5 March 2013 – Two Afghan ministries today highlighted progress made in the empowerment of women, one through a reduction in the country's maternal mortality rate and the other through an increase in the number of girls attending school over the past decade.
Speaking in the capital, Kabul, at a government conference – organized in collaboration with various United Nations agencies and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to mark International Women’s Day, which falls on 8 March – the Afghan Minister for Public Health, Dr. Suraiya Dalil, presented key achievements of her ministry, highlighting that significant progress had been made in reducing the country’s maternal mortality rate, from 1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2001 to 327 deaths per 100,000 live births now.
Addressing the same gathering, the Deputy Minister for Women’s Affairs, Sayeda Muzghan Mostafavi, said girls now account for 41 per cent of the students who attend school. Until 2001, girls were banned from attending schools in Afghanistan.
Observed around the world on 8 March annually, International Women’s Day recognizes women for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political.
In her remarks to the event, Dr. Dalil said the Ministry of Public Health was committed to reducing the maternal mortality rate and had adopted a three-pronged strategy: the delivery of effective reproductive health services, an increase in the number of midwives, and ensuring gaps between births.
“We believe that human development is impossible without active participation of women,” she said. “We cannot succeed in reducing child and maternal mortality and controlling epidemic diseases without ensuring gender equality in all walks of life, particularly the health sector.”
Deputy Minister Mostafavi noted that, asides from the increase in the number of girls attending school, women now have a more visible presence in the country’s political leadership.
“Our country is among the top ten countries where women have prominent presence in the parliament,” said Ms. Mustafavi. “Currently 500 NGOs (non-governmental organizations) working on women’s issues in Afghanistan are registered with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which shows our commitment to resolving the issues of women.”
There are 69 female members in Afghanistan’s 249-member Wolesi Jirga (Lower House) and 28 in the 102-member Meshrano Jirga (Upper House).
Despite this progress, Ms. Mustafavi continued, Afghan women are still suffering in villages and remote areas because of insecurity, poverty and lack of access to services and the justice system.
In his comments to the conference, the representative in Afghanistan of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr. Laurent Zessler, said gender-based violence was a human rights concern and was hampering human development. He added that UNFPA and other UN agencies were supporting the Ministry of Public Health to ensure that reproductive health rights were ensured for all Afghan women.
“This day (8 March) is an important day, but we have to fight violence against women every day and you need to be sure that the United Nations, particularly UNFPA, is very committed to this fight,” said Dr. Zessler.
In a message read out to the conference attendees by a spokesperson for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Nilab Mobarez, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of UNAMA, Ján Kubiš, said that women must play a key role “in this historically significant year of transition” during which preparations for the 2014 elections and the dialogue on national reconciliation are currently underway.
“Afghan women must have a chance to participate, must have their say, and we must all do our best to hear their concerns and to ensure that both processes of preparations for 2014 elections and the dialogue on national reconciliation are inclusive,” Mr. Kubiš said in his message.
A Member of Parliament and renowned activist on women’s issues, Fawzia Kofi, also addressed the event, stating that the complexities of Afghan society should be taken into account when national strategies and policies are being planned.
“The issues of women should not be considered in isolation,” Ms. Kofi said. “The issues of women are issues of families and the society.”
In addition to the remarks and discussion, the conference also included the screening of an animated short film – prepared by UN agencies in Afghanistan – on the negative impact of child marriage.
Various activities are being planned to mark International Women’s Day in Afghanistan. These include the western city of Herat, as well as Kabul, hosting the country’s first international women’s film festival between 7-9 March. The global theme for this year’s Day is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.”
By UNAMA Kabul