Hundreds gather for women’s peace conference in eastern Afghanistan

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JALALABAD - In a regional conference on women’s participation in peace and sustainable development, women activists, government officials and diplomats stressed that women must play a unique and robust role in building peace in Afghanistan.

The daylong event, held in Jalalabad, the capital of eastern Nangarhar province, was organized by the provincial administration of Nangarhar in collaboration with the regional office of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Departments of Women’s Affairs in three eastern provinces.

The conference was attended by more than 250 participants, most of them women. These included a deputy on Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, the provincial governor of Nangarhar, the French ambassador to Afghanistan, representatives from UNAMA, directors of the Departments of Women’s Affairs from Nangarhar, Laghman and Kunar, and representatives from across civil society.

Eastern Afghanistan, a mostly Pashtun region, runs up against a rugged border with Pakistan. At the height of the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, the region served as a frontline for intense fighting. In recent years, the region has seen more conflict, and is contested by several armed groups opposing government forces.

“We are working hard to empower women to take part in all social and political activities,” said Dr. Habiba Sarabi, an HPC deputy. “We want to change the culture of violence to a culture of peace throughout the country, including in the eastern provinces.”

Adding his name to calls for peace and a greater role for women, Nangarhar Provincial Governor Muhamad Gulab Mangal said that the purpose of the Jalalabad gathering was to express support for UN Security Council Resolution 1325 passed in October 2000. The resolution reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflict, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction. It stresses the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.

Mangal assured participants that he is committed to increasing the number of posts in government offices for women, and adding his support for incorporating gender perspectives in all peace and security efforts.

A UN official welcomed the views. “The UN acknowledges the Afghan government’s commitment to strengthen the participation of women in political life and in governance institutions, including elected and appointed bodies and promoting the full participation of women in the electoral and peace processes,” said Seif Ibrahim Kibayasi, a UNAMA political officer.

Mr. François Richier, the Ambassador of France in Afghanistan, stated that such dynamic conferences show commitment by the Afghan government to women’s empowerment, peace, and the protection of rights. He pledged that France would work to support young Afghan women students seeking to study abroad and at home.

Speaking about the achievements of women in neighboring Kunar, Suhaila Baburi, director of Kundar’s Department of Women’s Affairs, said: “Last year, about 68,000 women were provided with vocational training facilities in different fields in several parts of Kunar province, with the support of Afghan government and international community.” She asked the Afghan government and the international community to extend more support to women, to ensure continuation of the progress in promoting women rights.

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.