UN supports women’s empowerment initiative in Afghanistan’s north

5 Sep 2017

UN supports women’s empowerment initiative in Afghanistan’s north

MAZAR-E SHARIF - Promoting women’s access to government services and hiring more women into civil service positions were among the topics discussed at two UN-backed events set up last week to focus on empowering women in Afghanistan’s northern provinces of Jawzjan and Samangan.

The events, organized by the Mazar regional office of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), brought together advocacy groups and government officials to strategize on ways to empower Afghan women through increased presence in civil service positions.

Sayra Shekib, a Jawzjan district governor, opened the discussion in that province by noting that there isn’t a shortage of talented women and urging those in attendance to prioritize the issue of women’s involvement in key decision-making processes.

Maghferat Samimi, head of a rights organization in Sheberghan, the provincial capital, noted that women occupy about 35 per cent of government jobs in the province, a number that is similar to Samangan. But those jobs, she said, are almost entirely in health and education.

“Despite the international community’s efforts and emphasis on giving women more power in decision-making positions, women remain schoolteachers and medical personnel,” she said.

Halima Sadaf, a Jawzjan Provincial Council member, said that a considerable amount of work has been done after the fall of the Taliban to advance women’s rights in Afghanistan.

“Schools and other training centres are as open for women as they are for men,” she said, noting that laws have been passed to support women’s rights in Afghanistan. “It’s not the system that refuses women jobs; it’s rather the society that still needs more openness toward women.”

The lively discussion in Jawzjan, just as in Samangan, led to a decision among participants to prepare a full assessment report to identify the challenges women face in the provinces and the best ways to address them.

The events were part of a series of televised symposia across the country, the objective being to enable women from remote districts to express their views to community leaders and learn about what the government is doing to enable women to play a more prominent role in all aspects of Afghan life, from the social to the political.

Earlier this year, on 8 March, the UN in Afghanistan celebrated International Women’s Day, which in 2017 was marked globally under the theme of ‘Women in the Changing World of Work.’ On that day, the UN made a universal call for women’s participation in all professions and highlighted their essential contributions in all spheres of work.

The Afghan government has pledged to increase the presence of women in government institutions to 30 per cent by the year 2020. Currently, women’s participation countrywide is far below this target. The UN family in Afghanistan is working diligently to help reverse inequality and support Afghan women and men expand opportunities for women.

“Women’s economic empowerment is a crucial precondition to effectively address poverty, inequality and violence against women,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, in a statement for Women’s Day. “While much progress has been made, many women continue to face economic and social barriers to meaningful employment as well discrimination in the workplace and in other areas of life.”

For real change, said the UN envoy, this essential agenda must be a priority. “Empowering Afghan women will allow them to share their voice and exert influence on matters of national concern, including in development, politics and most importantly peace,” he said.

The UN in Afghanistan supports the government’s stated efforts to strengthen the implementation of gender commitments in compliance with Afghanistan’s international obligations, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the recently adopted Global Agenda 2030, which includes the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

UNAMA is mandated to support the Afghan Government and the people of Afghanistan as a political mission that provides 'good offices' among other key services. 'Good offices' are diplomatic steps UN takes publicly and in private, drawing on its independence, impartiality and integrity, to prevent international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading.

UNAMA also promotes coherent development support by the international community; assists the process of peace and reconciliation; monitors and promotes human rights and the protection of civilians in armed conflict; promotes good governance; and encourages regional cooperation.