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Senior UN official says Afghan women key to building their country's future

Senior UN official says Afghan women key to building their country's future

The women of Afghanistan, long victims of armed conflict in their country, have an essential role to play in its future, a senior United Nations official said today.

"Our interest today is to ensure that this energy and concern will be harnessed towards convincing negotiators and leaders of Afghan factions alike of the benefits of including Afghan women as full partners in the decision-making process around the peace table, in humanitarian efforts and in reconstruction of the country," Angela King, Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, told a panel discussion in New York held under the theme Women in Afghanistan: Beyond the media portrayal to action.

Drawing on the recent history of Afghanistan, Ms. King pointed out that in 1977, some 15 per cent of all legislators in the country were women. Up to the early 1990s, women comprised 70 per cent of all teachers, 50 per cent of government workers and 40 per cent of medical doctors. "Women were professors, lawyers and judges," she said. "They were journalists, writers and poets."

Ms. King went on to describe the sharp deterioration in conditions facing Afghan women. "We are talking about a country of approximately 22.7 million, which after three years of severe drought, 22 years of war and devastation and five years under the Taliban authorities, have left it one of the poorest countries of the world," she noted. There are an estimated 50,000 widows in Kabul, while every 15 minutes a woman in Afghanistan dies in childbirth.

The Special Adviser urged decisive action to respond to these alarming trends. "Governments can ensure that the question of Afghan women's participating is raised at all levels consistently," she noted. "Donor governments can insist that gender is mainstreamed as a prerequisite for aid."

In addition, she urged members of the international community to insist on women's participation in Afghanistan's future development. "The United Nations can continue to include a gender perspective in all strategic recovery plans and programmes, devise convincing cases for why women will contribute to stabilization and what happens when they don't," she noted.

"Let us never forget our Afghan sisters - women and girls - and their right to the basic freedoms that we all enjoy," she said. "They wish for their children the same that we wish for ours."