Against the backdrop of a significant gender gap in Afghan civil society and state representation, the United Nations hosted several events across Afghanistan to mark the annual Global Open Days and discuss the role of women in the country’s political and peace processes.
At the events, attended by men and women representing civil society and government institutions, a top recommendation from many participants was that more women be involved in decision-making at local, regional and national levels.
At one event, held today in the Afghan capital of Kabul, two senior UN officials – the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, and the Deputy Country Representative for the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), Pamela F. Husain – called for the incorporation of women’s perspectives and experiences, at all levels of Afghan society, to help foster lasting peace in the country.
Noting that women are both the victims of conflict and the beneficiaries of peace, Mr. Haysom said Afghanistan’s current political transition represents an opportunity to institutionalize the role of women to ensure their perspectives and experiences can be a platform for peace.
“Let me acknowledge the progress that has been achieved over the past 12 years in Afghanistan in the protection of Afghan women and girls and their participation in national political life,” he said, noting that the number of women in leadership positions and in electoral institutions has increased.
In addition to highlighting the progress made in recent years, the Deputy Special Representative called attention to the challenges that women in Afghanistan continue to face.
“Conservative norms discourage women’s participation in public life,” he stated, adding that mechanisms designed to address violence against women have in some cases been ineffectually implemented.
“I want to reiterate and reaffirm the UN’s commitment to doing what we can to promote women’s inclusion in all political and peace processes,” Mr. Haysom said. “I want to acknowledge, specifically, the role played by women and by civil society organizations in promoting women’s participation in the peace and security agenda.”
For her part, Ms. Husain underscored the remarks made by the Deputy Special Representative and called attention to the UN’s ongoing work in supporting civil society and government institutions to consolidate gains in women’s rights and secure a peaceful and inclusive future for all Afghans.
“We are at an optimal moment to increase the momentum of women’s participation in all spheres of life,” she said. “It is therefore critical that we focus on key issues that not only will set the tone for the next few years but also are fundamental to gender equality and women’s empowerment.”
Global Open Days provide a forum for dialogue between UN senior leadership and women’s organizations worldwide on the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325, adopted in the year 2000. The Open Days were launched in 2010 to mark the tenth anniversary of the resolution, which outlines the role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflict and stresses the importance of their equal participation in maintaining and promoting peace.
At the Kabul meeting, Afghanistan’s Deputy Minister of Women’s Affairs, Sayeda Mojgan Mostafavi, identified gains made during the past year for women participating in politics.
“We are at an important point in history to look at back at our achievements and identify areas that require focus in the future,” she said. “With a new government, we have to review the achievements of the last government and we have to design a new plan.”
Ms. Mostafavi went on to explain that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, in collaboration with other ministries and civil society groups, has developed an action plan related to resolution 1325.
While the plan is designed to enhance women’s participation in Afghan political and peace processes, she said, much more remains to be done. “We need to work together to identify gaps and the best possible ways to address them,” she concluded.
Following the opening remarks at the Kabul meeting, participants deliberated about the obstacles facing women in Afghanistan, made recommendations about the way forward and asked the UN for increased technical and financial support in light of the upcoming 2015 parliamentary elections and the implementation of Afghanistan’s action plan for resolution 1325.
Mr. Haysom and Ms. Husain reiterated the commitment of the United Nations in supporting the work of government and civil society institutions to enhance women’s contributions in Afghanistan.
“There is a unique opportunity to set out, once again and with clarity, the agenda of women and the importance of women’s participation,” said Mr. Haysom, encouraging civil society groups to work closely with the new government. “A new government means an ability to reschedule or to set out once more the imperative of women’s participation and to find fresh ears to listen to what you have to say.”
Other events, sponsored by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to mark the Global Open Days, were held in the central province of Kapisa, the north-eastern province of Kunduz and the eastern city of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangahar province, over recent days.
With the goal of helping to close the gender gap for the women and girls who remain disempowered and marginalized at all levels of Afghan society, the UNAMA-backed events drew hundreds of participants to discuss a wide range of women’s issues, including the progress made in the country with regard to the elimination of violence against women, the Afghan legislation that criminalizes acts of violence against women and harmful practices such as child marriage, forced marriage, rape and beating.