Afghanistan suffer from violence, child marriage and gender discrimination, which impedes their involvement in all sectors of society. It is of great concern that women’s rights defenders face threats as a result of their efforts to improve the lives of women in the country. Moreover, weak rule of law poses a major threat to women in Afghanistan, as made evident in their lack of access to the justice system. This has had a devastating impact on women, particularly those who are victims of gender based violence.
Recognizing these profound challenges, the new government is committed to upholding and promoting the rights and advancement of women in Afghanistan. President Ashraf Ghani is adamant that women are essential to successful development and peace in the country. His commitment was demonstrated in his first address to the people of Afghanistan, in which he pledged to promote women’s advancement in Afghanistan and highlighted the important role that his wife, Rula Ghani, played during the campaign. Furthermore, he noted that as First Lady she will remain dedicated to the cause of women’s rights and that she would oversee a committee aimed at providing advice, technical support and expertise to the President on women’s issues. This is historic step; it is the first time that the First Lady of a democratically elected president in Afghanistan has adopted a public role. It has great inspiring power, and sets an example to the wider region.
As Afghanistan focuses on building a national unity government, and begins on a comprehensive reform program, it is clear that women’s real, full participation in the country’s future is imperative. Also, the President’s focus on enhancing the rule of law will deeply improve the situation in the country for women. Besides from their involvement, it is crucial that Afghanistan aim towards a situation where women feel safe, where they have the same freedom others have, to walk freely, to receive education, and to participate as equal members of society- not as second class citizens. The new government in Afghanistan is committed to change, and also to continuity, and so we will build upon the great achievements of the last 12 years.
Afghanistan is fundamentally committed to the advancement and empowerment of women; I thank the international community for their continued support of our efforts for the women of our country and their rights.