Afghanistan

Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 06 Mar 2003

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TALKING POINTS
Afghanistan to Commemorate International Women's Day

Saturday 8 March is International Women's Day. Here in Kabul from 9:30 a.m. to 12.30 pm this day will be commemorated at the main Loya Jirga Tent in the Kabul Polytechnic.

In addition to the presentation of a women's declaration, H.E. Hamid Karzai, President of the Afghan Transitional Administration is scheduled to give the keynote address. Messages will be delivered on behalf of the former King of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir and the United Nations Secretary-General. In addition to delivering the Secretary-General's message, Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi will also make an address. Presentations will also be made by Habiba Surabi, Minister of Women's Affairs (MOWA); Mahbooba Hoqooqmal, State Minister, Office of the State Minister and; Dr. Sima Samar, Head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

The programme also includes song and drama and concludes with a luncheon at 12:30. The commemoration entitled Assembly of Women's Exhibitors International Women's Day Celebration, is organized by MOWA, the AIHRC, UNIFEM and number of NGOs with the support of a number of other international and Afghan institutions.

There will be more activities throughout the country. For example, in Kunduz, funds collected in Badakshan District from the UN system and NGOs will be used to buy gifts and prizes to be distributed during the women's day celebration there. Articles of furniture will be donated to the Department of Women's Affairs while further needs and necessities will be discussed. There will also be some assistance provided to disabled women and those in dire need.

We would also like to inform you that Radio Afghanistan's programme the "World and Afghanistan" will on Friday do a special feature on International Women's Day, in which they will interview key female personalities in Afghanistan as well as Afghan women from all walks of life. The programme airs at 8:30 a.m. every Friday on Radio Afghanistan.

On the media front, I have an additional announcement. It is a new publication for women, which will also be launched on 8 March. It is called "Morsal" - the Rose in Dari. It is produced by the same people who put out the weekly magazine Killid. They tell us that Morsal will be a free supplement to Killid. Acknowledging the very high illiteracy rates among women, Morsal will be using pictures and simple text. The magazine has I believe close to 30 pages and will have three sections: woman as a citizen, woman as a mother, and woman as a housewife.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) will take the floor after me to give you more details of planned events for International Women's Day.

Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation of Women and Children in Afghanistan

According to a new report by the UN Secretary-General, entitled The Situation of Women and Children in Afghanistan, since the country's emergence from 24 years of conflict Afghan women have gone from complete marginalization and denial of rights to participation in several key institutions engaged in the reconstruction of their country. The report also points out that one of the major changes has been the re-emergence of women in urban areas with relatively better access to employment, healthcare and education.

The report goes on to say that women's progress is, nevertheless, determined by the post-conflict characteristics and complexities of Afghan society, which include patriarchal values and deeply ingrained traditions. And lack of security across the country continues to impede progress in the their rehabilitation and the advancement. Despite positive developments intimidation and violence by regional and local commanders against women continue unabated. In many rural areas, the situation of women has not changed since the Taliban. The prevalence of conservative attitudes limits the full, equal and effective participation of women in civil, cultural, economic, political and social life throughout the country at all levels.

The report highlights the work of the Ministry of Women's Affairs (MOWA) in advancing women's rights through five key departments - legal services and advocacy; education; vocational training; women's health and communications; and planning and international relations. It also details how UNAMA and other UN agencies such as the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) have provided supported capacity building efforts in MOWA.

According to the report there are still concerns. More efforts are needed to repeal legislative measures that discriminate against women and girls particularly with regard to education, access to healthcare, employment and political participation. The high prevalence of maternal mortality is also a sure indicator of the status of Afghan women. Available data on that issue points to women's lack of access again to skilled healthcare services, as well as food, water and shelter. In close cooperation with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), the UN system has taken steps to tackle the high rates of maternal mortality, the report states. These include access to skilled prenatal care; increasing access to skilled birth attendants; education programmes on basic health issues; community information activities and; emergency obstetric care.

The report also states that overall high illiteracy levels of women and girls continues to be one of the key obstacles to their full participation in society. Nevertheless it also highlights 30 per cent of the three million children who have returned to school since March 2002 were girls. It also notes that women and girls made up half of the nearly two million returnees to Afghanistan last year and that women comprise 25.5 per cent of the returnees that have been employed under the Return and reintegration of Qualified Afghans National Programme of the International Organization of Migration (IOM).

The report lists a number of recommendations for both the Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA) as well as UN system, donors and civil society.

The report will be reviewed at the 47th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). That session began on 3 March and will run until 14 March At UN headquarters.

