Afghanistan March 2007
Today’s roundtable discussion on women’s rights in Afghanistan is an extremely important event. I am honoured to be able to meet the delegation of highly accomplished Afghan women who are working to make a real difference in their country. I...
Today’s roundtable discussion on women’s rights in Afghanistan is an extremely important event. I am honoured to be able to meet the delegation of highly accomplished Afghan women who are working to make a real difference in their country. I would like to extend an especially warm welcome to Dr Raihana Popalzai (Raa-ha-na Pop-al-zay), Roya Rawosh (Roy-a Ra-wosh), Ghargashta Suleimankhel (Gar-gash-ta Su-lie-man-kel), Rana Aand and Raza Gul (Ra-za Gul) who are currently participating in a job shadowing programme here in the UK. I would also like to thank the University of Cambridge, the Thomson Foundation, the UK’s Bar Human Rights Committee and the House of Common’s All Party Parliamentary Group for Afghanistan who are working in partnership with the Foreign Office to support this excellent initiative.
As a human rights lawyer myself, women’s rights in Afghanistan is an issue that I care passionately about. I have spoken on the plight of Afghan women a number of times. We still face important challenges, including impunity for crimes committed against women. But let us not forget that under the Taliban women were completely excluded from society. They were kept prisoner in their own homes, denied even the most basic human rights and subjected to unimaginable torture and cruelty.
While we still hear heart-breaking stories of cruel treatment and rights denied, Afghan women have come a long way in the last five years. Their voices are now heard, and they are claiming their rights - whether this means large number of girls going to school again, or young women learning to drive.
Gender equality is enshrined in the Afghan Constitution. Eighty-seven women make up a quarter of the total number of MPs in the 351 member National Assembly. Their active participation in the new political system demonstrates that Taliban values are not Afghan values In fact, King Amanullah gave Afghan women equal rights and abolished strict dress codes in the 1920s. This must be the tradition that Afghan women build on once again.
Today we see the commitment of many brave Afghan women in helping their fellow countrywomen. Women who are willing to put their own lives at risk for the sake of their country’s future. Women who, like the delegates joining us here today, epitomise the fearless determination of the many Afghan women who are working to change their fate. We are joined by:
- an MP who has encouraged the construction of over a dozen girls schools in Paktika province;
- an elected Provincial Councillor - one of only four women on the Helmand Provincial Council;
- a member of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission’s investigations unit;
- a leading academic from the University of Kabul
- and a reporter from the BBC World Service Pashtu Service.
In politics, in human rights, in education and in the media, you are all working in areas that have the potential to vastly improve the lives of many women in Afghanistan.
I hope that you have found your time shadowing British women working in similar fields valuable and that today’s discussions will build on the ideas and experiences shared during the past week. I wish you every success, and hope that together we can continue to work towards a brighter and better future for all women in Afghanistan.