I thank the Permanent Representatives of Afghanistan and the United Kingdom for their leadership in convening this Group of Friends of Women in Afghanistan.
This group is an important demonstration of international solidarity and commitment to protect and uphold the human rights of the women of Afghanistan.
It will channel robust and consistent international support for the full and meaningful participation of Afghan women in the peace process – and in all processes that affect their lives and their future.
We are sending a message: women’s inclusion is critical to sustainable peace and development in Afghanistan. Afghan women can rely on the full solidarity and commitment of everyone here today as individuals, and as representatives of Member States and organizations.
I will never forget the extraordinary women leaders and decision-makers I met earlier this year when I visited Afghanistan with the Under-Secretaries-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, UN Women, and UNFPA.
We saw first-hand the remarkable progress achieved on women’s rights and freedoms in the last 18 years, since the fall of the Taliban. Women are now contributing to the country’s development at all levels: from senior roles in Government; as provincial governors and local officials; in the defence and security forces; in the civil service; in Parliament, where more than one-third of Members are women; and as the Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
During our visit, Afghan women politicians, civil society representatives, religious leaders, entrepreneurs and intellectuals stressed that their country needs peace, stability and reconciliation to consolidate and build on this progress. But they were equally clear that for peace to be sustainable, it must safeguard women’s rights.
Peace must be based on inclusive, sustainable development and gender equality.
Women’s priorities are the priorities of all Afghans: a ceasefire; disarmament, demobilization and reintegration; transitional justice; and security sector reform, amongst others. These priorities must be included in the peace process not because they will benefit women, but because they will benefit everyone. The international community shares these goals and must provide concrete and timely support.
Afghan women’s organizations and civil society stressed that the gender equality and fundamental rights embedded in the Constitution must be preserved. They underlined the need to ensure the provision of basic services, including access to quality education and healthcare; and for women to have access to equal economic opportunities. They stressed the need for us to have more women religious scholars advising the mediators and involved in the talks. Religion has become politicized and interpretations are being used to support positions that are not consistent with the intentions of Islam.
The moderate interpretations of these women will help to find new solutions and safeguard the interests of women, ensuring that their rights are not the first card to be bargained away during negotiations.
Afghan women also spoke of the right to live free from violence of all kinds, including domestic violence and public violence against women who defy traditional gender norms. And they highlighted the devastating impact of the conflict in Afghanistan on women, and particularly on those who have been displaced, women with disabilities, women’s rights defenders and civil society leaders.
International support must address these lasting consequences of war.
This Group of Friends can become a catalyst to ensure Afghan women’s meaningful participation in building peace and prosperity for all Afghans. I urge you to use your influence in all areas to make this a reality.
This means that collectively we must mobilize our financial, technical and political support around policies and programmes that will advance the goals of Afghan women. Women should be at the table and supported to represent diverse constituencies, processes must be designed to be inclusive, and we need both gender expertise and the civil society voice. We should think strategically about how we use the multitude of new women mediator networks in a number of regions, to provide the pressure, expertise and support to women who are inside the process.
For our part, the United Nations is committed to supporting the people and government of Afghanistan in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its central promise to leave no one behind. The Sustainable Development Goals are founded on inclusivity; support for gender equality and women’s rights is an enabler and accelerator for all the SDGs.
While Member States are already engaged in this effort, and support to peace and security efforts in Afghanistan, there is much more that can be done if we work together.
The women we met in July, many of them young women, were strong, articulate, insightful leaders. And their message to us was clear. They do not need capacity building. What they need is for us to use our positions of influence to secure them their rightful place at the peace table and at the heart of development efforts.
Let’s show them what we can do.
Unfortunately, I will not be able to stay for your deliberations today, but look forward to hearing about the work of this Group as it goes forward.