We have copies of the report at the side of the room for you.

Justice Sector Reform

The first survey on the needs of the Afghan justice sector is scheduled to begin this coming Saturday, 8 March. It will be in Kunduz, the first of 10 major cities to be surveyed. The survey plan was finalized at a meeting of the Coordination Committee for Afghan Justice Sector Reform held on 3 March here in Kabul. All surveys should be concluded by mid-May and the data will then be reviewed and analyzed by the Justice Reform Commission.

The Committee is headed by the Chair of the Judicial Commission, and is comprised of various Afghan Justice Sector actors, UNAMA and Italy - the lead nation assigned to provide support to Afghan judicial reform. The Committee is tasked with overseeing and coordinating all activities related to judicial sector reform.

This was the first meeting of the Committee since it was established last December. The Committee's work plan till June 2004 was also introduced and agreed upon. It will focus on five main areas, which include law reform; surveys; physical infrastructure and training; legal education and awareness; and structure of the justice System.

The work plan including the projected surveys will be funded by the US$27.5 million budget for judicial reform, which was also presented at the meeting by Italy. To date US$13.8 million is available.

Incidents in Jalalabad

At around 12:15 p.m. yesterday in Jalalabad, a small improvised explosive device (IED) went off on the east road beside the compound of the World Food Programme. It appears that the device was either thrown or placed in a small opening in a wall used as an irrigation run off from the garden of the compound. No one was injured or killed and the only damage was to a window of the WFP office

A second explosion occurred at approximately 2:00 pm in the front of the Electrical Department located in Zone-II almost 300 metres south of city center. The explosives used were low impact and much smaller amounts then in the previous incident. Damage was minor and no injuries were sustained. The place targeted was used as a toilet.

UNICEF - Developing Education For Women, By Women, In Afghanistan-Edward Carwadine, Communication Officer

A new partnership between the Afghan Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Women's Affairs and UNICEF is to be launched on Saturday 8 March - International Women's Day - to produce the country's first literacy textbook for women.

Afghanistan has a high rate of illiteracy amongst women - estimated at 79% - and the new textbook is designed as a first step towards improving the reading, writing and comprehension skills of women across the country. Designed by teams of women supported by the Ministry of Education's Department of Literacy, UNICEF, UNESCO's Institute of Adult Education and Save the Children US, the textbook will focus on the subject of life skills within an Islamic context. Chapters will concentrate on issues such as the importance of the family, raising healthy children, food, the environment, housekeeping, respect and understanding, marriage, and employment.

Each chapter of the new book, which is still under revision and is due for completion in May, has been designed by focus groups of Afghan women, including illiterate women. A series of workshops has brought these women together with writers and graphic artists, to ensure that the content of the textbook is relevant and interesting to women in Afghanistan. To complement the textbook, a set of teaching materials is also being produced for those who will deliver literacy courses.

The main funding for the project to date has come from the Government of Australia.

In addition to improving literacy, the emphasis on tolerance, understanding and improving relationships within the book is designed to help build status and self-esteem amongst women students. Literacy is seen as being a crucial element in reducing discrimination and exploitation of women.

Media interested in seeing work being undertaken on the textbook are invited to attend a workshop on Saturday 8 March 2003, at 10.00 a.m. at the Department of Literacy (opposite the Emergency Hospital), when His Excellency Mr. Khaliq, Deputy Minister of Education and a representative of the Ministry of Women's Affairs will join some of the women working with designers on the textbook and formally launch the new inter-Ministerial partnership.

WFP - International Women's day - Gretchen Bloom, Senior gender Advisor

The World Food Programme has been long committed to empowering women and of strengthening their role in society because of their importance to food security. WFP also stresses gender equality in all of its programmes so that females and males benefit equally from targeted food aid.

In October 2002, the WFP Executive Board approved the Gender Policy for 2003-2007, with its Enhanced Commitments to Women. The Commitments focus in particular on engaging women in decision-making related to food aid in order to ensure that women's needs are met.

During this International Women's Day Celebration, WFP honors the women of Afghanistan who contribute so much to the quality of life of Afghan communities and families, yet who still need more resources and empowerment to contribute to their full extent. WFP also recognizes that Afghanistan has many vulnerable women, especially widows, who are still struggling to survive due to the effects of the long conflict and the drought.

WFP will participate in the following countrywide activities to mark the event:

In Mazar: WFP, in collaboration with the Gender Group, will join 500 men and women from different UN agencies, international and local NGOs, the Women's Affairs Department, social organizations, other Governmental offices and local authorities, in a ceremony aiming to promote women's mobilization, and encourage women to seek solutions to their problems and overcome difficulties.

