Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan

Briefing on the Immediate and Transitional Assistance Programme for the Afghan People at The International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan

21 January 2002, Tokyo, Japan

Barely two months ago, stories of Afghan women teachers and doctors risking their lives to run schools for girls and to provide health care for women dominated our television screens and print media.

The suffering and exclusion of Afghan women provoked an international outcry. To the world, the status of Afghan women became a barometer of peace and security. The world finally got it.

Gender inequality is linked to poverty and insecurity. Gender equality in rights and resources is associated with better governance and functioning states. Yesterday, His Excellency Chairman Karzai’s captured this vividly in his portrayal of daily life in Afghanistan.

Since 1996, Afghan girls were not allowed to go to school after the age of 8. Women weren’t allowed to go out in public without being accompanied by a male family member. And they weren’t allowed to work.

For almost six years, Afghan women were removed completely from social, economic and political life. Virtually every right of Afghan women was violated. Today, only 3% of Afghan women are literate.

1600 out of 100,000 Afghan women die during childbirth, a rate 160 times higher than women in industrial countries.

The majority of Afghan women have no access to clean water, energy or sanitation. And in Kabul alone, an estimated 50,000 Afghan women are widows and heads of household. 65% of women surveyed by the Physicians for Human Rights reported suicidal tendencies and a staggering 16% actually attempted suicide.

In recent months, UNIFEM has consulted with Afghan women inside and outside of the country, in rural and urban areas, in camps for displaced people and among the Diaspora. We have also been in close consultation with the newly appointed Minister for Women’s Affairs. In December last year, together with the Government of Belgium during their presidency of the EU, we convened a Roundtable of Afghan Women.

A powerful agenda for action emerged. Much of this agenda, I’m pleased to say, is reflected in the UN’s Immediate and Transitional Assistance Programme being tabled today.

UNIFEM’s strategy is reflected fully in this programme. And one message is very clear. Women are key players in recreating communities and in nation building. But they need to be recognized, valued and supported. And so I would like to highlight four key priorities for supporting women’s leadership in Afghanistan’s reconstruction:

The first is security. Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi put it well when he said that “security does not just mean the end of war, but it means the ability to go about your business safely, in a safe environment, to go to work, to go home, and to travel outside your home knowing that your family is safe and will not be harmed.”

The truth is that women are not removing their burqas. Even in Kabul. They don’t feel safe. Crime, murder, looting and kidnapping continue to threaten women’s survival.

Silence still surrounds violence against women in the home.

That is why security sector reform must consider women’s protection. A professional police force must be trained and equipped to address women’s special security needs.

Alternative policing models, including community based policing and police stations for women should be explored. Special protection should be provided in camps and during repatriation. Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration are essential. But beneficiaries must not be limited to combatants. The wives, widows and other dependents of ex-fighters must also be included explicitly.

Building a security sector that protects women also relies on an independent judiciary based on the rule of law. Promoting gender justice is therefore the second priority.

By signing the Declaration of the Essential Rights of Afghan Women, Chairman Karzai demonstrated his support for women’s equal protection under the law.

In practice, this will mean that violations of women’s rights are monitored, reported and remedied. It will require awareness raising among Afghan women and widespread basic human rights education.

Ensuring gender equality in Afghanistan’s constitutional, legislative, judicial and policy frameworks is an essential starting point.

The third priority is governance. Yesterday, everyone emphasized the importance of Afghan ownership of the reconstruction process. Ownership by both Afghan men and women. Leaving 60% of the population without representation not only violates the principles of ownership, democracy and accountability. It also denies Afghanistan one of its most important resources.

In country after country we have seen how the peace process benefits from women’s participation. In negotiating Burundi’s peace agreement, women’s participation resulted in new provisions for education, health, and human rights.

In Guatemala, women’s participation increased resources for indigenous populations. In Uganda, it meant more efficient spending of local resources – on water pumps rather than cars, on energy rather than individual perks.

And in 43 countries around the world, women’s political participation has been associated with lower rates of corruption and increased transparency.

The inclusion of two women in the Interim Administration is a first step. But these women and their Ministries need political and financial support. Right now, the Minister of Women’s Affairs has no staff or money. And we know that a strong Women’s Ministry is vital to making sure that commitments to women are honored.

But a strong Women’s Ministry is not enough. Women’s perspective and leadership must be included within other ministries and outside of government.

In the words of UNDP’s Administer, Mr. Mark Malloch Brown, support to women cannot wait. Women’s community organizations must be strengthened. Constituencies must be built and networks fostered. Information must be shared with rural and urban women, through radio, print and other medium.

Through capacity building, training and international solidarity, Afghan women must be supported in partnership with Afghan men.

The fourth priority is to improve women’s economic security. Poverty in Afghanistan, and throughout the world, is feminised.

Eradicating poverty will not be possible without retraining women as teachers and health care providers and involving them fully in reconstruction programmes.

But this can only be done by increasing women’s access to basic services. Afghan women and girls spend the vast majority of their unpaid labour collecting water and firewood and caring for other household members. Because of this, they may never make it to school, even if given the chance.

That is why water, energy, and health care are fundamentally gender issues. Women’s lives are most affected by the provision or absence of these essential public services. Decreasing women’s unpaid work in these sectors will increase women’s opportunities to participate fully in the formal sector.

Only then will microeconomic approaches be effective. And only then will the benefits associated with quick impact projects, credit, skills training and entrepreneurship be realized.

I want to conclude with a single observation:

The best way to measure a government’s commitment to gender equality is to follow the money. The Interim Administration referred to the budget as the key instrument for policy making, for ensuring accountability, transparency and predictability.

Gender responsive budget analysis – referred to yesterday by Minister Herfkens – does exactly this. It is a new tool to assess how the collection and expenditure of public resources affects men and women differently.

Gender responsive budgeting has been endorsed by the European Union, the United Nations and the OECD and is now being used by more than 40 countries around the world.

I would like to propose that gender responsive budgeting be applied both to the plans being set out here at this Conference and to the budget process being put in place to guide Afghanistan’s reconstruction.

Yesterday, US Secretary of State Colin Powell called for resources and not rhetoric. I would like to call for an alignment of resources with the rhetoric.

Let’s give our financial and political support to the commitments made here at this conference to gender equality.

Women’s status will continue to be the barometer of peace and security in Afghanistan. Progress for women will mean progress for all. Thank you.