Statement of

Ms. Angela E.V. King, Special Adviser on Gender Issues and

Advancement of Women

at the panel on

“Women and the Rebuilding of Afghanistan:

Challenges and Opportunities"

25 April 2002, Conference Room 1

I am very honoured to welcome Dr. Sima Samar, the Vice-Chair of the Afghan Interim Administration and the first Minister for Women's Affairs, as well as Professor Mahbooba Hoquqmal, the Vice-Chair of the Special Independent Commission for the Convening of the Emergency Loya Jirga, on behalf of the Interagency Network on Women and Gender Equality and the Interagency Taskforce on Women, Peace and Security,  I am also very pleased to share this occasion with my colleague Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of UNIFEM, who has recently been in Kabul.

Let me first congratulate Dr. Samar on her excellent statement this morning to the Security Council, her discussions with the Secretary-General and her meeting with several agencies, funds and programmes in the ECHA. Indeed it has been a very busy morning.

This reminds me of my first contact with women in Afghanistan, when in 1997, after the takeover by the Taliban, the Secretary-General asked me to lead an Interagency Gender Mission to Afghanistan. The goal of the mission was to assess the situation of women in Afghanistan, to propose guidelines for the integration of gender concerns in all UN assistance programmes, and to recommend monitoring and accountability mechanisms. The assistance community at the time, and in the years to follow, faced the challenge of taking a principled approach on the equal participation of women and men in assistance programmes in a situation of severe political obstacles.

Ever since 1997, I have continued, with my colleagues in the UN system, to follow the developments in the country, to draw attention to the plight of Afghan women and shape UN policies on Afghanistan, whether in CSW, GA, ECOSOC or the Security Council.

During the last 23 years, the United Nations system has provided support to Afghanistan. The Security Council's interest in gender issues and the impact of conflict and of policies on women and men has increased steadily with debates in 1997, and one specifically on gender issues in April 2000. The General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, and the Commissions on the Status of Women and Human Rights have also scrutinized the question of Afghan women on a continuing basis.

In 2000, the Security Council adopted resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security. This resolution calls for an increased representation of women at all decision-making levels related to prevention, management and resolution of conflict; for an expanded women's role in UN field-based operations; and to incorporate a gender perspective into peacekeeping operations. Afghanistan has become a test case for the commitment of the UN and the international community to implement this historical resolution.

Especially during the last few months, the UN system has concentrated much of its attention on the situation of Afghanistan, and particularly on the situation of women and girls. It has been very heartening to see how Afghan women moved, within weeks, from years of forced seclusion to their homes to the peace negotiations in Bonn, to see women appointed to the Government and to hear that the first woman has been selected for the Loya Jirga process a few days ago. Last December, a delegation of Afghan women addressed the members of the Security Council in an Arria Formula meeting and met with the Secretary-General.

In January, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed its solidarity with Afghan women and underlined that the participation of Afghan women as full and equal partners with men was essential for the reconstruction and development of their country. [The Committee also called upon all parties concerned to respect internationally recognized principles, norms and standards of human rights, particularly the human rights of women as an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights.]

On 8 March, the United Nations observed, as is our tradition, International Women's Day. This year, for the first time, the observance focused on the situation of women in a specific country, namely Afghanistan. The theme of the day, which included a high-level panel, was "Afghan Women Today: Realities and Opportunities." I was very honored to read a statement by Dr. Samar at that occasion.

In March also, the Commission on the Status of Women considered a report prepared by the Secretary-General, passed a strong-worded resolution calling on the Afghan Interim Authority and its successors to respect fully the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls; to repeal all legislative and other measures that discriminate against women and girls. The resolution also highlighted women's right to education, employment and access to health care. [and most importantly, called for the protection of women's rights to security of person and underlined the need for a safe environment free from violence to facilitate the return of refugees and displaced people. And those who are responsible for violence against women and girls should be brought to justice.]

Over the last few months, tremendous efforts have been undertaken by the UN system to deliver much needed humanitarian aid, to build and reopen schools, immunize children against polio and measles; start the reconstruction process; to support refugees and displaced persons; to provide assistance to the Interim Authority in the form of salaries for civil servants, reconstruction of buildings, and technical assistance. Women have gone back to the universities, and have resumed their jobs with the UN and in the public sector. 

I am quite conscious that the challenges in Afghanistan are enormous: the lack of security in many parts of the country affects women and girls isproportionately; the humanitarian crisis persists with six million people in danger of famine.

We fully recognize that you, Madame Minister, together with the women of Afghanistan need to set the priorities in all efforts to strengthen women's rights and to prepare women for the 160 seats and hopefully many more in the Loya Jirga.  But let me assure you that my colleagues here and I are ready to support you in your tremendous responsibility.

My colleague, Noeleen Heyzer, will talk about the many activities that took place at the same time in Kabul.