Women's rights: making progress in Afghanistan
In the run up to International Women's day, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy Ambassador Kolinda Grabar held an exchange of views with Afghan women from the National Assembly, the Afghan National Army, and the media.
Speaking via video link on 7 March, the women discussed the important correlation that exists between the consolidation of lasting security in Afghanistan and the promotion of women’s rights. Dr Gulalai Noor Safi, Member of Parliament, Ms Farida Nikzad, Vice President of the South Asia Free Media Association and Brigadier General Khatool joined the discussion from Kabul.
Above all, the discussion provided an opportunity to emphasise the centrality of Afghanistan on the agenda of the NATO Summit in Chicago which will take place on 20 and 21 May 2012. "In Chicago, we will map out the next phase of the transition to full Afghan security responsibility between now and the end of 2014. And we will make clear our enduring commitment to Afghanistan beyond 2014," said Ambassador Grabar.
Dr Safi, Ms Nikzad, and Brigadier General Khatool extended their good wishes for the 8 March celebrations to all women serving in ISAF forces. They also expressed their appreciation for the post-2014 commitment to Afghanistan expected to be reaffirmed in Chicago.
The three Afghan women highlighted the significant progress made in the domain of women’s rights in Afghanistan over recent years. "With international support, including from NATO, women in Afghanistan have been given a new hope for their future," remarked Ms. Farida. "As a female journalist, I now see what enjoying women’s rights means in practice," she added. Brigadier General Khatool referred to the significant developments in the domain of women’s rights within the framework of the Afghan National Security Forces. "Women have now access to different ranks in the Afghan Army. And there is a plan to establish a Gender Integration office within the Afghan Army," she said.
These remarks reflected the overall situation, including examples of progress such as:
- in the Upper and Lower Houses of the Afghan Parliament, there are 21 and 69 Afghan women respectively;
- 3 Afghan ministers are women; gender directorates are now functioning in 27 out of the existing 31 ministries;
- out of 1472 judges, 142 are women, including one Provincial Governor;
- there are now more than 1,500 in the Afghan National Security Forces; and
- the number of girls enrolled in primary and secondary schools has gone from 50 000 in 2001 to 3 230 000 in 2011, while the number of girls enrolled in higher education has gone from zero to more than 20 000 in the same period.
During the talks, the three Afghan women also pointed out that despite the progress made, much work remains to be done for the consolidation of women’s rights. The continued support of the international community to this effect is therefore essential. Many challenges lie ahead, particularly with respect to the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. "We all want peace in Afghanistan. But there cannot be a trade-off between peace and women’s rights," said Ms Nikzad.
In her concluding remarks, Ambassador Grabar confirmed the 2010 Lisbon Summit statement that NATO’s support for the consolidation of women’s rights - and indeed all human rights - will remain an integral element of the Alliance's long-term commitment to Afghanistan.