In first visit to Afghanistan, UN official urges safeguarding of advances made for women
8 October 2013 – On his first visit to Afghanistan, a senior official with the United Nations agency dealing with gender equality and the empowerment of women emphasized the need for greater political and economic empowerment of Afghan women as well as the safeguarding of progress made over the last 12 years in regard to their rights.
In an interview, the Deputy Executive Director for Policy and Programme of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), John Hendra, also said it was important to ensure that women’s participation in the country’s upcoming elections is maximized.
“Attention needs to be placed on ensuring that women’s participation is accelerated in the election process because it is fundamental in terms of women being able to really engage in choosing the government that they would like,” Mr. Hendra said in an interview with the radio unit of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
Afghanistan is going through a political transition, with preparations underway for Presidential and Provincial Council elections slated for 5 April 2014. A total of 27 candidates, including one woman, have registered their candidacy for the presidency. Each of these candidates has a running mate for each of the two vice-presidential spots, and, of these vice-presidential candidates, eight are women.
Election preparations include a voter registration process, which has been ongoing since 5 May this year.
According to Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), around 2,028,000 people have obtained new voters’ registration cards. That figure includes some 630,000 women, or around 30 per cent of the total so far – the IEC has set a target of 40 per cent.
“As UN Women, we would like to probably see that national target higher than the 40 per cent,” said Mr. Hendra, adding “hopefully, that 40 per cent target would be met by the end of registration process if not surpassed.”
The registration process is due to end on 22 March 2014.
In his interview, the UN Women official expressed concern over the July decision of the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the Afghan Parliament, to revise an elections-related law so that of the 420 seats in the Provincial Councils polls, only 20 per cent would be reserved for women, down from 25 per cent.
Of the 2327 candidates registered for next year’s Provincial Council elections, according to the IEC, 240 of them are women.
“Afghanistan is the 30th country in the world in terms of the percentage of women parliamentarians,” Mr. Hendra noted. “There is a huge amount of evidence that many parliaments with higher percentage of women have more progressive legislation.”
Referring to the economic empowerment of women, the UN Women official said that Afghanistan has huge untapped economic potential – however, women account for around 47 per cent of the labour force, own less than two per cent of the land, and earn half of what men do for the same jobs in the non-agriculture sector.
“I think Afghanistan has huge economic potential and there is a need to put in place policies to unleash its untapped economic potential,” said Mr. Hendra.
Amongst the “tremendous” achievements Afghanistan has made in women’s rights, the UN official noted the Afghan Constitution, which enshrines equality between men and women; the fact that women make up 28 per cent of the National Assembly; the country’s signing of the International Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; the enactment of its own law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW); the formulation of an action plan in relation to the Security Council’s resolution 1325 on ‘Women, Peace and Security;’ and that some 2.5 million Afghan girls are now going to schools.
Mr. Hendra said that as Afghanistan goes through this critical period in its history, the international community is very focused on ensuring continued progress on its achievements of women’s rights.
“It is clear that the international community will be watching continued advancement on women’s rights and we hope to see the totally high levels of violence brought down and the laws in this country get implemented,” Mr. Hendra said.
While in Afghanistan for four days, the UN Women official had a range of meetings with representatives from government and civil society groups. He also paid a visit to the central province of Parwan.