I thank the President of the Security Council for convening this meeting on women, peace and security in Afghanistan, and the Council for its continued engagement around this issue.
Let me start by expressing my deepest condolences to the Government and people of Afghanistan over the horrific attacks that took place yesterday. Indiscriminate attacks that kill women and children are an affront to our humanity and a crime under international humanitarian law.
The United Nations stands with Afghans as they work for lasting peace and security.
I returned this week from a visit to Afghanistan, which I undertook with the Under-Secretary-Generals for the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, UN Women, and the United Nations Population Fund. This was the third visit of its kind, following visits to Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2017, and to Chad, Niger and South Sudan last year.
We wanted to assess and build on progress since the Secretary-General visited Afghanistan two years ago and to explore the United Nations support for the Women, Peace and Security agenda.
I thank the government and people of Afghanistan for their hospitality and the robust and constructive interactions.
I thank the international community who took time to meet us and share their hopes.
I thank the United Nations System in Afghanistan for upholding our values at great risk.
During our visit, we were privileged to hold talks with His Excellency President Ashraf Ghani, His Excellency the Chief Executive, the First Lady and other senior leaders and religious scholars. We made a field visit to the Province of Bamiyan and talked to many extraordinary women leaders and decision-makers, many of them young, working in civil society organizations, in the security sector, as entrepreneurs and as health care workers.
Afghan women have paid a high price during the conflict that has affected their country for most of the past four decades. Under the Taliban government, women and girls were denied access to education, health services and protection from extreme violence, and could not participate in political or public life.
In the past 18 years, there has been significant progress. Women are in senior roles in the Defence, Foreign Affairs and Interior Ministries. Twenty-seven percent of the civil service is female, and there are women serving as mayors and provincial governors.
Critical elections are scheduled in September, and the heads of the Independent Electoral Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission are both women. It is vital for the legitimacy of the political system that all stakeholders, including the Government, political leaders, candidates and parties, contribute to an enabling environment for a credible electoral process. And I know Under-Secretary-General DiCarlo will talk in more detail on this issue.
As we witnessed again yesterday, conflict continues in Afghanistan. In 2018, the country suffered the highest number of civilian casualties since UNAMA began recording figures in 2009. In the first five months of this year, more than 100,000 people were displaced by conflict, and we know displacement increases the risk of gender-based violence. In areas where the Taliban have reclaimed control, there are reports of honor killings, stoning and other attacks on women’s rights.
Peace, security and economic stability are urgently needed.
During our visit, we heard a strong call from Afghan women for peace – but for peace that safeguards their hard-won rights and does not backtrack on what has been achieved.
All the women we spoke to wanted an inclusive peace centred on women, as well as victims and survivors.
Afghan women, like women everywhere, must play a part in decisions that will affect their future. In Bamiyan, we saw the incredible demining work that women are doing with the support of the United Nations, risking their lives alongside men to bring safety to their communities.
Inclusivity is not only the right thing to do for women and girls. It is the only way to make durable peace. As one woman told us: “It’s an illusion if you think that you are going to give away people’s rights, and then have any real peace.”
For peace to be sustainable, it will take time and it must be inclusive of the whole country, of women and of victims. Building a culture of peace means addressing the violations and divisions of the past. The country needs closure.
Inclusion and consensus are also essential to creating the greatest possible peace dividend, benefitting all parts of the economy and all sections of society. We must continue to support Afghans to rebuild trust across communities and to address stigma and discrimination based on gender, ethnicity or regional differences.
Afghanistan has made great progress for women since the fall of the Taliban. More than three million children are back in school, with 9 out of 11 million Afghan children now enrolled. Investments in reducing maternal mortality are saving thousands of lives. Improved infrastructure and power supplies are connecting remote areas to national economic opportunities including exports to neighboring countries. We saw this in Bamiyan, where a provincial hospital is dispensing free world-class care to all people of Bamiyan Province and the neighboring areas. This is possible thanks to an innovative partnership between the government and the Aga Khan Foundation.
Afghanistan has done more to invest in women’s leadership than many countries with greater means. Women, and especially young women, are rising to reclaim their rightful place in all areas of society. Many are quite simply inspiring.
One entrepreneur, who has created hundreds of jobs for women in a factory and a market, told me: “When we empower a woman, we empower a generation.”
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development holds great promise for the lives of Afghans across the country. Twenty-four United Nations agencies are working in strategic partnership with the government on issues from food security and clean water to the rule of law, often risking their lives.
The reform of the UN development system is enabling our Country Team to work in a more integrated way than ever before, responding to the President’s call to be more effective, efficient and responsive to country-led priorities.
Achieving SDG 5 will be essential to ensure that women have access to education, health care and decent work, and that women are represented in all areas of society and in all political and economic decision-making processes, including in government and in peace negotiations.
SDG16 on peace, justice and strong institutions will also be essential to hold free, fair and credible elections, to build trust in state institutions, and to facilitate reconciliation and the reintegration of former combatants after the signing of any peace agreement.
In the short term, 6.3 million people need urgent humanitarian aid across Afghanistan, and halfway through the year, the Humanitarian Response plan is just 27 percent funded. We must increase that level urgently, to provide immediate support and protection to displaced people and those in greatest need.
Afghanistan is at an important crossroads. We welcome the Government’s commitment to peace and to upholding the democratic rights of all Afghans, who have suffered beyond imagination over recent decades.
Afghan women are playing a central role in creating peaceful, inclusive communities with opportunities for women and men, girls and boys, people with disabilities, victims and survivors of the conflict.
They need and deserve the support of the entire United Nations system and the international community to invest in building on the gains, while sustaining peace.
The voices of women, especially the victims, must be heard at the table in the peace process and beyond.
I am pleased to say that we are considering a significant investment in preventing and ending violence against women in Afghanistan through our joint Spotlight Initiative with the European Union.
During our visit, my colleagues and I saw enormous grounds for hope. We left with great optimism for a better future for Afghanistan and its impressive people.
I urge this Council to do all in its power to support all Afghans in realizing their hopes and aspirations for lasting peace, stability and prosperity.