In Qal-I-Now: WFP and World Vision will carry out a special food distribution, in conjunction with the Women's Affairs Department, to support vulnerable widows in the city.

In Jalalabad: The day will be marked by different ceremonies organized by the Women's Affairs Department, the UN and NGOs, including a handicraft exhibition of products produced through WFP-supported Vocational Training Centers and a special show by the students of primary schools receiving Indian biscuits through WFP.

In Kandahar: WFP will support the celebration being organized by UNAMA and the Women's Affairs Department with food items, as well as giving gift packages of lentils to needy women.

In Kunduz: WFP is collaborating with UNAMA and UNICEF to give prizes to the Women's Departments in three provinces, Baghlan, Kunduz, and Takhar.

In Kabul: WFP will support the work of Women for Women at a ceremony honoring its 2,000 women participants in rights awareness training, income generation, skill building and literacy.

In addition, WFP notes that its Capacity Building Programme for 2003-2005 will assist selected Women's NGOs by enhancing their skills. The objective of the capacity building will be to give women a stronger voice through these organizations so that their needs can be better met.

WFP has prepared a separate brief with useful information on WFP's achievements and goals for the future in developing "Positive Measures for Women and Girls."

Questions and Answers

Q: My question is about these explosions affecting the aid agencies. In Kunduz, there were also two recently and in the north as well. What is being said is that local authorities and United Nations security are doing the investigations. Have these investigations yielded any results so far in Mazar or Kunduz ?

Spokesman: I don't think I have any results for you. I would just like to clarify that investigations are being carried out by the local authorities. Of course we are involved as the incidents affected us. But the responsibility for the investigations lies with the local authorities - as is the case in any country. Security of international personnel lies with the authorities of the host country. And that is why those authorities are doing the investigations here.

Q: These explosions have not caused any casualties. Does this mean that that they are only threatening the agencies?

Spokesman: I am not in position to speculate. While it may mean a number of things the important issue is that no one was hurt. Whatever it signifies, at this point I don't think we have enough evidence to say this or that. It would just be speculation and that is the last thing a spokesman should do.

Q: My question is about this Consortium Group meetings which are scheduled to be held first this month in Kabul and then in Brussels. Can you tell us about the detailed schedule and the issues which will be raised?

Spokesman: I think the dates for the Kabul meeting are 13-14 March. It will be followed by a meeting in Brussels on 17 March. This is where the Afghan Government will present its budget. That is very important as national priorities will also be outlined - good guidance for all of us who are working towards supporting the strengthening of Afghan institutions and assistance and development programmes.

Q: Are these the same kinds of meeting that were held in last May and August?

WFP: Yes in a way. The ones in the past were based on Afghanistan being based on a state of emergency. The Afghanistan Support Group (ASG), which held its last meeting in December 2002 in Oslo [Norway] was disbanded and the Afghanistan Development Forum created instead which is a proper consultative group process. So it's not a consortium but a consultative group. In the two-day meeting here with donors and with the ministries will focus on presenting, as Manoel said, the budget for12 sectoral areas in which there has been a process of consultation among the ministries and including the United Nations and five advisory groups. We hope all of this will produce a consolidated budget for those two-day meeting. The outcome of those two days will then be taken to a higher level meeting in Brussels for a more limited number of donors and ministries and maybe some UN agencies and organizations that have been part of the process.

Spokesman: And hopefully in Brussels there will be additional pledges for the process here in Afghanistan.

I just received a question that I thought would have come from one of you but it didn't. It came instead from one of your colleagues over the phone when I left the room briefly a few minutes ago. This is the answer I gave on the phone, which I'll now share with you. This is related to a story on Iraq that came out yesterday in the London Times on Iraq which mentions Mr. Brahimi's name as a someone to be considered for anything there.

If there were any role for the United Nations in Iraq beyond relief of suffering and hardship, it would be determined by the Security Council. If that body decides on any role for the United Nations then it is the Secretary-General who decides upon the person to carry out the function decided by the Council. Mr. Brahimi has asked me to tell you most emphatically that he saw the Secretary-General recently when he was in New York. Since then he has spoken with him on the phone a couple of times and at no time was there any suggestion by the Secretary-General that Mr. Brahimi take any responsibility regarding anything to do with Iraq.

Thank you very much. Have a very good afternoon and enjoy International Women's Day on Saturday.