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First in decade observance of International Women's Day held in Afghanistan

First in decade observance of International Women's Day held in Afghanistan

For the first time in 11 years, Afghanistan today commemorated International Women's Day, with hundreds of people turning out for a ceremony in Kabul that was hailed by participants as a sign of growing hope for realizing long-denied gender equality in the country.

"A golden opportunity now exists for women's rights to be restored and realized," said Lakhdar Brahimi, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative to Afghanistan, pledging the UN's support in this endeavour.

Mr. Brahimi emphasized that the international community should support Afghans, and not impose an external agenda. "There are hundreds of thousands of Afghan women, representing all ethnic, regional and political groups, both within the country and in the diaspora, who are deeply committed to the cause of women's rights in Afghanistan," he said. "They also have a clear sense, far better than we foreigners do, about the right pace to adopt, so that the existing opportunities are maximized, rather than extinguished, and so that their dreams can be realized."

Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), agreed that Afghan women know what is best for their country. Their vision, she said, “is simple: they want a life free from hatred, violence and poverty.” She added that Afghan women were “eager to embrace a modern educational and information system that can provide them with skills and opportunities to re-build their country and participate in a globalizing world.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said Afghanistan - "whose name had become synonymous with the worst oppression of women" - was emerging from its nightmare. "Afghan women survived with courage and dignity one of the most repressive and backward regimes in modern history," she said. "Full respect for their human rights must flourish in the coming peace."

During the ceremony, Afghan women presented the results of a three-day seminar aimed at developing a common platform of action to restore women's rights and effectively contribute to the reconstruction process. Their conference, which brought together 60 women from eight Afghan provinces, was the first Afghan women's meeting in 23 years.