12 July 2011 Kabul – Women’s empowerment and full participation in the future of Afghanistan was top of the agenda during a visit to the country this week by Rebeca Grynspan, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UN Development Programme (UNDP) Associate Administrator.
Grynspan’s first stop was at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs where she discussed UNDP’s role and actions in promoting women’s rights with a group of female leaders, including parliamentarians, police officers and members of Afghanistan’s academia and civil society.
“Gender equality is not just the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do,” said Grynspan at the meeting. “Evidence consistently shows that where women are given opportunities, societies develop more rapidly.”
Among those present at the meeting were women who won parliamentary seats in 2010 and now form some 27 percent of all parliamentarians in the assembly, exceeding the 25 percent quota reserved for them.
UNDP has supported a range of efforts to improve the position of women in Afghanistan, including in the police force, where one thousand female officers are currently serving and the goal is recruitment of an additional 4,000 by 2014.
More than 60 percent of girls are now enrolled in primary school, compared to zero 10 years ago. The number of girls graduating to secondary and higher education levels is rapidly increasing.
Afghanistan also has a number of specific legal provisions and laws on gender equality and is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
Grynspan said that while Conventions and other frameworks are an essential first step: “Words must be followed by deeds; the gap between expressed will and the real challenges is still huge.”
According to Afghanistan’s Central Statistics Office, only about eight percent of the country’s decision makers are women. Most women are unemployed and those who work are often unpaid or paid half the salary of their male counterparts.
Between 70 and 80 percent of women experience early marriages, 87 percent face physical, psychological and/or sexual abuse, and Afghan women are more likely to die during childbirth than women in any other country.
“Many women are simply not aware of their rights,” said General Shafiqa Quraishi, Director of Gender, Human, and Child Rights within the Ministry of the Interior.
Husn Banu Ghazanfar, the Minister of Women’s Affairs, said that while women are united in their will to create a positive change, the challenge is that “decision-making positions are disproportionately occupied by men.”