Afghan women must be empowered, said rights activists at UN-backed event

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MAHMUD-I-RAQI - Eliminating violence against women as an essential starting point for their empowerment was the main discussion topic at a daylong event set up by the UN in the central province of Kapisa.

The event drew a broad spectrum of participants, both women and men, from human rights groups, civil society organizations, government and academia.

In line with the call from the government of Afghanistan for concerted efforts to end violence against women, the event was set up by the regional office of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) as a forum for exchanging ideas about ending violence against women in the province and also enabling their empowerment.

In opening remarks, UNAMA representative Dharmananda Joshi highlighted the objectives of the event: “Serious application of laws protecting women’s rights, combined with the initiatives for new social and religious norms, may help Afghan society and government protect the human rights of half the population – women and girls.”

Participants discussed the importance of improving access to education, justice and healthcare services, as well as economic empowerment through vocational opportunities.

A representative from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Latifa Sultani, spoke about women’s access to formal and informal justice mechanisms in the province. She described how most women in the province find it difficult to seek justice especially if the perpetrators are local powerbrokers. In the last eight months, she said, only eight cases of violence against women were registered by the formal judicial system in the province.

On efforts by religious scholars to eliminate violence against women, a representative from the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, Mawlawi Saboor Wafa, noted that local Imams have been instructed to talk about women’s rights during Friday sermons.

Participants noted that beating, suicide by poison, and sexual abuse are all common forms of violence against women in the province. Lack of access to higher education and lack of access to maternity health in insecure district are other challenges.

To address the situation, participants universally suggested improving access to education, continuing to raise awareness about women’s rights, persuading community leaders to include women as mediators, and strengthening provincial mechanisms that deal with cases of violence.

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.