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Working together to expand women’s rights

Foreign ministers Guido Westerwelle and Zalmai Rassoul at the Afghanistan conference about Afghanistan's future

Dec. 6, 2011

Also available in Deutsch

At the second day of the Civil Society Forum Afghanistan in Bonn, representatives of Afghan civil society met German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and his Afghan counterpart Salmai Rassoul. Both ministers talked with the Afghan delegates about the policy proposals that they have developed for the future development of Afghanistan. Primarily the discussion was about the rights of women and their role in Afghan society.

In opening remarks on Saturday of the conference, Westerwelle said the topic of women’s rights in Afghanistan is of “special concern” to him concerning Afghanistan’s transformation process. „A country can’t afford to ignore the creativity and energy of half of its population”, he said in front of 250 listeners. Therefore it is a good sign that almost half of the 34 participating delegates of Afghanistan’s civil society are women and that most of them also represent a women’s right organisation.

Not only Westerwelle but also Afghanistan's foreign minister Rassoul talked about the „duty to give women the rights they deserve.” But to reach this he said, it will need time, education and a full commitment from both, the government as well as the civil society. In which direction this should go, was put in more concrete terms by Gudrun Kopp, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, who also joined the conversation. „Especially in primary schools it is needed that the educational opportunities for girls will be expanded. Educated women can take care of their own incomes, and thus participate in society.” At this point already, one third of all children in Afghan schools are girls and the women’s quota in parliament is 28 percent. This shows that Afghanistan is on the right track, said Kopp.

Spokesman of the Afghan delegates, Barry Salaam, pointed out however, that his country started from scratch ten years ago, and that therefore every step forward is in most of the times immediately seen as a big step. „But concerning women’s rights, this step is not big enough yet. We have a lot to do to further improve women’s conditions. Women are still harassed on the streets and discriminated against in the Afghan legal system.” said Salaam. He asked the international community to support capacity building activities as educating judges for example.

Other prior topics that were being discussed concerned the ongoing fight against terrorism and the future perspectives for Afghanistan after 2014 when the International Security Assistance Force won’t be in the country any longer. Foreign minister Westerwelle assured the delegates: „We guarantee that we will not leave you alone after 2014. We will show our solidarity in the long term with a special focus towards civil society.” This promise also meant an extensive financial commitment, especially in rural areas to support the society’s stability. But, continued Westerwelle, this promise is part of a bigger deal. In return, Afghanistan must commit themselves to nonviolence and it should respect its constitution by recognizing civil rights and human rights.

Barry Salaam is optimistic that the Afghan government and its civil society are able to, collaboratively, cope with this upcoming task. „Our wishes aren’t that different from each other, but we have different perspectives on what we think is needed and different ways of how to approach these needs.” Therefore it is important that civil society forums can work freely without the government interfering. Foreign minister Rassoul assured that: „The Afghan government accepted the independence of civil society and is doing its best, to get them involved in the transformation process.”

These topics were atop the agenda on Saturday at the Afghan civil society forum that lead into Monday’s conference where speakers as Selay Ghaffar and Barry Salaam, together with the 34 representative of Afghanistan’s civil society discussed on what international support in Afghanistan will look like after 2014, when most NATO combat forces are scheduled to complete their withdrawal.


ImageMarc Frings
Head of the KAS office Palestinian Territories

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