Excellences’, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.
Good morning, everyone, and thank you very much for joining us to discuss one of the main issues for all of us, in particular for my country Afghanistan: investing in girls’ education.
As we have just celebrated Nowruz, let me take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and prosperous 1394 of the solar calendar.
Thank you, Dr. Maria Riehl and Dr. Lan Young Moon for your presentations. I congratulate Dr. Moon for the progress achieved in Korea so far. Afghanistan can learn from your experiences as a post-conflict country. And thank you, Ms. Handschin, for your warm welcome. Let me express my gratitude to the Women’s Federation for World Peace International and the Global Women’s Peace Network for organizing today’s even which we are happy to sponsor. I am personally happy to be a part of today’s discussion on the situation of girls, a matter that is very dear to me.
My country Afghanistan has experienced a rich history of women’s movements and the participation of women in social, economic and political affairs in the country. However, Afghanistan greatly suffered because of decades of wars and conflict, and women have been the primary victims. During the time of the Taliban in particular, women and girls were deprived of the very basic elements of human rights and experienced a gender genocide due to the Taliban’s wrongful policies.
Afghanistan, after long years of conflict and suffering, started its journey of transition to a stable and democratic future back in 2001. This year marks the first of Afghanistan’s Decade of Transformation. An important feature of this decade is its focus on consolidating our decade’s achievements in improving the lives of women and girls across the country.
Gender equality, which has been enshrined in the new constitution of Afghanistan, plays a key role in our National Development Strategy and in the newly established national institutions, in particular the Ministry of Women’s Affairs which holds the government’s leading role in the empowerment of women. Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission and the Prosecution Office on Elimination of Violence against Women and Family Case Units at Police Stations are all engaged to protect the rights of girls and women, and every ministry has a gender and human rights department.
We are aware of the fact that the situation of girls in many parts of Afghanistan is not yet adequate and much remains to be done to tackle challenges; however, the National Unity Government of Afghanistan is committed to solving this. And I would like to assure you that the women of Afghanistan who are taking an active role in the social, economic, political and security areas as ministers, MPs, judges, prosecutors, officers and human rights activists will remain actively involved in the ongoing peace process in the country.
It is our strong belief that women should equally participate in the development of our country as their economic empowerment is essential for Afghanistan’s prosperity and growth. As we have witnessed in many other post-conflict countries, economic empowerment to a certain degree precedes social empowerment. In order to enable sustained women’s income generation, we need to take into consideration certain social dynamics and existing customary laws.
Our women can act as agents of change, for the betterment of our families, communities and the nation as a whole. We need to provide conducive governance and justice systems to enable a socio-economic empowerment approach that tackles practices and perceptions that block women’s active participation.
There is also a role for our international partners to invest in a gender-informed manner. Let me suggest here small-scale model projects for women in a number of provinces that could serve as template for multiplication.
Since 2009, over 12 percent of the Afghan Government’s total budget has been allocated towards education. In 2010 the Ministry of Education set forth the National Strategic Education Plan (NSEP) which stipulates policies and objectives of the education system in Afghanistan to be achieved by 2014. This plan reflected the ambitions of the Afghan people and students.
By 2014, the NSEP had had great success, significantly improving the lives of students across the country. While less than 1 million children—nearly all boys—were enrolled in schools, including religious madrassas in 2001, by the end of 2014 over 10 million children were enrolled, with 39% of them being girls. Estimates by the Afghan Ministry of Education state that more than 132,000 girls will graduate with general education in 2015, and they project that that number will be nearly 204,000 by 2020. The NSEP has now entered its third stage, for the years 2015 – 2020 in order to work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and Education for All Objectives.
Afghanistan is committed to ensuring that all its children will be able to participate in and complete primary school by 2020, promoting gender equality, ensuring that all girls have access to a complete and free compulsory education, and eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary schools by focusing on ensuring that girls have full and equal access to a good quality education.
Article 44 of Afghanistan’s constitution states that providing access to education for girls is one of the Ministry of Education’s key priorities. The Ministry is committed to enrolling all girls in school by 2020 by following a comprehensive program which includes conducting public awareness programs which engage influential local and religious persons, improving awareness of the importance of girls’ education in Islam, recruiting and training more qualified female teachers, and equipping girls’ schools with appropriate facilities.
Investing in the economic potential of girls by increasing their access to education is one of the most important ways to achieve sustainable development within a country. Quality education empowers young women to shape their futures and allows them to become leaders and to work for social progress. Educating young women means educating future mothers and training future teachers and strong members of civil society, who will in turn help to keep up this sustainable cycle of education by continuing to promote the importance of education in the future.
By improving the education of girls, we are making great strides in improving their socio-economic prospects for the future. Helping women to take on strong roles in the labor force improves their own lives, and improves the state of Afghanistan. Girls have an important role to play in helping to make positive changes in Afghanistan and to move the country forward into the Decade of Transformation, and these changes can only be achieved if we work to improve their lives from the very start.
Thanks to the commitment and sacrifices of the Afghan people, in particular women, supported by our friends and partners in the international community, for the last 12 years Afghanistan has been transformed into a new place. And it is a better place for all Afghans, in particular women and girls. We are committed to building up on the achievements we have made so far and addressing all the remaining challenges that the Afghan people, in particular women and girls, are facing, and we’d like to call on our partners to continue their support for Afghanistan and for the success of our Decade of Transformation. We have many shared values which are vitally and equally important for all of us. We in Afghanistan believe that there is no guarantee that we will reach our goals for the Decade of Transformation without the active participation of girls, who make up more than 50% of the younger generation.Our women are the best hope for peace, stability and development in our country.