South Asia Regional Office

UNIFEM in Afghanistan

Post September 11th 2001, UNIFEM has been active in Afghanistan. Involved in the UN system response to the process of rebuilding and reconstruction, UNIFEM has brought in a gender lens to the process. It has also created a space for the women of Afghanistan to articulate their concerns, to bring in their vision to the process and to define their roles. Several meetings have been held by UN agencies in this period, including the Round Table on Afghan Women’s Participation in the Reconstruction of Afghanistan, in Brussels on 10th – 11th December, organized by UNIFEM. This meeting along with the others, have led to a series of recommendations, which highlight the importance of integrating women’s rights and having a gender perspective in the reconstruction process. To be able to do this effectively, UNIFEM set up a field office in Islamabad/Kabul, and assigned an expert on gender mainstreaming from the South Asia Regional Office, to bring in a gender lens and a role for UNIFEM in the joint UN initiative. It has also provided technical expertize to the formulation of the joint UN initiatives.

To ground its work, UNIFEM met with and exchanged information with UN agencies, other donors, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and women’s groups, forming partnerships with the Government, women’s groups and other relevant organizations. It informed itself on ongoing activities of other UN agencies and donors, identified an appropriate niche for its contribution and leveraged support for its work in the reconstruction process.

UNIFEM’s vision focuses on regaining the momentum with regard to women and their rights and concerns, and planning future steps. The overriding concerns that have emerged focus on CEDAW and its implementation, the need to raise awareness with regard to the obligation of the Government, the need for advocacy at the grassroots level and documentation of processes already in place. Strengthening the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, raising gender awareness, improving the lifestyles of Afghan women and their families, the plight of Afghan widows, women and girls, violence towards women and children, are areas of attention for UNIFEM.

To celebrate International Women’s Day in Afghanistan, UNIFEM focused on integrating women’s rights in the reconstruction process.

National Consultation of Afghan Women, Kabul, 5th – 7th March 2002: Through a common UN system initiative, with UNDP, ILO, UNFPA, UNESCO, Habitat and UNICEF, UNIFEM invited the partnership of Afghan women, in collaboration with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA), to organize an Afghan Women’s Consultation. The National Consultation was held over a period of three days, 5th – 7th March 2002 in Kabul. This provided a platform for Afghan women in Afghanistan to meet directly with policy-makers, representatives of key ministries and UN agencies. Recognizing that Afghan women are key players in reconstituting and re-building their communities and their country, the consultation provided space for them to articulate their priorities, concerns, perspectives and needs. It provided an opportunity for women to strategize and come up with a mechanism to voice their contributions, as active partners in the process of reconstruction and peace-building, that lies ahead in Afghanistan. Keeping to the principle that Afghan ownership is central to the process, Afghan women’s voices were involved in every step, from the developing the framework for the consultation, to the facilitation, organization and reportage of the three-day event.

The event brought together Afghan women delegates from eight provinces, including Kabul. Members of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs served as organizers and active participants and a number of UN agencies participated as observers. Chairman Karzai of the Interim Administration, and UN Ambassador Brahimi were also present. This meeting represented an important step in bringing together Afghan women, from the grassroots to the professional arena and across sectors, providing them with a forum to articulate their vision and develop concrete strategies for strengthening women’s roles in peace building and the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

The participants, numbering around 60 women from eight provinces, discussed security, women’s rights, education, health, legal and political rights, media and information, social and cultural values, the need for representation, protection, governance, capacity building, and economic security. The women participants reiterated the fact that they needed to participate at decision-making, levels in these areas. Addressing the challenges that women face in the aforementioned issues, they identified opportunities and entry-points for overcoming the challenges, formulated strategies, identified partners for action and indicators for monitoring progress.

The Minister of Women’s Affairs, Dr. Sima Samar, inaugurated the Consultation, which was held at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Dr. Samar highlighted the support of the international community, UN agencies, and NGOs as important players in rebuilding Afghanistan. She said that security is not only about ending the war and silencing the weapons, but is also about ensuring that women and girls live in safety and dignity. She emphasized the need for national identification cards all over the country. This would ensure their right to engage in the political process as voters and representatives. She stressed that women must have the right to vote. She urged the participants to be united and to work closely with her.

UNIFEM Executive Director, Noeleen Heyzer, applauded the Afghan women and their work, which had continued under the Taliban. She said that it was indicative of their strength and skills, which they were now ready to contribute in rebuilding the country. Afghanistan now stood at the threshold of opportunity and the international community would continue to support the effort. She added, “Afghans should be in the driving seat.” She noted that bringing together a diverse group of people was a critical key for development and that the group should continue to support the efforts of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. “You all have a role to play,” she said. Dr. Heyzer said that the women she met with impressed her with the fact that they are critical players in rebuilding Afghanistan. This needed to be recognized, supported and valued, she said.

The National Consultation was the first step towards the full and equal involvement of Afghan women in shaping their country’s future and their role in it. The deliberations played a crucial part in moulding and shaping the future directions of reconstruction and their own roles in the process.

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